Before doctors diagnosed her daughter, Casey, with a food allergy, Beth Gorab admits she had never read a food label. She didn't think much about what went into her food because she didn't have to.
However, once her then five-week-old daughter had a near-fatal allergic reaction to formula, Gorab got a crash course in label reading. Casey, who is now six, is allergic to dairy and the meat of any mammal. Gorab has since learned all the other words for milk, such as whey, that are on labels and has also learned what really goes into the food her family eats—and the surprise benefit is that her family is eating healthier as a result.
Understanding Food Allergies
According to The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, a food allergy occurs when the body mistakenly thinks a certain food is harmful, which causes an immune system response. Though a person can be allergic to any type of food, 90 percent of allergens are caused by eight common foods: milk, egg, shellfish, fish, peanuts, soy, wheat, and tree nuts.
Doctors diagnose a food allergy through blood and skin tests, though in some cases an elimination diet can also be used, whereby certain foods are systematically eliminated from the diet and the person is monitored for allergic reactions after the foods have been removed.
Reexamining Processed Foods
In a society where parents are increasingly busy, many moms and dads are quick to serve their families convenient items such as prepackaged snack foods, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, and meals that require nothing more than five minutes in the microwave. What these parents may not realize is that the ingredients in these foods often aren't the healthiest for growing children—or themselves. Not only are these foods often packed with sugar, fat, and undesirable additives, but many contain the eight common food allergens.
"Since most processed foods and snacks contain something my daughter is allergic to, we have to avoid almost everything in the middle of the grocery store," says Kristin Camplese, whose daughter, Madeline, is allergic to dairy, eggs, and nuts. "If she has pancakes, I have to make them from scratch. If she has cookies, I have to make them from scratch. So, she gets whole foods with no chemicals, preservatives, etc. And because our choices were so limited when she was a toddler, she got used to eating a lot of lean protein, fruits/vegetables, soy milk, and soy yogurt."
As a result, the Camplese family has gone almost entirely organic with their produce and reads food labels faithfully. "You can't help yourself once you start reading the labels... You just don't eat the junk that you used to when you see all the chemicals and sugars in most products. And when you start to become aware of chemicals in your food, you just automatically want to buy organic and whole foods," says Camplese.