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Nutrition 101: Food Allergies on the Rise

May 9, 2018

By Emma Wright, RD, LD

Food allergies are serious and potentially life-threatening medical conditions that affect more than 15 million Americans. One out of every 13 children has a food allergy. Food allergies and sensitivities are illnesses that affect certain individuals when eating various foods or food ingredients. The most common form of treatment is avoiding the food or ingredient that causes the allergic reaction. Food Allergy Awareness week is May 13-19th 2018, so it’s the perfect time to gain some more knowledge about food allergies and sensitivities.

Food allergies are on the rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health Interview Survey, the prevalence of food allergies in children under 18 increased from 3.4 percent to 5.1 percent between 1997 and 2011. While reactions to food can be serious, it's important to know the facts and what you can do to reduce your child's risk. Food allergies are highest in infants and toddlers and are much less common in adults than children due mostly to the differences in the immune response of infants and children as compared to adults

To confirm a food allergy and avoid unnecessary diet restrictions, a diagnosis should be made by a doctor. You should not diagnose yourself or your child with a food allergy. The only way to prevent a food allergy reaction is to completely avoid the food and any product that may contain it as an ingredient. When a food allergy reaction occurs, some potential symptoms may include itching or swelling of the mouth, throat, face or skin, trouble breathing, and stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting. A severe food allergy can be life threatening.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases reports that five percent of children in the U.S. have a food allergy. The most common food allergies in children are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy and wheat. These foods, along with fish and shellfish, account for 90 percent of all food allergy reactions in children and adults. While your child may outgrow milk, egg or soy allergies, food allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish tend to be lifelong.

It may seem easier to eliminate an entire food group for a specific allergy, for example avoiding all grains due to wheat allergy. But it’s important to find substitutes that you like and enjoy, to continue getting all nutrients needed for a healthy diet. Consult a dietitian for more information on how to develop healthy eating patterns while avoiding food allergens. For more information on food allergies, visit Food Allergy Research & Education at foodallergy.org.

Click here to find out more information about UnityPoint Health – Marshalltown’s Nutrition Services.

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