Changing your diet
You should never simply cut out a food or food group without professional nutritional advice or you may find your diet will lack essential vitamins or minerals. With expert advice, you should be able to eliminate the problem foods and still eat a balanced diet. This is particularly true with small children, especially those who are lactose (milk sugar) intolerant. Without the right alternative diet, there is a risk of malnutrition and growth problems, even in an otherwise healthy child.
By law, any foods which contain known allergens – such as nuts, milk (lactose) or wheat (gluten) – or which are prepared in areas that risk contamination from these allergens, must carry a warning to that effect. However, you should always check the ingredients carefully just to make sure that the food product is safe for you.
Many supermarkets have a specialist range of ‘free-from’ products to make shopping easier for sufferers. It’s important to note that ‘wheat free’ and ‘gluten free’ are not the same thing. Wheat free products may still contain gluten from other cereals, while gluten free products may still contain other wheat proteins.
Eating out and eating take-away food can be more difficult for allergy and intolerance sufferers. If you have a severe allergy, you should talk to the restaurant staff to make sure that your meal is safe. This is particularly important with Asian dishes, where nuts and nut oils are frequently used for flavouring. If in doubt, you should always err on the side of caution.
When travelling your airline or tour operator should offer special meals to meet your dietary requirements, however foreign restaurants may present more of a problem. Make sure you know the appropriate foreign phrases to communicate your needs.
There are several ways that you can reduce the risks from your food allergy or intolerance:
Make sure that your friends, family and work colleagues all understand clearly what you can and cannot eat.
- Impress upon them the importance of catering for your special dietary needs. If they do not suffer themselves, they may not realise how dangerous your reaction could be.
- Make sure they also know how to recognise the symptoms, what they mean and what they should do to help you.
- If you’re at risk from anaphylactic shock, make sure everyone knows what to do in case of an attack. You may be given an inhaler of anti-histamine, or in severe cases, a pen that will inject you with adrenaline. Make sure the people close to you know how to use them – they could save your life.
- Carry your allergy details with you in a medical emergency bracelet or on a card in your wallet in case you’re unable to communicate this in an emergency.
The Food Standards Agency has produced two highly informative fact sheets on food intolerance and food allergy. These can be found at:
www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/allergyfactsheet0308.pdf and www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/allergyfactsheetcoeliac0308.pdf