Allergies are on the rise and, according to statistics gathered by Allergy UK, over 20% of the UK population are affected by one or more allergic disorder. There’s no known cure for allergies and, as such, they have a life-changing impact on those who have them; in fact a third of allergy sufferers change their lifestyle to reduce the possibility of a reaction. For the estimated 1-10% of adults and children who suffer from food hypersensitivity (FHS) this is essential, as food allergies can be life-threatening. However, this change in diet and avoidance of certain foods might mean that they’re missing out on key nutrients they need in order to maintain a balanced diet.
Although any food can cause an allergic reaction, there are currently 14 major allergens consisting of:
Even tiny amounts of these allergens can cause a reaction when ingested, touched or inhaled.
A lot of foods contain these ingredients so if you do have a reaction to an allergen, you might have to cut down on the variety of food you consume, meaning you won’t be able to eat a balanced diet. Balanced diets consist of a wide variety of foods eaten in the right proportions, and are essential for children’s growth and development, as well as to help adults get all the nutrients they need for their bodies to function properly. There are six categories of nutrients that our bodies need, including protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, minerals and water. But when you have food allergies, it can be difficult to find nutritious and tasty foods that don’t contain specific allergens, and providing safe food can be challenging.
It can be a daunting task to begin with, but if you break it down into simple steps you’ll have a better understanding of the foods you’re able to eat and how you can get the right mix of each category every day.
Starting with single ingredient foods, make a list of the foods you can eat and break them down into the six nutritional categories. If any nutrients are missing due to your allergies, make a list of foods and supplements you can consume to replace them.
Pre-packaged food products in the UK must have an ingredient list on the packaging, with any of the top 14 allergens highlighted in a way that makes them clearly stand out. They might appear underlined, in bold, in a larger font or in a different colour.
Most British supermarkets now sell a range of their own free-from foods and pre-packaged meals, and you can also find similar ranges in speciality shops like Holland & Barrett. If you’re looking for some recommended foods or ingredients, check out Food Allergy Mums and their directory. Remember, always be aware when purchasing ingredients and food; companies regularly change the ingredients in and manufacturing methods of their products. Always read the label.
If you’re wary of eating pre-packaged foods or hesitant about restaurant and takeaway food, you may feel more confident cooking and baking your own dishes. Use ingredients you’re familiar with so you’re sure nothing will give you a reaction. Need a bit of help getting started in the kitchen? Why not check out Virtual College’s range of The 60 Second Chef courses.
If you’d like more information about food allergy, or work in a role that involves contact with food, Virtual College offer a course on food allergy awareness, so you can gain the understanding you need to be confident identifying ingredients and foods which can cause allergic reactions.