How to cope with food allergies

People often confuse food allergies and intolerances, because these two things share some similarities.

However, symptoms of food allergies are acute, affecting the skin, the gut, and the respiratory and cardiac systems.

Food intolerances are mainly felt in the gastrointestinal tract and may cause bloating, gas, cramping and diarrhoea.

The Total Food Allergy Health and Diet Guide clearly outlines these differences and provides information on how to manage allergies and intolerances by eliminating common allergens and gluten.

The 10 most common allergens, says author Alexandra Anca, are peanuts, tree nuts, seafood, milk, eggs, soy, wheat, sesame seeds, sulfites and mustard.

Anca, a Canadian dietitian, compiled the publication with the help of Dr Gordon L Sussman, an allergist and clinical immunologist with 30 years' experience.

Anca specialises in intestinal complaints, particularly coeliac disease. She has also published the Gluten-Free Diet Book.

"One area that's worrisome is that seafood allergies are on the rise globally," Anca says.

"Forty per cent of those who have a seafood allergy experience their first allergy as an adult.

"We don't know why it's happening and for now it's mainly just speculation."

She cites data from Canada and the US that shows that peanut allergies affect about 0.6 to 0.7 per cent of the population, compared with allergies to shellfish at 1.7 to 2.3 per cent.

Though Australia introduced guidelines on food labelling some years ago, Anca admits Canada is just starting to see appropriate labelling on supermarket shelves.

The Total Food Allergy Health and Diet Guide is designed to help people understand what causes allergies, how allergies develop and how to achieve well-being.

There are tests to determine allergies, but intolerances can only be pinpointed by elimination diets.

"The book helps people to navigate their way on how to avoid food that makes them sick," Anca says.

"The problem with food allergies is that it's highly risky to be enjoying foods when you're eating out."

The book includes 150 recipes that exclude allergens, and Anca has provided alternatives for ingredients such as egg and wheat in such treats as double banana muffins and banana bread.

The book also goes "aisle to aisle" with lists of foods to enjoy, question or exclude for each allergy.

For example, people with seafood allergies should exclude salad dressings or vegetable dips that contain anchovies.

Anca says people who don't live with food allergies often misunderstand the dangers, and a common myth is that you can dilute allergens by drinking more water.

She also believes restaurant workers need to be more aware of allergens, and how to avoid them.

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