Food Allergies: Top 5 Facts You Should Know (Video)

Food allergies are a rising public health concern, affecting more than 50 million Americans. This condition can greatly interfere in family habits and school routines since they mostly develop in childhood. Here are five important facts to help you understand and prevent serious allergic reactions to certain foods.

(Video: The Baptist Health South Florida News Team hears from Natacha Borrajo, a licensed and registered dietitian with Baptist Health Primary Care, about food allergies and what you need to know. Video by Alcyene Almeida Rodrigues.)

1. Food Allergy vs. Food Intolerance

Food allergy and food intolerance are often used to describe the same problem, but they are two very different things. Allergy is an immune reaction from your body’s defense system caused by an exposure to a particular substance. Intolerance is when your digestive system is not able to properly process certain sugars or other substances. For example, if you are lactose intolerant, then lactose-free milk will suit you well. But if you are allergic to milk, you should refrain from having even lactose-free milk. According to Natacha Borrajo, a licensed and registered dietitian with Baptist Health Primary Care: “A food intolerance is going to be a little bit mild in nature, so maybe some (gastrointestinal) discomfort, maybe constipation, diarrhea.  A food allergy can be much more intense … up to anaphylactic shock. So it could be respiratory distress, swelling of the airways…”

2. Eight Most Common Food Allergens

The most common allergens in foods cause 90 percent of all allergic reactions. These foods are: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, seafood and fish. It is important to be aware of them, especially if you already have a family history of food allergies. On the flipside, there are safer foods to eat which are very unlikely to cause any allergic reactions. These foods include: apples, sweet potatoes, buckwheat, rosehips, flaxseeds, green tea, garlic, rosemary, dandelion greens, turmeric, mushrooms, mustard greens, sunflower seeds and anchovies.

3. Peanut Allergy: New Guidelines

Peanut allergy is a common concern for parents since it can start very early in childhood. It is a leading cause of death related to food-induced anaphylaxis – allergic reaction to an antigen that can impair breathing and send the body into shock – in the United States. The American National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) published updated guidelines in 2017 that urge parents to introduce peanut-based foods as early as 4 to 6 months of age if a baby already has conditions that increase the risks to develop peanut allergies, such as severe eczema and/or egg allergy. Ms. Borrajo reiterates that with the early introduction of peanut-containing foods, under the guidance of your pediatrician or an allergist, “you could actually resolve that food allergy earlier in life or at least develop a tolerance to the food into adulthood”.

4. How Can You Tell You Grew Out of a Food Allergy?

Children can outgrow a food allergy, but the earlier the diagnosis, the better. Allergies to milk and eggs are more likely to go away than allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. Dietitian Borrajo advises that you do a food challenge under the guidance of your physician. “Basically, it’s taking a small portion of that food that you are allergic to and testing to see if your symptoms are mild or severe. From there, you can gage if you’ve developed a tolerance to that food you were once allergic to.”

5. Tips to Avoid Food Allergy

The best way to prevent having a food allergy episode is by  avoiding the food you are allergic to. Sometimes it gets complicated because you don’t always have control of the food to which you are exposed on a daily basis. Ms. Borrajo says that “you want to read your food labels, you want to become familiar, maybe visit a dietitian so you can learn how to … You want to make sure to prepare a meal  without cross-contaminating with the allergic food. When you go out to restaurants, tell your server: I am allergic to this … please let the chef know in the back. Make sure that everyone knows that you are allergic to a certain food.”

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