Food Allergies and Sensitivities: How to Shop

Food allergies and sensitivities are soaring to an epidemic proportion! Over 32 million Americans have a serious and potentially life-threatening food allergy. That number explodes to nearly 85 million people impacted when you include those with food sensitivities and intolerances.

May is Allergy Awareness Month and there is no better time to learn more about food allergies to help yourself and those you love.

My 2 children both have serious allergies to egg and peanuts since day one. It required lifelong learning for our family to manage their diet. I accepted the challenge of reading every food label in the grocery store, making all our meals from scratch, and baking every birthday cake . As a result, our kids grew up on minimal amount of processed food and mostly healthy home-made meals. There is a silver lining if you can look beyond the often cloudy picture of an allergen-free diet.

Food Allergies vs Food Sensitivities

Food allergies and sensitivities have a range of severity and mechanism. Food allergy is an immunologic response that shows immediate symptoms within minutes to several hours after consuming the allergen. In many cases, it can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. On the other hand, food sensitivity is a non-immunologic response to food and the symptoms may appear over a period of days. The range of manifestations may include stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, brain fog, headache, skin rash, muscle/join pain, fatigue and insomnia. For those of us who are affected, it can be very frustrating to pinpoint the foods that are causing the problem. Be sure to consult a qualified health practitioner to help you with diagnosis and treatment.

How to manage your diet

Whether you have food allergies, sensitivities or intolerances, it is necessary to avoid the problem foods to feel well. The first step is to determine what food ingredients you need to eliminate from your diet. This may be done by food allergy (IgE) or food sensitivity (IgG) testing by your doctor or the use of an elimination diet with the help of a Registered Dietitian. The next step is to learn to recognize what food is safe to eat by deciphering food labels and sourcing trusted food companies that make allergy-friendly food.

These eight foods account for 90 percent of all food allergy reactions:

Peanuts
Tree nuts (cashews, pecans, walnuts, etc.)
Milk
Egg
Wheat
Soy
Fish (halibut, salmon, etc.)
Shellfish (crab, lobster, shrimp, crayfish). Not including mollusks (oysters, clams, mussels, scallops, squid)

Avoiding these food allergens is not easy because they are often found in prepared dishes or hidden in processed and packaged foods in different forms. It is key to learn all you can about your problem food including its various names and derivatives, so you can detect them. Some examples of the not-so-common names are sodium caseinate (milk), semolina (wheat), albumin (egg), and lecithin (soy). You can learn more about these common allergens and how to avoid them at www. foodallergyawareness.org.

Sharpen your food shopping skills

According to FDA food labeling law, manufacturers must list all food ingredients in descending order of concentration. In addition, The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA) requires these 8 most common allergens be declared on the food label. Under the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research (FASTER) Act of 2021, sesame is being added as the 9th major food allergen effective January 1, 2023. 

Although these labeling regulations are extremely helpful to consumers, they only cover a fraction of the 160+ foods identified to cause food allergies in sensitive individuals.

Best practices for buying allergen-free foods

  • Avoid highly processed foods. Less is more here – fewer the ingredients the better!
  • Never buy packaged food without an ingredient list.
  • Don’t buy any food with ingredients unknown to you.
  • Read food labels carefully, including foods you have purchased before. Food manufacturers may change their ingredients without warning.
  • Beware of general and non-specific ingredient terms, such as natural flavoring which may contain allergens unless you know the ingredient used in the flavoring.
  • Don’t just go with claims on the label. Phrases such as “peanut-free” and “egg-free” are not regulated by law. Be sure the allergen is not on the ingredient list.
  • Beware of cross-contamination. Allergen-free products could still be made in facilities where the allergens are present. Always check with the manufacturer if you are unsure.
  • Be careful with imported foods. They may not comply with domestic food labeling laws.
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Egg-free Apple Muffins – Make them Nutritious and Impactful!

Have you been baking more during the pandemic? Me too! No doubt we are all deriving comfort from our food during this turbulent time. The strong emotional connection to food is well established by researchers so why fight it. Instead of worrying about the excessive consumption of sweet treats, why not take this opportunity to improve your baking skills and the nutritional quality of your baked goods for a lasting impact on your diet.

Using healthy ingredients that naturally enhance the flavor and texture of the baked product is key to a good recipe. I have been baking with low-fat buttermilk for years because it only has 2 grams of fat in a cup. The “butter” in the name buttermilk may lead you to think otherwise. It consists mostly of water, the milk sugar lactose, and the milk protein casein. The creamy consistency of buttermilk gives baked goods the richness without the fat so less butter or oil is required in the recipe. Applesauce is another secret weapon for adding moistness to your bake products to off set the hardiness of the fiber-rich wholewheat flour. I also like to use olive oil, a monounsaturated fat, in my recipe when it doesn’t alter the flavor of the product. These apple muffins are moist and packed with the natural sweetness of apples and cinnamon so enjoy them guilt-free!

High Impact Egg-free Apple Muffins

Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup wholewheat flour

1/2 c. packed light brown sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 c. olive oil

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 cup applesauce

2 medium Granny Smith apples, finely chopped

1 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Direction

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease 12 large muffin-pan cups.

In large bowl, mix flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.

In small bowl, whisk buttermilk, oil, vanilla extract, and applesauce together until blended.

Stir wet ingredients into flour mixture just until flour r is moistened.

Fold in chopped apples.

Mix sugar and cinnamon in a small dish.

Spoon batter into muffin cups; sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Bake muffins 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean.

Immediately remove from pan; serve warm.


Vegan Blueberry Lemon Muffins

I get excited about delicious vegan baked goods for many of the same reasons you do – healthy, environmentally friendly, and ethical. But the biggest personal reason is that my kids are seriously allergic to eggs. Yes, both my kids have the same allergies. The biggest challenge with an egg-free diet is avoiding hidden egg sources. Whether it’s buying a muffin or a bagel at a bakery, I always have to ask if it contains egg. Sometimes the bakery person will answer back “no, there’s no dairy”. Okay, there’s no milk products, but is there egg? It is very disappointing after much questioning about the ingredients and then have to walk away empty-handed. But with the tsunami of vegan bakeries appearing in recent years, it has changed this shopping scenario and boosted my grownup children’s happy meter.

Thinking back about 20 years ago with my first born, finding anything vegan was almost impossible except in a “natural food” store, if you were lucky enough to have one in your neighborhood. Over the years, I had to be quite creative in baking without eggs and finding various egg replacements. The recipe I am sharing with you is vegan, high in fiber and rich in monounsaturated fat. As you know, when you buy vegan baked goods, it doesn’t always mean they are healthy so I still like to do much of my own baking. Hope you enjoy these super moist and nutritious muffins!

Vegan Blueberry Lemon Muffins

1 Tbsp Lemon Juice

1 cup plant-based milk

1 Tbsp vinegar + 1 tsp baking soda (egg replacement)

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup molasses

1 cup natural bran

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 cup all-purpose unbleached flour

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp grated lemon rind

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

In bowl, stir lemon juice into plant-based milk; let stand for 1 minute to sour. Stir together 1 tablespoon of vinegar and 1 teaspoon of baking soda to make the egg replacement and add to bowl. Stir in oil and molasses.

In a larger bowl, combine bran, whole wheat and unbleached flours, sugar, lemon rind, baking powder and baking soda. Add milk mixture and blueberries; mix just until combined.

Spoon into nonstick or paper-lined muffin tins. Bake in 375F oven for 20-25 minutes or until firm to touch.

Makes 12 muffins.