Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Confusion in Testing for Food Allergies?

The Wall Street Journal ran an article yesterday on the front page of the Health and Wellness section titled “Is Your Kid Truly Allergic? Tests Add to Confusion.” The title of Melinda Beck's article really sent my antennas up. And while I’m happy to see the topic of food allergies being reported on more frequently, I was troubled by the piece.

The article accurately portrays the difficulties families with food allergies face, especially in determining which foods they are allergic to. But at the same time, Beck writes that experts suggest that food allergies diagnosed on the basis of blood tests may not be accurate, and the only way to know for sure is with a food challenge test. Huh? She does go on to state that the most accurate information in making a diagnosis is history, and the patient’s reaction when they encounter the food allergen. Applause here.

So why am I concerned?

My son was eleven before he was accurately diagnosed with food allergies. We received incorrect diagnosis after incorrect diagnosis. Traditional allergy specialists did skin tests and declared him free of food allergies. If it were not for a very persistent gastro-intestinal specialist who diagnosed his eosinophilic esophagitis, and the blood test to determine the food allergens that trigger it, we’d still be searching for an answer. A food challenge test would have been useless in our situation.

Let’s make sure we look at the other side of this story.

Sometimes the results of the blood tests will indeed be accurate – they were in my son’s case. Sometimes those blood tests may be the only way to discover which foods cause the allergies – they were in my son’s case. I find it distressing that the experts are minimizing the results of the simplest, least painful, and cheapest test for food allergies that we have.

If there is confusion over food allergies, the article itself just might be adding to that confusion. What do you think?

Yes, You Can Have Chocolate!

I admit it. I am a chocoholic. So naturally it’s a high priority for me to find allergen-free chocolate products. The good news is, that even if you are allergic to eggs and milk and soy and wheat, you too can still have chocolate!

One of the things you will notice about the suggestions I share here is that when there’s a choice between vanilla and chocolate, I choose chocolate. When there’s an option to add ingredients to baked goods, I add chocolate chips. Heck, I add chocolate chips even if the recipe doesn’t suggest it.

And the chocolate chips I use?

My favorite allergy-free chocolate chips are Tropical Source from Sunspire. Make sure you buy the package that is labeled ‘dairy and gluten-free’. The ingredient list is simple: evaporated cane juice, unsweetened cocoa butter, soy lecithin, and ground vanilla beans.

Even those allergic to soy protein will likely be okay with the soy lecithin. Soy lecithin is a by-product of soybean oil. Most food allergies are to the proteins in the food. Check with your doctor if you’re not sure!

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Whole Foods Allergy Cookbook – Book Review

Can you tell that the pages of this book are dog-eared? There’s a reason for that. Of all the food allergy cookbooks I own, The Whole Foods Allergy Cookbook is the one I turn to most often. Authored by Cybele Pascal, The Whole Foods Allergy Cookbook: Two Hundred Gourmet & Homestyle Recipes for the Food Allergic Family
is indeed the Cadillac of food allergy cookbooks – therefore it’s fitting that it be the first I review for this site.

The two hundred recipes in this book are organized by meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner, sweet things, and snacks) and cover just about every type of food you might look for. The recipes are all free of the top eight food allergens (milk, wheat, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish). Some of my favorites are the banana bread, the creamy avocado chicken salad (creamy without milk or eggs? yup!), and the turkey meatballs (which incidentally work just as well with beef).

The only criticism I have of this book (and it’s a very small one really) is that some of the recipes use spelt flour. For those with wheat allergies, the spelt flour will not be an option. Spelt is actually in the triticum family of grains – the same grain family that includes wheat. This also means that spelt contains gluten. But Pascal does a great job of providing alternatives, and any wheat-free or gluten-free (depending on whether you need to avoid just wheat or all glutens) can be substituted.

All in all this is a totally awesome cookbook, and highly recommended by this food allergy mom. Families who are learning to eat allergy-free will definitely want to add it to their bookshelf!