For those who suffer from food allergies, a trip to the grocery store can be a serious challenge. Other worries can be found in restaurants, school cafeterias, and other eateries. To make sure that you know exactly what’s triggering your food allergy response, what the risks are and how to manage them, connect with your New Jersey allergist about your concerns.

What Is a Food Allergy?

A food allergy is simply an overreaction of your immune system to a particular food. These reactions can be simple; milk may give you a runny nose. A food allergy reaction can also be fatal, such as peanuts, which can cause anaphylaxis.

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It’s important to note that some people are intolerant of certain foods. If onions give you an upset stomach but your body doesn’t produce an IgE antibody, you’re dealing with an intolerance, not an allergy. Once the onions are out of your system, you may choose to avoid them because you don’t tolerate them, but they aren’t triggering your immune system to go to battle against them.

Common Food Allergies and Reactions

While food allergies must be taken seriously as they can be quite dangerous, there are actually only a few foods that trigger most food allergies. These foods are

  • cow’s milk
  • eggs
  • tree nuts
  • peanuts
  • shellfish
  • wheat
  • soy
  • fish
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To avoid these foods, particularly soy, you will need to become a pro at checking labels. When introducing foods to your children, do your best to keep things simple and avoid complicated or multi-ingredient foods; a simple candy bar can contain peanuts, cow’s milk and soy. If they react, you won’t know exactly what’s triggering the reaction without testing, and some foods don’t have allergy tests outside of avoidance.

Keep an eye and an ear out for stomachache, diarrhea, hives or other rashes. An immediate reaction can include coughing or gagging as the throat and tongue swell. Even if your child isn’t talking yet, coughing and gagging are easy to spot and a strong indicator that your little one is in serious trouble.

Become a Label Expert

Food manufacturers are required to include allergen risks on their ingredient labels, so start there. The word Contains should be your first checkpoint; major manufacturers will list Contains: Soy, Eggs, Milk, Wheat or whatever common allergen trigger is included in the product.

As you read further down the label if your particular concern isn’t listed under Contains, you may find indications that your trigger actually is hidden in the product. For example, the words whey and casein probably mean cow’s milk.

Those who can’t consume eggs will probably want to avoid anything that includes

  • fat substitutes
  • ovalbumin
  • lysozyme

as well as processed foods, including pasta, meatballs, and many bakery goods.

For many, soy is a serious problem. Look for the words natto, monoglycerides, diglycerides, and lecithin on food labels. Be aware that lecithin can also be used in cooking sprays; confirm that your non-stick spray is soy-free while preparing food for your family.

What About “May Contain” Labels?

For those with deadly allergy risks, such as anaphylaxis caused by tree nuts, the “may contain” label is worth watching. While the USDA is working hard to come up with new regulations for food manufacturers that process foods that contain tree nuts and peanuts, the fact is that

  • roasting
  • salting
  • shelling

nuts of any type produce a lot of dust and airborne particles that could contaminate food created in the facility. If you or a loved one have a severe nut allergy, be aware that there are many food manufacturers that do produce foods that are certified to be free of particular allergens.

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Be Prepared to Cook

If you or a child in your household are found to be allergic to any of the most common products listed above, you may find that it’s easier to learn to prepare you own food than it is to seek out foods that don’t put anyone at risk.

For those who love to bake brownies and cookies, finding a way to make your favorites without eggs or butter will be quite a challenge. You may find it simpler to start from the other direction; a focus on vegan products will automatically remove exposure to cow’s milk and eggs. Instead of settling for pale imitations of old favorites, build a repertoire of new favorites to enjoy.

Get your children involved in this process as early as possible. If they can’t have peanuts or wheat, they can still have a sandwich that travels easily and that they can enjoy; they only need to step up and claim the foods that they enjoy eating.

Empower Your Child

Your child will need to learn to be able to say “no thank you” to milk chocolate treats. They will also need to be able to ask for a substitution or make a pre-packaged meal work for them. While many child-friendly organizations will have allergy sensitive food options available, do your best to pack food that your child can enjoy easily and without fuss.

It’s not fussy or impolite to refuse a food that will cause a health crisis, and your child needs to be able to stand up for themselves before a nice neighbor offers them candy or some other allergen.

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Test Early and Be Prepared to Re-Test

There are many allergens that can be determined via a skin-prick test. Be aware that some food allergies, such as cow’s milk and eggs, are possible for your child to grow out of. However, if you notice that your child can now tolerate a cookie that you know contains butter, don’t count on the fact that their allergy is over or that they can build up a tolerance to the product. The possibility of a reaction is still there; without a test, you can’t be certain.

If you notice a change in your child’s reaction or tolerance to a particular food, book an appointment with your family allergist so you can be sure. New foods or an unexpected exposure without a reaction may be an indication that your child has outgrown this particular health challenge. Be sure of their risk with the help of your allergist.