Food Allergies

Information, Diet Suggestions, and Resources

What Are Food Allergies?

A food allergy is a condition where the body inappropriately identifies a food or type of food as harmful to the body and attacks it. In fighting the harmless food components, the immune system releases histamine and other defense chemicals. This leads to an allergic reaction response, which can range from the development of hives to swelling of the throat-a medical emergency.

Each person with a serious food allergy needs to have emergency medication called epinephrine (often in the form of a self-injectable Epipen) with them at all times. Allergy testing can result in false-positive results. It is important to work with an allergist who takes a detailed history from you so that testing can be done on suspected foods rather than a large general panel of foods.

The Diet

The most important way to prevent a food-related allergic reaction is to completely avoid the food and any ingredients containing that food from your diet. But this can be tricky and labels need to be read each time a food is purchased. According to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, products controlled by the Food and Drug Administration are required to identify if one of the top eight food allergens are present in the food. The top eight food allergen ingredients include wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, eggs and milk. Food manufacturers are not required to label other food allergens beyond the top eight just mentioned. In addition, foods not covered by this law include raw agricultural foods regulated by the USDA such as fresh fruits and vegetables, raw meat and poultry, and raw eggs. It is essential that individuals with food allergies check the product’s ingredient list to see if it “may contain [allergen]” or is “produced in a facility that also produces products containing [allergen].” If you are having trouble creating a healthy meal plan with your food allergy restrictions, see a registered dietitian to assist you with meal planning. Eating out in restaurants is possible but can be challenging. Dining out often requires planning ahead, careful ordering, and clear communication with restaurant staff.