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  • Archive for the ‘food allergies’ Category

    You Ask, I Answer: Nut Allergies

    walnuts-bowl-m

    I’m hoping you can clarify some things for me regarding nut allergies.

    One of my sons has a tree nut allergy.  I have consulted with four different allergy specialists, and there is no consensus on whether coconuts and pine nuts are safe for him to eat (or not).

    I don’t want to experiment and “see what happens”.

    I really hope you can shed some light on this.  I would hate to restrict his diet any more than it already is if I don’t need to.

    – Monica (Last name withheld)
    Santa Cruz, CA

    Welcome to the complex world of food allergies!  Let’s make this as simple as possible with some handy dandy bullet points:

    • “Tree nut” is a vernacular term.  From a botanical standpoint, many “tree nuts” are drupes (“fruits… with an outer skin, a usually pulpy and succulent middle layer, and a hard and woody inner shell usually enclosing a single seed,” as so perfectly defined by the folks at Dictionary.com) or seeds.  For the sake of simplicity, I will use the general “tree nut” term throughout the remainder of this post.
    • Allergic reactions are caused by seed-storage proteins in these tree nuts.
    • As Kenneth Roux of the Department of Biological Science and Institute of Molecular Biophysics at Florida State University explained in a thorough article published in the August 2003 issue of the International Archives of Allergy and Immunology, seed-storage proteins have “defense-related properties”.  In other words, their job is to repel insects and fungi in order to allow these tree nuts to grow.
    • Some tree nuts are related.  For example, cashews and pistachios belong to the same family, as do walnuts and pecans.  This results in what is known as “cross-reactivity”, meaning that the same seed-storage protein is present in more than one tree nut.
    • Since most individuals with tree nut allergies react to more than one tree-nut, the general advice is to avoid all varieties.
    • Even though pine nuts are seeds, there is sufficient cross-reactivity with other tree nuts to make them completely unsafe for anyone with a tree nut allergy.
    • The coconut issue, meanwhile, is extremely convoluted.  In October of 2006, the Food & Drug Administration added coconuts to the list of foods that must be labeled as “tree nuts” under Section 201 (qq) of the 2004 Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act.
    • Interestingly, coconut is not considered a “tree nut” from an allergy standpoint by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology or the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.
    • I choose to side with the allergy experts and consider coconut a safe food for anyone with a tree nut allergy.
    • Keep in mind that some individuals are allergic to coconut.  However, the research literature has yet to establish any relationship between those allergies and tree nut ones.  Of the small handful of individuals diagnosed with coconut allergies, some are also allergic only to walnuts, others only to hazelnuts, and others to no tree nuts at all.  The vast majority of individuals with tree nut allergies are able to consume pure coconut with no problems.  I specify “pure coconut” as opposed to processed coconut by-products which may be prepared and/or stored in facilities where cross-contamination with tree nuts may occur.

    My verdict: Pine nuts are definitely on the “avoid” list, while pure coconut (assuming it is stored and prepared in such a way that cross-contamination with other tree nuts does not occur) is generally safe.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Monoglycerides, Diglycerides, and Soy

    food-labelsOur 3 year old daughter is allergic to soy, milk & peanuts. Feeding her is a challenge, but my husband and I are managing.

    Are mono & diglycerides soy? I can’t seem to find an answer and was hoping you could help.

    – Dalton (last name withheld)
    (Location unkown)

    A good portion of mono and diglycerides are derived from soybean oil, so I would certainly exercise caution.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Food Allergies

    I have been feeling sluggish and bloated for almost 6 weeks now.

    One of my friends thinks it is probably a food allergy, either corn, wheat, or soy.

    Do you agree?

    – (Name withheld)
    (Location withheld)

    Not really.

    Let’s first begin with some basic definitions.

    A food allergy means your body is developing antibodies in response to specific food proteins.

    This is different from a food intolerance, which has to do with the body’s inability to break down certain substances, often resulting in gastrointestinal distress.

    While wheat and soy allergies are common, corn allergies are not.

    Additionally, corn allergies trigger symptoms like wheezing, sneezing, and swelling of the throat and face almost immediately. They go far beyond simply feeling “sluggish.”

    Keep in mind, too, that feeling sluggish and bloated are not necessarily allergic reactions.

    Feeling sluggish can be a result of many other things — stress, iron-deficiency anemia, not consuming sufficient calories, etc.

    It concerns me that there is so much self-monitoring happening with allergies. To truly know what is going on, you need to see a specialist who has experience with food allergies.

    Otherwise, you run the risk of misdiagnosing or overlooking a more important issue.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Monoglycerides & Diglycerides

    What are monoglycerides and diglycerides?

    I’ve seen them on food labels but don’t know what they are or why they are in some foods.

    – Lisa (last name withheld)
    Brooklyn, NY

    Ah, yes. Nothing makes you want to reach for a dictionary more than reading a food label.

    Monoglycerides and diglycerides are related to triglycerides (three fatty acid molecules bound to a glycerol molecule) — the basic unit of all dietary fats.

    They consist of either one or two fatty acid molecules bound to a glycerol molecule and are mainly used as emulsifiers, thickeners, and binders in a variety of different foods.

    Although they can be obtained from triglycerides, they are very easy to create synthetically.

    “Non-natural” peanut butters, for instance, contain mono and/or diglycerides in order to prevent the oil from separating from the more paste-like crushed peanuts.

    You will also often see them present in margarines and low-fat butter replacements.

    While they pose no health risks (or benefits), individuals with soy allergies should exercise caution, since a large percentage of mono and diglycerides are derived from soybean oil.

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    Over in Oprah Land….

    Time to see what Oprah’s blog reveals about her ongoing 21-day vegan diet (remember, she’s also shunning sugar, gluten, alcohol, and caffeine).

    Last Friday, Oprah stopped by Tom Cruise’s Telluride home, where she was met with a “ribs and chicken” (marinated in some sort of Scientology-friendly sauce, I’m sure) lunch.

    Granted, this was no vegan-friendly meal, so Oprah opted for salad, corn on the cob (no butter, of course) and kale.

    Which brings me to a very important point. Well-balanced vegan mealplans need to be researched and planned.

    I believe a vegan lifestyle can be healthy, but it must be looked into carefully prior to taking the plunge.

    If anyone reading this is considering going vegan, be my guest — but speak with a Registered Dietitian or, at the very least, read educational materials (preferably written by RDs) on how to meet your nutrient needs with meat and dairy alternatives.

    Becoming familiar with vegan alternatives and always being prepared (i.e.: carrying a source of protein like nuts or seeds in your bag in a small Ziploc bag) sets you up for success.

    Otherwise — especially when attending an event at a non-vegan’s house who is not familiar with your “diet,” — you run the risk of piling up on side dishes.

    Oprah’s lunch offers very little protein, zinc, iron, and fat. Nibbling on corn and greens is simply not nutritious — or filling!

    The next day — Saturday — Oprah is in Vegas and begins her entry with the following:

    “Tal [the vegan chef 'assigned' to Oprah and her team] has Fed-Exed food to Vegas, so we have egg-less omelets for breakfast and lasagna for the plane ride home.”

    Alright, I cry foul. Come on — anyone can do a 21 day vegan/sugar/wheat/alcohol/caffeine cleanse if a vegan chef Fed-Exes them meals!

    I would have liked to see Oprah “keep it real” and traverse the meat-laden obstacle that is Las Vegas.

    In that same posting, Oprah proudly mentions abstaining from having a celebratory glass of champagne.

    I still don’t understand how the shunning of alcohol (or gluten or sugar, for that matter) relates to becoming a more spiritually aware being.

    Besides, any dietary plan that has you obsessing over certain foods and beverages (the “I would like a drink but I am on this clease so as good as that would be I am just going to have seltzer and lime” sentiment has appeared a few times already) needs to be examined more closely.

    Sure, alcohol can be a source of empty calories, so although two drinks a day is not a good idea, not allow yourself one drink two days out of the week?

    The next day, a pooped Oprah mentions the vegan chef dropping off gluten and wheat-free waffles at her house just in time for breakfast. Oh goodie, how convenient!

    It frustrates me to think that viewers of Oprah’s show will blindly follow a similar diet, oblivious of some very necessary nutrients they may miss out on.

    Additionally, this idea that wheat and gluten are evil is misleading and completely subjective; it is only a problem for someone with a gluten allergy or celiac disease.

    This is a perfect example of something applicable to a small percent of the population being heralded as “general nutrition advice”

    Allow me to repeat my plea. Oprah, enough with the fad dieting. You’re a smart, accomplished woman with an immense fan base.

    Next time you want to tackle nutrition, why not invite a panel of Registered Dietitians to share information, debunk myths, and give people practical information they can apply to their daily lives?

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    Perfect Pickings: Tuna

    It may surprise you to learn that not all canned tuna is created equally.

    First up: packed in water or oil?

    Water is preferrable – for two reasons.

    It results in less calories (60 calories per 2 ounce serving, rather than 110 or 120) and, since water and oil don’t mix, the Omega-3 fatty acids present in tuna are not lost when water is drained.

    The two more important issues surrounding canned tuna are sodium and mercury levels.

    A standard 6 ounce can of tuna provides 750 – 850 milligrams of sodium (approximately a third of a day’s needs) — quite a bit for its low calorie contribution (roughly 150, if canned in water).

    Look for low-sodium varieties that slash sodium by half, like Starkist’s “low sodium tuna”.

    You will barely tell the difference, especially if you are eating canned tuna as part of a salad or sandwich.

    Albacore tuna — the white, meatier, less fishy tasting of the bunch — happens to be one of the largest fish.

    Therefore, its mercury content is approximately 3 times higher than that of smaller fish — mainly skipjack — used for chunk light varieties.

    Some companies, like King of the Sea, sell authentic low-mercury — chunk light is “lower mercury”– tuna . The secret? Using yellowfin tuna!

    Here’s a tidbit that surprises many people.

    Those of you with a milk protein (casein) allergy must read canned tuna labels carefully, since some of them are processed by adding hydrolyzed casein!

    Lastly, be mindful of what you’re putting on your tuna. If it’s a few tablespoons of mayo, it’s time to do some modifying.

    I find, for instance, that hummus — especially a red pepper variety — is a wonderfully tasty replacement for mayonnaise when making tuna salad.

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