Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Food Allergy Awareness Week

If you hadn't guessed from the title, it's Food Allergy Awareness Week!!!

I figured it was appropriate for me to share since right now I'm kinda allergic to food in general...or at least digestion, which tends to come along with eating food...

Anyway, even when I am able to eat, I still have actual allergies to dairy and wheat. This does makes things challenging at times, but honestly, when I've been on a diet of only smoothies and liquids for months, somehow a diet that excludes dairy and wheat doesn't feel so restrictive...haha =P

I thought I would share a fun (and hopefully educational) post about where dairy and wheat products like to hide for anyone dealing with similar allergies. One thing I found when I was first diagnosed, is that ingredients can hide or show up in surprising places. If you don't know to look for them, you might not even think to check, and as all food allergy sufferers know, that can lead to potentially severe consequences.

So here goes!

1) Candy

If you're allergic to milk, you're probably used to avoiding chocolate products, but did you know that wheat can hide in candy as well?? Did you know there is wheat in Twizzlers??? Chewy, gummy NOT grain-based candy?? Anyone with a wheat allergy, Celiac disease, or a wheat/gluten sensitivity, make sure you are careful when handling this candy! This is not the only gummy candy that contains wheat either, so make sure you are reading labels when you're looking to satisfy your sweet tooth. Sour patch kids ARE gluten and dairy free...just saying =)

2) Vegan products

Another common misconception by people outside the allergy community or newly diagnosed is that vegan = allergy free. I want to dispel this myth now! I'm not going to debate the health ramifications of a vegan diet, but emphasize that just because something is vegan does not mean it is allergy friendly. Actually, products labeled as vegan often contain quite a lot of gluten because it is a binding agent which may be even more necessary in products without eggs that are commonly used as a binder. (Side note: If you also need to avoid soy, watch out for vegan products. Tofu is often used as a meat substitute or in other ways in vegan products and can be a hidden ingredient.) On the flip side, vegan products are guaranteed to be dairy free. Because vegans avoid all animal products, any form of milk that is not plant based will not be used.

3) Gluten free products

Switching gears here now to highlight some tricky, hidden sources of dairy. If you have multiple allergies, you may have found "allergen friendly" brands in the grocery stores, but WATCH OUT! There are many gluten free brands that still contain milk or milk products. Don't assume that just because something is gluten free or advertised as allergen friendly means that it is also dairy free as well. Glutino is one brand that has some products that are okay for me to eat, and others that contain milk products. I learned the hard way that you have to read the ingredients every time on every product, no exceptions.

4) Lactose free/Lactose intolerance friendly products

Another BEWARE for dairy allergies. Despite how these products are labeled, THEY LIE! There is still lactose in almost all "lactose free" products. How do they manage this?? They also add the lactase enzyme to the product so lactose intolerant people can safely eat the product because the enzyme is already there. If you truly have a milk allergy, though, this does not help. Whey protein and casein are two milk proteins that are typically the source of milk allergies. These are often still in "lactose free" products. Be careful of any dairy product labeled "lactose free" unless you read the ingredients yourself. Like I mentioned before, if you find a dairy substitute that is labeled vegan, you are good, no milk proteins there. Daiya brand cheeses are gluten, dairy, and soy free. I think they taste pretty good, but remember, I haven't had regular cheese in 7+ years, so I may not be the best judge =P

5) Vegetarian products

Not vegan, those are going to be dairy free, but vegetarian products often slip dairy into the ingredient list. Watch for whey protein, casein, or cheese added to things like veggie burgers or other meat substitutes. If the product is labeled Pareve, that means there is no meat or dairy in that, so it should be safe.

6) Medications

This is the last one I want to mention because I think it's the most important and most overlooked. Food allergy sufferers are often obsessive about reading food labels at the grocery store, friends houses, potlucks, etc. But how many are reading the labels on their medications? If you take regular medications, do you know what the inactive ingredients are? Check, check, and double check. If you change brands, check again. If you get a refill from the pharmacy and the pills look different, ASK! As someone dealing with a fairly severe milk allergy, I have run into this on multiple occasions. For my MCAS, I take H1 and H2 blockers daily. H1 blockers can be zyrtec, claritin, allergra, etc. I take zyrtec, HOWEVER, I can ONLY take the liqui-gel. The tablets and capsules for zyrtec all contain milk products in the inactive ingredients. Same for my H2 blockers. name-brand zantac is the only medication in its class that does not contain milk products. Watch for lactose monohydrate as a milk product that is often found in tablet coatings.

Story time: When I have been in the hospital, they often do not stock zantac in the pharmacy. Instead, they have other H2 blockers such as pepsid or similar medications, such as protonix. When I was admitted in October, the doctor decided he wanted me to start taking an H2 blocker since I wasn't at the time. He prescribed protonix. The nurse brought it up, but before I took it we asked her to double check the ingredients as well as checking the INACTIVE ingredients. When she returned she said that it did contain milk products in the coating. So she had the pharmacy send up pepsid instead. When it came, and I looked at the pill, I knew there was no way there wasn't milk in it. I asked her to check again. At this point she was a bit frustrated, I'm sure, but it wasn't worth risking my health (even if I was in the hospital =P). Sure enough, the pepsid also had lactose monohydrate as an inactive ingredient. We ended up going out to a local CVS and buying a bottle of zantac ourselves so I knew it was safe.

Moral of the story: CHECK, CHECK, and CHECK AGAIN. And this applies to managing any allergy in general. You are your own best advocate. Even when I was in the hospital with my allergies on file, the pharmacy STILL sent me medications with my most severe allergen in it. Had I not been paying attention, or known to ask, or willing to advocate for myself even though I frustrated my nurse in the process, things could have been really bad.

I have learned a lot in the 7+ years since being diagnosed with food allergies, and I hope this can encourage and equip others who are also dealing with similar diets! Feel free to email me or leave a comment with any questions or comments!

Anyone else have any tips or suggestions of hidden allergens in common foods??

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