Back to School with Food Allergies Checklist

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It’s back-to-school time again! If your kiddo has food allergies, you know that getting ready for the new school year involves more than just shopping for school supplies and new clothes. There are lots of moving parts when it comes to ensuring your child has a safe, happy, and inclusive school year.

To keep myself on track and to make sure that nothing slip through the cracks, I like to make a list of things I need to do to prepare for the upcoming school year. 

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It’s Not Too Early to Teach Your Preschooler to Manage Food Allergies

This piece was originally posted on October 1, 2013 at FantasticallyFree.com

I had a “proud mom” moment yesterday when I picked up my 4-year old daughter from Pre-K yesterday. She told me that her class had cucumbers and ranch dressing for snack yesterday. I felt a brief lump in my throat because although my daughters have outgrown their dairy fantasticallyfreekidswithdoughallergies they all have an anaphylactic egg allergy.

To my relief, she also told me that she informed her teacher and her friends that she could not have ranch dressing because she is allergic to egg. Whew!

I was impressed that she remembered that ranch dressing often contains milk and egg ingredients. I was even more impressed after she told me that her classmate told her that the ranch dressing was okay for her to eat but she insisted that she could not eat it.

That shows a lot of awareness for a young 4-year old, which brings me to my point: It is never too early to teach your preschooler how to manage food allergies. They soak things in like a sponge and grasp concepts quickly. While I would never expect a child to be able to handle food allergies with the same level of maturity and skill as an adult, it is beneficial to teach them how to be their own self-advocates when you are not around.

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Know What to Do During an Allergic Reaction

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May is Food Allergy Action Month and May 8th through May 14th is Food Allergy Awareness Week. Every May, FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) hosts a nationwide Food Allergy Awareness Week to shine a spotlight on the seriousness of food allergies and to improve public understanding of this potentially life-threatening medical condition.

Here are some quick facts about food allergies:

  • Food allergies can be life-threatening and are a serious and growing public health problem.
  • They affect up to 15 million Americans, including nearly 6 million children–that’s approximately 1 in 13 kids or two in
    every classroom.¹
  • Nearly 40 percent of these children have already experienced a severe or life-threatening
    reaction. In addition, more than 30 percent of these children have multiple food allergies.
  • The number of children with food allergies in the U.S. increased 50 percent between 1997
    and 2011, but there is no clear answer as to why.²
  • A reaction to food can range from a mild response (such as an itchy mouth) to anaphylaxis, a
    severe and potentially deadly reaction.
  • Every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room in the U.S.
  • In the US, eight foods (peanut, tree nuts, egg, soy, milk, fish, shellfish, and wheat), known as the top 8, account for 90% of all food allergy reactions, though anyone can be allergic to any food. Interestingly, the top allergic foods vary by country.

Being the mother of 3 children with multiple food allergies, there is so much that I could write about to raise awareness today, this week, this month, this year. After giving it much thought, what I really want to talk about is knowing what to do during an allergic reaction. 

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Cilantro: Love It or Hate It?

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This weekend I was helping teach a cooking class for a local organization that encourages people to grow, buy, and cook real whole foods to prevent chronic illness. One of the ingredients we were using in the salsa and guacamole we were making was cilantro. It turns out that cilantro is one of those foods that people either love or hate.

We had one person who really despised cilantro (just like my mother) and one with a sensitivity to cilantro, so we also made a small batch of cilantro-free guacamole. I, on the other hand, love it. I love the way it smells and I often mix it with my salad greens. I don’t even bother to chop it before putting it in my salad, I just toss in the whole thing. Yum!

Cilantro (and parsley) contains many cancer-fighting antioxidants as well as antibacterial and antifungal properties.¹ It is also believed to help the body detoxify, aid in digestion, and help stabilize blood sugar levels.

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Before You Eat that Avocado Seed

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Avocados are one of my favorite foods. They’re a perfect addition to an anti-inflammatory whole-foods-based diet. They are so versatile and can be used in a number of different and creative ways. I’ve seen recipes for chocolate avocado pudding, lemon avocado mousse, fudgy avocado brownies, avocado deviled eggs, etc. (although, I usually stick to slicing them up and putting them on my food–hey, I like to keep it simple).

But the latest trend going around is eating avocado seeds. Yep, people are going wild drying out avocado pits by placing them in the oven for 2 hours at 250 degrees Fahrenheit, removing the outer skin, and pulverizing them before adding them to smoothies and green juices.

The reason most people added it to smoothies is because it tastes pretty bad and they want to conceal the flavor.One friend of mine decided to eat the pit by just baking it and slicing it into pieces. It tasted very bitter and she didn’t feel that well after eating it. I’m not all that surprised that it wasn’t fabulous. I imagine it would taste like a wooden ball, if I had ever tasted a wooden ball.

I’ve built BrightFire Living around the concept of simple, toxic-free, allergy-friendly living so I have to tell you this…

Avocado pits have been used medicinally in South America to treat high-blood, pressure, diabetes, and inflammation. While they do contain beneficial nutrients and fiber, avocado pits (and leaves) are mildly toxic but adults can usually eat them safely in small amounts. So, if you do decide to eat them, be sure to eat them in small quantities and pay attention to how your body reacts.

If you’re pregnant, you might want to forgo the seed. I wouldn’t recommend feeding them to children either. There just hasn’t been much research on the potential toxicity of consuming avocado seeds. Obviously, if you have an allergy to avocados, you want to avoid eating the pits as well as the fruit.

You also want to keep them away from your pets, as they are toxic to horses, birds, and possibly other domesticated animals.  According to Dr. Robert Clipsham, DVM:

“The parts of the [avocado] tree containing the toxic chemical are limited to the bark, leaves, and pits. There is no current evidence that the fruit has caused toxicities in any species of animal. Due to the parts of the plant which carry the poison, the most commonly affected animals tend to be horses, cattle and goats; however, cases have been reported in mice, rabbits and birds. Drying of the plant does not seem to modify the toxin as animals have been
poisoned by consuming dried leaves and pits. The nature of the toxin is unknown…”¹

 

Here’s the good news

The good news is that you don’t have to eat the bitter seeds to get the health benefits of avocado. The flesh of the avocado, especially the dark green part next to the skin, is loaded with phytosterols, polyhydroxylated fatty alcohols (PFAs) and omega-3 fatty acids that reduce inflammation.

They’re also a good source of potassium, antioxidants and monounsaturated fats, in addition to being low in sodium. This makes them great at protecting against high-blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.

  1. A little bit of avocado goes a long way. You only need to eat half an avocado to get 600 mg of potassium. Half an avocado also gives you about 20% of your fiber for the day.
  2. You might want to stick to half an avocado if you have a histamine intolerance or IBS. If you’re on a low histamine diet, you should note that avocados are high in histamine. If you’re on a low FODMAP diet, guess what? Avocados are a FODMAP (they’re one of the P’s for polyols). If I eat more than half an avocado at a time or in combination with a lot of other high-histamine foods or certain FODMAPs,  I have issues. It’s important to find out what amount works for you, so pay attention to your body.
  3. Obviously, again, don’t eat avocados if you are allergic to them. You should also know that there is high cross-reactivity between latex, banana, kiwi, and avocado so proceed with caution if you have one of those allergies. Pineapple is also another potential cross-reactor, among others (like melons, peaches, etc).²

Because my girls have seed allergies, I don’t foresee feeding them giant avocado seeds in the future. Plus, one daughter has a banana allergy and another one has a pineapple allergy, which means I’m usually the only one eating avocado so I don’t get too fancy with it. In fact, I very carefully pitch the seed, but hey, you might want to give it a try.

I would love to hear how you use avocados. Planning on eating the seed? Feel free to leave a comment below!

References

  1. Clipsham, Robert, D.V.M. “Avocado Toxicity.” Watchbird Apr.-May 1987: 14-15. Web. 06 Apr. 2016.
  2. Grier, Tom. “Latex Cross‐reactive Foods Fact Sheet.” Latex Cross‐reactive Foods Fact Sheet. American Latex Allergy Association, 08 Oct. 2015. Web. 06 Apr. 2016.

 

7 Ways to Use Dandelions in Your Diet

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Did you know that Weed Appreciation Day is coming up? No? I’m not surprised. ;) Weed Appreciation Day is coming up on Monday, March 28th, and in recognition, I’d like to share my favorite weed: the Dandelion.

Besides being the most hated weed found in lawns across the United States, dandelions pack quite a bit of nutritional value.

Research suggest that dandelions help reduce inflammation in the liver and gallbladder. Their leaves, which are a natural source of potassium, have traditionally been used to remove excess water and toxins from the body.

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Non-Toxic Allergy-Friendly Citrus Bathroom Scrub

Non-Toxic, Allergy-Friendly Citrus Bathroom ScrubWhen I was a young kid, I remember cleaning the tub after every bath with one of those powder cleaners that come in a can. Afterwards, I always seemed to have a bit of respiratory irritation from indirectly inhaling the powder as I sprinkled it around the bathtub.

When I was a teenager, my grandmother mistakenly mixed Comet® Powder Bathroom cleaner with bleach. As you can probably guess, that did not go very well.

Mixing comet with bleach, or mixing cleaning supplies in general, can be very dangerous. Mixing bleach with ammonia, or anything acidic is a big “no-no” as it creates a very dangerous chemical reaction that can result in the formation of toxic chloramine vapor or toxic chlorine gas which can cause death at very high levels. Even at low levels, chlorine gas almost always causes respiratory distress and irritation of mucous membranes.

Luckily, my grandmother was okay. Needless to say, after that my family removed all of the dangerous cleaning products from her home.

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7 Tips for Eating Out with Kids with Food Allergies

Eating out with young children can be stressful.  Add in food allergies and it can be down right anxiety-provoking!  Sometimes it can be quite a Kidatdinnertablechallenge to find a safe place to eat, especially if you are dealing with multiple food allergies.

Eating at restaraunts and other establishments is a big part of our culture and not participating in social acitivities that involve food can feel very isolating.  So how can you and your family minimize the risk of an allergic reaction while still enjoying the opportunity to dine out once in a while?

Here are my top 7 tips for eating out with the kids:

1) Do your research before you go.

Search online to find restaurants that are allergy-friendly. There are websites dedicated to making your search a little easier.  I particularly likewww.AllergyEats.com. They have a great mobile app that comes in handy when traveling. Always take a look at the menu before heading out.  It saves you the hassle of getting to a restaurant only to learn that there is nothing on the menu for you to eat.

I always look for menus with simple dishes. I love when a restaurant has a kids’ menu because those dishes are pretty simple fare.  To limit the risk of cross-contact, avoid eating at places that use your particular allergens in a large number of their dishes. You will also want to avoid buffet-style restaurants and self-service food areas that are prone to cross-contact between foods, such as salad bars.

2) Call ahead.

Assuming the restaurant has some allergy-friendly dishes for you to choose, give them a ring to make sure they are accustomed to dealing with food allergies.  Again, you don’t want to arrive at the restaurant and find that everyone is clueless about how to safely handle food allergens and minimize cross-contact.

3) Always carry your epinephrine, other allergy medications, and your emergency plan.

This goes without saying. If you arrive at the restaurant without your allergy emergency kit, make the trip back to get it.  If you have multiple children with allergies, make sure you have enough meds for each child.  I have had two children have an anaphylactic reaction to the same food.  You have to be prepared.

4) Make sure your table is clean.

Before you are seated, you can inform your host of your food allergies and ask that the table be cleaned, if you think it is necessary.  You can also travel with your own wipes and wipe things down, as well.  If you are not comfortable with the cleanliness of your surroundings, don’t be afraid to ask to have your area cleaned or to be re-seated.

High chairs and booster seats are potential source of cross-contact.  When my children were younger we traveled with our own booster seats and disposable placemats.

You also want to avoid using the salt and pepper shakers and condiment jars on the table.  They are another potential source for cross-contact. My kids have a mustard, egg,  and sesame allergy so we rarely use condiments, but if you do.  Ask for fresh bottles or have your server bring you “to-go” packets of condiments, salt, and pepper.

5) Inform your server of your food allergies.

Always tell your server about your food allergies and ask to see their allergy menu, if they have one.  If you can speak directly with the chef, that’s great, too.  Never assume a food is safe to eat without checking on the ingredients, even if you have had the same dish before.  Make sure they understand that you or your child cannot eat food containing your allergens or that may have come into contact with your allergens.

You might consider carrying allergy cards to give to your server.  This way, they have your allergens in writing.  The more ways you can communicate, the better.  If you feel like your server isn’t understanding your completely or you don’t feel like they can handle your food allergy requests, do not be afraid to leave.  I have left restaurants that I did not think could accomodate our food allergies.

6) Order simple foods.

It easier to avoid “hidden” allergens by ordering simple foods with the least amount of ingredients possible or foods that don’t typically have your allergen as an ingredient. The safest meal choices are whole foods such a  simply-prepared protein, vegetables, and fruits.  I eat alot of chicken breasts and veggies when I eat out.  You also want to be careful about eating deep-fried items that may have come into contact with your allergens.  Again, always ask your server about the safety of each dish.

7) Double check your order before eating.

Mistakes do happen.  Even though you think you may have communicated clearly, sometimes things slip through the cracks and people make mistakes.  First, when the server brings your dish, verify that it was prepared without your allergens.  Secondly, always look at your food to make sure it does not contain any obvious allergens.  I have had food prepared incorrectly on numerous occassions.

If you implement these 7 tips you will greatly reduce the risk of having an allergic reaction and be able to enjoy dinner away from home.  Remember you can live life to the fullest with food allergies, it just takes a little extra planning.

Be sure to pass these tips onto your children, as well.  Even small children can practice telling servers what their food allergies are.  It is a great way to teach them how to be empowered self-advocates.

I would love to hear your tips on how to stay safe while enjoying eating out. Please leave a comment below.

 

Disclaimer: Information on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace medical advice.  Please seek the advice of your physician regarding any diagnosis or treatment. Any implementation of the information contained herein is at the reader’s discretion. The author and publisher disclaim any liability for any adverse effects resulting directly or indirectly from information contained on this site.

Coconut Milk: My Personal Dairy Alternative of Choice

Hey there! Did you know that June  is Dairy Alternatives Month? It’s also Dairy Month, but since I can’t consume any dairy without having a coconutmilkcrazy autoimmune response that makes my arthritis flare like a raging brushfire, I’m just going to focus on dairy alternatives.

I’m sure you have noticed a whole slew of commercial dairy alternatives on the market recently. First there was soy milk, rice milk, and almond milk. Now you can even find pre-packaged hemp milk, oat milk, cashew milk, etc.

There are so many options available on the market if you have a dairy allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity. The downside is that most commercial dairy alternatives are highly-processed foods.  Most of them contain additives like Carrageenan and guar gum. Some of them also have added ingredients like sugar, salt, and canola oil. If you have autoimmune or digestive issues, you have to be careful with additives and extraneous ingredients.  For this reason, I recommend making your own dairy alternative at home or searching for a commercial brand that only contains two ingredients (the main ingredient and water).

My personal dairy alternative of choice is coconut milk. Firstly, my girls have life-threatening tree nut allergies so I am not about to fool with any nut milks–plus I have my own autoimmune issues with  nuts (in case you’re wondering, coconuts are tropical fruits in the drupe family, not nuts). Secondly, coconuts are a very nutritious choice. They are full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

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Quick Summary of Food Allergies in the US

Did you know that about 15 million Americans have food allergies? Did you know that 1 in 13 children have food allergies? That’s about 2 in every classroom across the country. During Food Allergy Awareness Month, I came across this handy little infographic put together by FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education). You can learn more about FARE and how you can help spread awareness at www.FoodAllergy.org.

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