Navigating Food Allergies and Sensitivities


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Navigating a food allergy or sensitivity has its challenges, but by understanding your dietary needs, gaining support from loved ones, and advocating for yourself, it can become much simpler.

Allergy versus intolerance 

Learn how to spot an allergy or intolerance. A food allergy is an immune system response to certain foods. Potential allergic reactions may include hives or rash, difficulty swallowing and/or breathing, or swelling1.Food intolerance, or sensitivity on the other hand, is usually a digestive system response to certain foods. Symptoms may include bloating, gas, constipation, or diarrhea2. Understanding your food allergies and intolerances can help you prevent any serious or life threatening reactions.

Label reading

There are nine foods that are responsible for the majority of food allergies in the US, referred to as the “Major 9”. These include milk, eggs, fish (like salmon, tuna, halibut), crustacean shellfish (like shrimp, crab, lobster), tree nuts, wheat, peanuts, soybeans, and sesame. The FDA requires them to be easily found on food labels. They can be directly called out after the ingredient list in a “contains” statement or in parenthesis within the ingredient list, for example: whey (milk). This helps consumers identify allergens with ease and decide if a food is safe for them. If an allergy or intolerance isn’t a Major 9 food, it may be trickier to identify. Ingredients may fall under “spices” or “natural flavors,” making them difficult to detect. If there’s an ingredient you aren’t sure about, call the manufacturer number on the ingredient label for more information.

Alternatives and substitutions 

The rate of allergies in the US is rapidly increasing4, and with that, many manufacturers are making new alternatives that are free from common allergens. Substituting ingredients in for your allergen is also a great option. For example, substitute cow’s milk with oat milk, egg with applesauce when baking, or wheat flour with rice flour.5

Dining out 

Don’t let an allergy or food sensitivity keep you from enjoying a meal with friends or family, be it outside or at home. Know what to look for when selecting a restaurant. For example, buffets pose a high risk of cross contact, increasing risk of allergen exposure. You should communicate with the restaurant staff about your allergen needs; be sure to specify avoiding cross contact. For example, fried foods may use shared oil. Dining at a less busy time may allow staff to be more attentive. Follow the same rules at home—be clear about your needs.

Support from loved ones 

Remember, you don’t need to manage an allergy or sensitivity alone. Involve loved ones for support! Take time to educate them about your dietary needs. Try preparing a new recipe together to familiarize them with your dietary requirements and help understand your allergy or intolerance better. Help you and your loved ones become experts on your dietary needs by speaking with a Registered Dietitian.

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