CORRECTION: This story was updated Thursday, July 25, 2019, at 3:15 p.m. to correct Danielle Townsend's last name. We incorrectly referred to her as Danielle Kennedy.
We're hearing about food allergies more than ever these days. Gluten, peanut butter, dairy, wheat, shellfish, tree nuts, eggs the list goes on and is so confusing we need to step back and take a look at what may be causing the onslaught of allergies.
And it's not just all in our heads.
The Centers for Disease Control reports an 18% increase in food allergies in children between 1997 and 2007, says registered dietitian Danielle Townsend with Primary Healthcare Center. In addition, she continues, a 2013 study showed a 50% increase between 1997 and 2011.
"Food allergies typically rear their ugly heads within the first two years of life," Townsend says. "If parents are not exposing their would-be toddlers to these foods, for fear of the child having an allergic reaction, they are essentially missing the window for the child to desensitize themselves and try to prevent the allergy from developing in the first place."
Food allergies affect about 6 million people nationwide — and the prevalence is increasing. Some people self-diagnose and may not really be allergic, Townsend says.
If you believe you may have a food allergy, it's wise to check with your doctor. Or there's a new home test available, YorkTest, that's pricey at $270, but perhaps worth the money for its home convenience and ability to guide you in making the right food choices. Check it out at www.yorktest.com/us. A simple finger-prick blood test will determine your sensitivity to 208 foods, drinks and ingredients.
Allergic reactions to foods usually happen very quickly — every time a certain food is eaten, Townsend says.
"Common symptoms affect the gastrointestinal tract and come in the form of diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, cramping, abdominal distention and pain," she says. "Allergies can be confused with intolerances."
There's no way to overcome a food allergy, but there are ways to decrease your sensitivity and the severity of your reactions. Obviously, the best way is to avoid eating what food triggers your allergic reaction, and always carry an epinephrine injectable at the ready. Townsend says oral immunotherapies continue to be researched, involving feeding a food known to cause a reaction — in small amounts over time — to a subject in hopes of desensitizing that person over time.
"Peanut, egg and milk oral immunotherapy has shown to desensitize 60% to 80% of patients who were studied," she notes. "And giving peanut butter as early as 4 to 6 months of age could help a child not develop the allergy, though not specifically get rid of it altogether."
Dairy is one of the top food allergies and is found in so many foods. Here's a recipe Townsend found online at inspirededibles.ca that will let you have your dairy — of sorts — and eat it, too.
Chocolate Avocado Pudding With Coconut Milk
1 1/2 ripe avocados, inside flesh removed
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Place all ingredients in a blender, and blend until well combined and smooth. Eat right away, or store in the refrigerator for later.
Note: If you feel like the taste is off a little bit, feel free to add small amounts of maple syrup to increase the sweetness.
Email Anne Braly at firstname.lastname@example.org.