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Know Your Food Allergies and Intolerances

If there is someone in your family, or children in your care with a food allergy or intolerance, then you are likely to be much more vigilant and aware of the potential harm certain foods can cause.

Many of us though do not realise that there are a significant number of foods that we eat on a daily basis that contain hidden allergens and even a very small amount can be enough to completely derail your health. Consider this: ten milligrams of a food allergen (that’s about the size of a bread crumb) can be enough to inflame your system for as long as six to eight weeks.

These potentially harmful allergens crop up everywhere, so here are a few to look out for.

I expect you’re not aware for example, that the wax used to coat non-organic apples and cucumbers is full of dairy proteins. Whilst a few bites of an apple may not cause a sudden reaction, it could prolong the aggravation to your system.

Also, there is little awareness of the fact that many chewing gums contain gluten and that anywhere you see “modified food starch” listed as an ingredient, you should assume it is wheat or barley.

Some teabags contain Soy lecithin (which helps disperse the flavouring into the tea while brewing), so always check labels to be certain.

You may also be surprised to learn that traditionally, some wines contain a number of animal products which have been used during the ‘fining’ process (the bit that helps make the wine clearer, stabilised and less bitter). The fining agents can include milk proteins, egg whites, gelatine or even fish bladder. Fortunately, because of the rise in vegan diets, some supermarkets and wine producers have ditched these animal products, replacing them with clay- or charcoal-based alternatives, safe for both vegan and vegetarian diets.

One which can often catch people out is sugar. Some people have an intolerance to certain types of sugars (sugar allergies are thankfully quite rare). Rather unhelpfully there are around fifty-seven different names for sugar, so unless you pore over every nutritional label very carefully, you may miss it and that makes it easy for allergens to go undetected. Unless you know the source of the sweetener (agave, pure maple syrup, honey, beet sugar, corn or rice syrup, date sugar, palm sugar, stevia, or molasses) you can guess it is probably cane sugar.

Common Sources of Hidden Gluten

Gluten is probably the easiest to avoid as it is the most well-known allergen and many products are now labelled appropriately as gluten-free. Most important though is when you are eating out and obviously can’t check a label. Restaurants these days are usually fully up to date with allergies and intolerances and often can offer a separate gluten-free menu. Just be extra diligent about making sure there isn’t any gluten lurking in soups or sauces, as flour can often be used as a thickener. You also have to watch out for soy sauce, which is predominantly wheat and is added to lots of sauces and even salad dressings, so make sure you ask.

With children, make sure you check the ingredients in their ‘Play-Doh as it is primarily a mixture of water, salt, and flour and therefore contains gluten. Make sure they wash their hands after using it if they have a sensitivity to gluten, make your own or buy gluten-free Play-Doh.

Some vitamins and medications may also contain gluten, so double check by asking your pharmacist.

Common Sources of Hidden Dairy 

Dairy can be a little more difficult to avoid when eating out as butter is used liberally in restaurant kitchens to create the rich flavours we all enjoy. So, unless you are crystal clear that you are including butter among the things you must not eat, you may get a “dairy-free” meal full of butter. It can also become confusing as some people avoid dairy because of an allergy to milk proteins and others because of sensitivity to milk sugars. Those in the latter category can eat butter, which is low in sugars (or lactose). So, as pretty much all restaurants include hidden butter somewhere along the line, you must be very specific about what you can’t eat.

Common Sources of Hidden Egg

The most commonly used egg product in dishes is mayonnaise. Mayonnaise (or aioli, a flavoured mayonnaise) is often added to sauces, salad dressings and dips, so look carefully at labels and menus. Egg is also a common binder, so it can be found in many readymade meals as well. And unless you know a gluten-free baked good definitely doesn’t have eggs, you should assume it does. Other common sources of hidden egg ingredient might be:

  • Marshmallows
  • Processed meats and meatballs
  • Salad dressings
  • Flu shots and vaccines (you can request an egg-free shot, although they are usually reserved for those who have a histamine reaction to eggs)
  • Any product whose label includes: albumin, globulin, lecithin, livetin, lysozyme, vitellin, ovoglobulin

Common Sources of Hidden Soy

Soy seems to be the sneakiest of the allergens. The obvious additions like soy sauce and soy products (like tofu and edamame) are easy enough to find, but soy can be hidden in preservatives and obscure places like “artificial flavourings,” which are in nearly every packaged food. An interesting note: Vegetable oil derived from soy is safe for all but the most extremely soy-allergic individuals.

It is clear then that it is always important to carefully check labels and restaurant  menus, but in addition, never assume that someone knows  – explain clearly what you can and cannot eat – it’s an educative process for us all.

October 22, 2019

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