Food allergies are on the rise with an increasing number of individuals developing food allergies over the last several decades. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the prevalence of food allergy in children increased by 50 percent between the years 1997 and 2011, while 32 million Americans have food allergies. Millions more have reactions to foods that aren’t categorized as allergies but rather as food intolerances.
These reactions to foods can vary from mild symptoms to a severe anaphylactic reaction that can be life threatening. For this reason, it’s important to take any reactivity to foods seriously. While the reasons for why food-based reactions are increasing in prevalence are not fully clear (whether it’s a change in our environment, our diet, our microbiome and gut health, or the changing nature of foods over the years, there are many factors that researchers have theorized about), the best preventive measure to address food reactions is avoidance of the offending food in the diet.
Any particular food at any particular time may be a cause for allergy in an individual; however, researchers have identified a handful of foods responsible for reactivity in a majority of those suffering with food allergies. Some of the more common offenders are shellfish, dairy products, peanuts and tree nuts, eggs, fish, wheat, and soy.
In addition to leading to potentially serious health consequences, a fact remains that food allergies and intolerances impact our quality of life. While some allergies are readily apparent because they lead to immediate symptoms (i.e. when a food is eaten, there is an immediate and obvious reaction), other food allergies can have a delayed response. Similarly, with intolerances, the response may not always be readily apparent but removing the food or foods from the diet can lead to an improvement in symptoms. This is where specific dietary measures such as the gluten-free diet (if gluten or wheat is an allergen), an elimination diet (eliminating multiple foods), or even a vegan diet that is devoid of major allergens can be useful measures.
Of course, if you are certain of what the offending allergens are, more targeted approaches can also be employed. This includes removal of the specific food for milk allergy, wheat allergy, soy allergy, egg allergy, nut and tree nut allergy, and seafood allergy.
While not easy, eliminating allergenic and sensitive foods from the diet can have a big impact on quality of life and health overall. This is an effective measure to address the allergic response. However, there are often things we may overlook that are sources of hidden allergens in the diet.
Food Allergies and Supplementation
As more of us turn to dietary supplements as a means of fortifying our diet and supporting health, it is critical to ensure that the supplements we use are free of common allergens, specifically the ones we may be avoiding from a dietary perspective. Supplements can often be a hidden source of allergens as allergens exist in certain raw materials and fillers that are used or can also be transferred from one product to another during the manufacturing process, if care is not taken to properly clean equipment to ensure it is free of allergens.
High quality supplements and brands will take additional measures to ensure allergen residues are eliminated and not present during the manufacture of a product. This includes effective cleaning procedures as well as sourcing ingredients that are free of common allergens.
Thankfully, as consumers become savvier and more nuanced regarding the presence of allergens in foods and supplements, companies have started catering to them by offering products that are labeled as free of common allergens. Look for products that have statements or badges verifying they are free of the allergens you are interested in avoiding, including dairy free, soy free and gluten free.
Vegan supplements are also a good choice for those with reactions to certain classes of allergenic foods. Products labeled as vegan will avoid dairy, fish, and shellfish containing ingredients by their nature, since these are not allowed in a vegan diet. It’s also important to be careful with specific vitamins and nutrients that may be sourced from non-vegan starting materials. A prime example is vitamin D3. Most supplemental vitamin D3 on the market comes from sheep’s wool. While not necessarily a common allergen, those adhering to a vegan diet will want to avoid this. Fortunately, premium brands can source vitamin D3 from vegan sources such as lichen, which is just as effective as the animal sourced vitamin D3.
Wheat and Gluten Allergies
Wheat and gluten allergies are some of the more common among allergenic foods. Gluten is a component of many grains, most predominantly wheat. Other grains containing gluten include barley, rye, and spelt. Gluten is also a hidden ingredient in processed foods and fillers.
Gluten sensitivity is well-known in the form of Celiac disease, a condition that negatively impacts the cells lining the digestive tract and affects nutrient absorption; however, more recently researchers have discovered a type of non-Celiac gluten sensitivity, which can also lead to digestive and non-digestive symptoms. In both cases, removing gluten from the diet is key to resolving symptoms and restoring health. Just as critical is ensuring the supplements you consume are gluten free. Looking at the labels to verify you are using gluten free supplements is key.
For Those Avoiding GMO Foods
Many foods are now labeled as non-GMO meaning they are produced without genetic engineering and the ingredients used are not derived from genetically modified sources. Unfortunately, with some modern farming practices, the use of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) is becoming more prevalent. Corn and soy are two crops that have a high chance of being genetically modified. There are several other foods that are either partially or fully produced using genetic engineering.
Supplements are no different. Several supplement ingredients may also be produced using GMO sources. However, it is possible to produce GMO free supplements, as many ingredients still can be sourced using non-GMO sources. High quality companies will disclose whether their products are non-GMO on their labels. Since the overall long-term effects of GMO technologies is uncertain, it is wise to avoid GMO ingredients, when possible, by turning to non-GMO supplements.
Food allergies and sensitivities can have serious ramifications to an individual’s heath and well-being. Ensuring that sensitive foods are avoided in the diet is essential to avoiding health challenges that could arise because of food intolerances. It is also important to ensure you eliminate sources of hidden allergens, including in the dietary supplements you consume. Looking for products labeled as allergen free is essential to safeguarding health in those with food sensitivities.
- Facts and Statistics: https://www.foodallergy.org/resources/facts-and-statistics