March 22, 2017

Food allergies!?! Now what do I eat?

by Emily Melby, RDN, Allergy Associates of La Crosse

Once diagnosed with a food allergy, you might be asked to eliminate the allergic food or foods from your diet if you have had a severe reaction in the past.  If your allergy is milder in nature, your allergist may want you to reduce your exposure to the allergic food to decrease symptoms. However, eliminating or reducing intake of foods or food groups does not guarantee optimal nutrition. It’s crucial to replace the food allergen with other foods of a similar nutrient content.

When distinguishing among the most common food allergies, we can look to the top eight food allergens in the United States.  These include dairy, wheat, egg, soy, fish, shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts, which account for 90% of food allergy reactions among people in the U.S.  Though over 160 foods are known to have caused an allergic reaction in individuals, the top eight allergens are the most common.

When looking for foods to replace those that you’re eliminating or reducing in your diet, first look for foods that are naturally allergy-free for most allergy sufferers. Naturally allergy-friendly foods for most people include:

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Legumes excluding peanuts
  • Seeds
  • Grains excluding wheat
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables

Though your diet restriction may seem daunting, the naturally allergy-free foods listed above can provide you with a very diverse diet that is full of nutrient rich options.

The severity and quantity of your food allergies will also make a difference. For someone with multiple allergies outside of the most common top eight, safe food choices can be difficult to achieve. For example, if you have multiple food allergies to food containing protein such as beef and legumes, your protein intake may decline if these were a stable in your diet before you learned they were allergens. If you don’t find other good sources of protein, your diet may suffer. The main sources of protein are found in animal products, beans/legumes, seeds, and nuts. Finding what your calorie and protein needs are each day can help to ensure you are eating the right amount of a specific food group to meet nutritional needs.

Variety is Key

Food allergy, dietary substitutions

It’s important to find foods that make up for lost nutrients when eliminating foods from the diet because of food allergy.

The key to healthy eating with food allergies is to eat a VARIETY of these foods. Since no one food contains all of the required elements needed for overall health, variety is essential. Variety in the diet is important for everyone’s diet, not just those with foods allergies. When we focus our diet on eating the same foods over and over, it’s likely we are missing some vital health promoting benefits found in a diverse diet.

How do you know if you are fulfilling your dietary requirements while avoiding your food allergens?  Clues that you’re not getting adequate nutrition include weight loss in adults or children, and no weight gain or growth in height among children. Even if you are getting adequate calories, there is still a chance your new diet is deficient in certain nutrients such as calcium or iron. It isn’t as easy to know if you have low intake of a certain vitamin or minerals. Specific symptoms can be clues to deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, but symptoms you may be experiencing can have multiple causes.

Use Tools to Help Guide You

Websites like ChooseMyPlate.gov or apps such as MyNetDiary.com allow you to track your daily food intake. Once your food choices (along with portion sizes) are entered, you can see your calorie, fat, and protein intake along with the amount of vitamins and minerals you are consuming each day. One caution: Not all programs will include allergy-free food brands, which can complicate matters.

It’s vital to replace those missing nutrients to ensure complete nutrition for you and your family. Fulfilling dietary requirements once a food allergy has been diagnosed can be complex, especially if you are avoiding numerous foods. If you have multiple allergies, including those that are less common, and are finding it hard to achieve variety and adequate nutrition, consider meeting with a registered dietitian to create a plan that works for you and ensures you achieve overall nutrition. Complete nutrition may not always come easy, but it is possible with a bit of determination, diligence, and help from the tools and experts that are more available now than ever before.

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