21 Ocak 2008 Pazartesi

Food Allergies and Intolerances - Part 2

What are the most common food allergens?

Although an individual could be allergic to any food, such as fruits, vegetables, and meats, they are not as common as the following eight foods, which account for 90 percent of all food-allergic reactions:

  • - Milk
  • - Egg
  • - Peanut
  • - Tree nut (walnut, cashew, etc.)
  • - Fish
  • - Shellfish
  • - Soy
  • - Wheat

Contrary to common belief, food additives (E-numbers) are only rarely involved in food allergies.

To what kind of foods are people allergic?

The foods most likely to cause allergic reactions in adults include crustaceans such as shrimp, crayfish, lobster and crab, peanuts, tree nuts such as walnuts, fish and eggs. The foods most likely to cause reactions in young children are milk and eggs, wheat and peanuts.

Adults usually do not lose their allergies but children can sometimes outgrow them. Children are more likely to outgrow allergies to milk or soy than allergies to peanuts, fish or shrimp. An allergy to peanuts or shellfish may cause more severe reactions after the first exposures.

People are likely to react to foods that they eat often. In Japan, for example, rice allergy is frequent. Scandinavia has a high incidence of codfish allergy.

Which foods should I avoid when I have lactose intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest significant amounts of lactose, the predominant sugar of milk. This inability results from a shortage of the enzyme lactase, which is normally produced by the cells that line the small intestine. Lactase breaks down milk sugar into simpler forms that can then be absorbed into the bloodstream.

Tolerance to lactose is variable and individual-dependent. The tolerance threshold of milk and/or dairy products can only be determined by trial and observation by qualified medical practitioners.

Milk and non-fermented dairy products, which are the natural sources of lactose, should be avoided. Fermented dairy products, on the other hand, are well tolerated because the abundant lactic acid bacteria present in these products digest the lactose.

Other food products that may contain lactose include: bread and other baked goods; processed breakfast cereals; instant potatoes, soups, and breakfast drinks; margarine; lunch meats (other than kosher); salad dressings; candies and other snacks; mixes for pancakes, biscuits, and cookies, and should be avoided.

It is important to read food labels with care, looking not only for milk and lactose among the contents but also for such words as whey, curds, milk by-products, dry milk solids, and non-fat dry milk powder. If any of these are listed on a label, the product contains lactose, and should be avoided.

In view of the fact that most of the foods listed contain important nutrients, coupled with the fact that individuals differ in the amounts and types of foods they can handle, it is important for each person to learn through trial and error how much lactose he or she can handle. Young children with lactase deficiency should not eat any foods containing lactose. Most older children and adults need not avoid lactose completely.

When I have peanut allergy, should I avoid peanut oil?

The process of refining oil removes peanut protein, which is responsible for triggering an allergic reaction. Peanut oil (sometimes labelled as Arachis or Groundnut oil) is commonly used as a component in vegetable oil, as a carrier in processed foods or as an emulsifier/lubricant in cosmetics. Studies have shown no detectable protein in refined peanut oil, and no reaction among peanut allergy sufferers to the refined oil. However, unrefined or crude oils or oil that has been used to cook peanuts do contain protein and should therefore be avoided.

As a pregnant/breast-feeding woman, should I avoid eating peanuts?

The data regarding sensitisation during pregnancy or breast-feeding is inconclusive with regard to peanut allergy. As a precautionary measure, it is advised by the US Department of Health that “pregnant or breast-feeding women who suffer from diagnosed allergic conditions, or where the father or a sibling of the child has a clinical history of such conditions, may wish to avoid eating peanuts and food containing peanut products.” It was further stated that “there is no reason for pregnant or nursing mothers who do not fall into this category to avoid eating peanuts.”

This means that eating peanuts is safe, unless there is a history of peanut allergy in the family.

Are nut products always labelled?

While not required under current EU regulations, many food manufacturers and retailers have decided to voluntarily label products that contain nuts, including peanuts to inform people suffering from peanut allergy. The most difficult area to control is in a restaurant or catering establishment where non-packaged food is not labelled for the consumer. In these situations, consumers should always ask if there are peanuts or peanut products in the recipe when ordering. If any doubt remains, that food or location should be avoided.

I have recently discovered that I am allergic to benzoic acid (E210), which products should I avoid?

Benzoic acid and benzoates are widely used preservatives against fungi. When added as preservatives, they should be labelled with the appropriate number (E210-215), or name (benzoic acid, benzoate). Hence you should read the product labels carefully. The only natural sources of benzoic acid are cranberries, which contain so much benzoic acid that they will hardly spoil. Thus cranberries and products made with cranberries should be avoided.

What are benzoic acid and benzoates and in which products do these occur?

Benzoic acid is a natural compound that acts as a preservative, especially against fungi. It is normally present in high concentrations in cranberries. It is not present in most other edible berries and products. In view of its anti-microbial action, it is widely used as a food preservative. In this case it will be marked on the label as benzoic acid, benzoate (salt of benzoic acid), or E210-E213.

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