When foods are your foes, it could mean allergies

When you think of allergies, you conjure images of sneezing and wheezing, and red, itchy eyes. Food allergies are a different beast, and they're becoming more prevalent (and frightening) with more than 12 million American children and adults afflicted. Here's a primer on the big seven food allergens, and some tips to help diffuse them.

  1. Buy me some peanuts and Benadryl

Peanuts make the top of the A-(llergy) List as one of the most common allergy-causing foods. And if a child has a peanut allergy, it is unlikely he will outgrow it. A friend's son is so highly allergic to these legumes that he will go into anaphylactic shock (a severe reaction when the body pumps large amounts of histamine into the tissues causing swelling and difficulty breathing) if he eats, smells or even stares at the stuff.

Even if you buy organic peanut products that are free and clear of pesticides and additives such as corn syrup, emulsifiers and hydrogenated oils that may also trigger allergies, you're not out of the allergy woods. When peanuts lie in the fields to dry, they develop mold or an aflatoxin, a certain amount allowable by the USDA. If grown in low-humidity states, they are less likely to contain the toxin. Still, people with peanut allergies should avoid them altogether, and be mindful of foods that may contain collateral peanut products such as Asian or Indian sauces and packaged baked goods. Also, read product labels diligently for such warnings as "produced on shared equipment with tree nuts or peanuts."

  1. Lobster tales

For New Year's Eve, I prepared a lobster feast that soon turned into a lobster fiasco. As my daughter was chowing down on a succulent chunk of lobster tail, a panicked look suddenly washed over her face — her throat felt as if it was closing. A dose of Benadryl and she was fine, but no more lobster, shrimp, scallops or other sea treasures for her palate.

Shellfish is the third most common food allergy, with the severest cases causing life-threatening reactions. Some people are allergic to a smorgasbord of shellfish; others are only sensitized to one type. Although the allergen weakens in crustaceans and other shellfish when thoroughly cooked, it is still advised to steer clear of all shellfish and products containing them, such as some marinara sauces and Asian condiments.

  1. Forbidden fruits

Many fruits are powerhouses of antioxidants, vitamins and fiber, but for some people, certain ones trigger allergic reactions. The most common culprits are strawberries, cherries, peaches, pineapples, melons, kiwis and plums. Since allergic reactions are usually triggered by raw fruits, cooking them might be the solution, as well as peeling the skin, the most allergenic part of the fruit.

  1. Giving wheat the shaft

Wheat allergies are typically more common in children than adults, and many people confuse Celiac disease, the body's inability to process gluten proteins in wheat and other grains, with wheat allergies. In any case, the dietary restrictions are similar.

The most common foods containing wheat are breads, pizzas, pastas, battered foods, cereals, beer and foods containing bread crumbs for filler such as hamburgers. While people frequently substitute spelt and kamut for wheat, they are not as safe as gluten-free products — kamut and spelt are wheat's close cousins.

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