A food allergy is a reaction of the body's immune system to certain foods. Symptoms include an itchy rash, runny nose, and sometimes wheezing. A severe allergic reaction to food may be life-threatening and it is called an anaphylactic reaction or anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis may occur within seconds or minutes of exposure to the cause of allergic reaction, and signs and symptoms include a rapid, weak pulse, skin rash, nausea and vomiting. About 40 percent of children with food allergies have experienced a severe allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis requires an immediate injection of epinephrine and usually a trip to the emergency room.
Food allergy is a topic of growing public health concern. It is estimated that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.9 million children under age 18. According to the CDC, food allergies among children increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011. Peanut allergy is the leading cause of death related to food-induced anaphylaxis in the United States. Researchers surveyed more than 53,000 households nationwide between October 2015 and September 2016 and found that peanut allergy is nearly double among black children relative to white children.
In the past, it was recommended to delay introduction of high-risk allergic foods to children. However, the New England Journal of Medicine published the results of the Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) Trial in February 2015 found that delaying introduction of high-risk allergic foods doesn’t provide protection against food allergies. In fact, it found that introducing peanut foods early may dramatically reduce the risk of developing a peanut allergy. According to the new Guidelines for Clinicians and Patients for Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy in the United States, introducing peanut-containing foods to infants at high risk for developing a peanut allergy is safe and may reduce their risk of developing a peanut allergy (up to 81 percent).
Today, the new guidelines from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) recommends introducing peanut protein to infants as early as 4-6 months old, depending on risk factors including family history and signs of eczema. The guidelines describe easy ways to introduce peanut protein to babies, and specific recommendations for how frequently infants who are at-risk for peanut allergy should eat peanut foods (at least 3 times per week). If a baby isn’t at risk for peanut allergy, parents can offer peanut foods as often as they would like. The recommendations include thinned peanut butter, peanut puffs or powdered peanut butter instead of whole peanuts in order to prevent choking. For more information please click here.
Unfortunately there is no cure for food allergies. Although we may reduce the risk of developing peanut allergy in infants, people who already have the allergy must learn to live with it. Those with food allergies must be aware at all times about the composition of their meals and avoid the foods that trigger allergic reactions. Epinephrine (adrenaline) must be administered within minutes of symptoms of anaphylaxis to prevent fatal consequences. Ask your doctor about self-injectable devices. Learning how to read nutrition labels is crucial and may save lives. It is recommended that anyone with a food allergy, or their loved ones, learn to recognize early symptoms in order to prevent serious health consequences. If you have questions regarding how to read labels, come see me to my desk.
Be aware that some people can have an allergic reaction by touching hands or surfaces with peanut residue on them. Below are some recommendations to clean peanut residue:
If you are interested in peanut- and nut-free products, visit 88acres.com.
Recipe of the Week: Pear Granola Bars
½ cup dates
½ cup creamy almond butter
1 cup almond flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup shredded coconut
¼ cup cranberries or golden raisins
¼ cup finely chopped almonds
¼ cup mini chocolate chips
1 cup dried pears, chopped
Soak the dates in warm water for 20 minutes. Drain the water and process the dates in a food processor until smooth. Add about 2 tablespoons of water to help make the dates creamier. Add almond flour and mix until a paste forms. Then add rolled oats, coconut, cranberries or raisins, finely chopped almonds and chocolate chips. Pulse until well mixed. Cover a baking dish with plastic wrap or parchment paper. Transfer the mixture into the dish and press until it is uniformly flattened. (The mixture can also be formed into small balls.) Place the baking dish in the refrigerator or freezer for about one hour. Remove from the refrigerator and chop into little squares. Decorate with the dehydrated pears. Store in containers or sealed plastic bags in the freezer to keep them firm and fresh.
If you don’t have a food dehydrator, you can use your oven to make dried fruit. Preheat the oven to 180°. Choose firm pears and wash them. Slice the pears using a mandoline. Use the number two setting so the pears are the right thickness. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the pear slices on the paper. Bake in the oven for two hours. Turn the pears over and return to the oven. Continue baking and turning the pears every two hours. The whole process may take between six and eight hours, depending on how dry you want the pears.
*This recipe from Karen Alexander is also featured in Edible Magazine Northeast Florida
Have a great weekend!
Karen Alexander, BSND, MSCN