Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

Milk Alternatives -Best of the Best January 8, 2016

Getting the proper amount of calcium is a tough job for those with a dairy allergy.  There are many ways to incorporate dairy into your diet (see How to Get Enough Calcium When You’re Dairy-Free), but a nutritionist recently told me that the best way to get calcium is to drink it.  And, sometimes you just want something cold and delicious to pour on cereal.

I recently stumbled upon an article from Real Simple (April 2015) where their food contributors reviewed a variety of milk alternatives to come up with the best tasting among them.

Here’s the original link to the article:  The Best Milk Alternatives.  And, below are they’re declared winners.

Best Original Soy:  Silk Soymilk Original

Best Vanilla Soy:  Silk Soymilk Vanilla

Best Unsweetened Soy:  365 Everyday Value Organic Soymilk Unsweetened

Best Vanilla Almond: 365 Everyday Value Organic Almondmilk Vanilla

Best Unsweetened Almond: Almond Breeze Almondmilk Unsweetened Original

Best Rice: Pacific Foods Rice Non-Dairy Beverage Original

Best Oat:  Pacific Foods Organic Oat Non-Dairy Beverage Original

 

Now I can’t speak about the almondmilks since my son has a tree nut allergy.  I can, however, vouch for both the Silk soymilks and the Pacific rice milk.  He enjoyed them both.  But if he were to put in a vote for best milk alternative, he’d put two thumbs (and maybe a foot) up for Silk Very Vanilla Soymilk.  Tastes great and works fabulously well as an ingredient in baked good.

We’ve also tried Costco’s Kirkland Signature Organic Soymilk Vanilla which came in as his close 2nd favorite.

 

What kinds of milk alternatives do you use?  Any input on creamers, cream cheese, sour cream?  Bring ’em on!  The more votes the better!

 

Vacationing and Staycationing with Food Allergies March 13, 2013

It’s that time of year and not a moment too soon:  Spring Break is upon us!

 

Whether you’re traveling near or far, there are a few things you should do to make sure your spring break is exciting and safe.

 

 

Staying close to home doesn’t mean you can’t shake up your routine.  Explore that neighborhood you’ve been meaning to check out, visit a museum, wander an outdoor market…  But before you go, you may want to do a little prep work:

1.  Sometimes it’s the museum closest to you that’s the hardest to visit.  If you’re heading to a museum, theme park, theater or zoo, you may wish to do some prep work.  These venues often have limited nutritional options, waitstaff often cannot track down ingredients in their high-paced and sometimes chaotic environment and the safety of their menu cannot be guaranteed.  Compound that with a picky eater and you could have a fun-ruining meltdown on your hands.  So, before you go, stick one or two of your child’s favorite dry snack in your bag along with those EpiPens – just in case.

 

2.  Ditto for outdoor markets.  Unless you’re going to a farmers market or pick-your-own farm, it’s often impossible to rely on the cart or truck vendors to know a full ingredient list and/or guarantee that their food is safely prepared without cross contamination.  So, again, plan on eating just before your visit to that flea market and, again, bring treats for the kids.

 

3.  If you’re taking your kids to a new section of town, you’ll want to scope out an eatery nearby that is likely to be safe.  Regardless of whether or not you intend to have a meal while out, it’s always a good idea to be prepared for more fun (or random bouts of hunger).  Check out the options online (including menus) and make a phone call or two to ensure that something can be safely prepared just in case a meltdown occurs.

 

4.  Some of the fun of staycationing is mixing up your routine!   So, try having some dairy-free sorbet for breakfast (see a list of local places right here at Allergy Shmallergy).  Have a gluten-free picnic in the park.  Eat that nut-free dinner under a tent in the family room.  Fun and safety can go together very simply and easily!

 

If you’re going out of town:

1.  Be sure to pack your emergency on-the-go pack in your carry-on.  EpiPens are perfectly acceptable going through security.  And, be sure to include baby wipes to wipe down tray tables and arm rests on airplanes that serve nuts, if you are allergic.

 

2.  Again, pack snacks.  You can buy a drink at the airport but safe meals are more difficult to come by.  Not only is it sometimes a challenge to find FA safe meals at the airport, but getting information to ensure that they don’t contain allergens and are, in fact, safely prepared can be next to impossible.  Snacks will tide you over until you reach your destination.

 

3.  Airline meals and snacks may not be safe. Call the airline and ask them about their allergen policy.   For FA kids, it might be easier to feed them at the airport or bring a bagel or sandwich in addition to snacks onboard for long flights.

 

4.  If you’re traveling abroad, do a little research about how food is typically prepared.  In parts of Asia, soy sauce (which contains not only soy but also wheat) is commonly added to dishes.  In the Middle East, sesame seeds are quite popular.

 

5.   Talk to the hotel concierge to find any specialty items you may need.  For us, we contacted our hotel to find out where we could purchase soy milk for my young son while in the Caribbean.  While on the phone with the hotel, ask them to clear the minibar fridge so you can keep any specialty items fresh.

 

6.  Again, if you’re vacationing somewhere where the don’t speak your native language, you’ll want to feel confident that the waitstaff understands your food restrictions.  Try ordering some food allergy translation cards.  These cards, made by a number of wonderful companies, help you communicate your family’s food allergy (and other dietary) restrictions in a foreign language.  Encourage waitstaff to take the cards back into the kitchen so that chefs themselves can understand the parameters and make appropriate adjustments.

 

7.  Finally, arrive prepared.  When going abroad, our research indicated it might be tough to easily find a whole allergy-free breakfast for my FA son.  While we could order fruit, everything else offered at the resort seemed to conflict with his allergies.  So, we packed a bag filled with convenient breakfast food like small cereal boxes, raisins, and oatmeal.  He could have a head start to breakfast in our room while we got ready and snack on fruit, etc at the restaurant table.  Plus, we could use the empty bag to haul our souvenirs home.  A win-win!

 

The key to a successful spring break is relaxation.  So no matter what form that takes, use the above steps to ensure that a food allergic reaction doesn’t hamper your fun.

 

Food Allergies and Food Labels: What You Need to Know January 31, 2012

If you or someone you know has just been diagnosed with a food allergy, navigating the supermarket has probably begun to feel like learning a foreign language.  But, learning to read food labels isn’t so bad, as long as you understand what you’re looking for.  So, grab your reading glasses:  let’s get started!

 

1.  Since 2006, it has been much easier for those with food allergies to avoid their trigger allergens thanks in part to the FDA’s Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act.  That Act requires companies to label for the top 8 allergens, which are:  milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybean.

 

2.  The above Act requires companies to label not only for the top 8 allergens but any ingredients made with proteins derived from those allergens.

 

3.  This law gives manufacturers a choice of how they can label the food source allergen.  They can either:

a.  List the allergen in the ingredient list, such as “whey (milk), lecithin (soy), flour (wheat)….”; or

b.  Use a “Contains” statement, for example “Contains tree nuts, eggs and shellfish.”

So when reading a label, I first look for a “Contains” statement.  If you spot your allergen, stop and put back the item – there’s no point in reading further.  If you there’s no “Contains” statement, you will need to go on to carefully read the ingredients list.  I often read it twice.

 

4.  If, like us, you need to avoid a protein outside of the top 8 allergens, you need to be extra diligent when reading labels.  For us, sesame seeds falls outside of the top 8 allergens.  So, we have learned other names for sesame seeds in labeling, such as “tahini” (which is sesame paste and found in hummus).  And when we read labels we again begin with the “Contains” statement to rule out any of my son’s other multiple food allergies.  Next, we move on to the ingredients list and scour the list (twice) for other allergens that we need to avoid.

 

5.  As the FDA itself points out, “Contains” and “May contain” have two very different meanings…. with possibly the same outcome.

Manufacturers are required to identify the top 8 allergens in either the ingredients list or “Contains” statement as described above.  But, a manufacturer might use the same equipment to produce two different products, upping the potential for cross-contamination of ingredients.  In that case, if the manufacturer feels there is a chance an allergen may be present in their product, they can voluntarily put a “May Contains” statement on the label.  You may be reading a soy milk label which states, “May contain tree nuts”  since it was produced on the same lines as the company’s almond milk.  Speak to your allergist about “May Contain” statements and what they mean for your particular allergy.

 

6.  Manufacturers change their ingredients and production methods all the time and without warning.  So, it’s important to read the labels every time you purchase an item.  And, yes, this gets tedious. But, if you read my post about Silk Soy Milk, you’ll see it happens all the time.

 

7.  Save your grocery receipts for a little bit.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read the ingredients list at the store (while also minding the kids or the time) and gotten home only to notice an ingredient or a “May Contain” statement that doesn’t gel with our food allergies.

 

8.  Now that you have your labeling skills honed and your groceries packed, you may wish to consider sorting the safe and unsafe foods at home using a labeling system.  By labeling your food at home, you’ll cut down a little on how many times you re-read an ingredients list while keeping everyone at home safe!

 

St. Patricks Day: Go Buy Your Corned Beef! March 15, 2011

St. Patrick’s Day is around the corner.  And, if you’re like me, you might see it as another GREAT excuse to make Corned Beef.  Mmmmmmm…..

 

But, before you go:  you should know that sometimes corned beef is made with beer.  And, beer often contains wheat/gluten.  So, if you’re making it from scratch be sure to use a gluten-free beer in your recipe.

 

If you’re buying prepared corned beef, you should know:

  • Read the ingredient list.  Even though it appears to simply be marinated beef, it may contain one or more of your allergens.
  • Whole Foods, Safeway, and other chain supermarkets carry an additive, MSG, nitrate-free variety.
  • Gluten-free, MSG-free varieties also exist – often found in local supermarkets, as was the case in our local Safeway.

 

And, while you’re at it, you might want to stock up on some rye bread (or make some Gluten-free “Ryeless” Bread) to enjoy the leftovers over the weekend!

5583874430_116b6dc0c6_b Flicker Larry Hoffman

photo credit: Larry Hoffman via Flickr (Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0))

 

 

 

 

Highlights from the Frozen Food Section of Trader Joe’s February 10, 2011

I have a love/hate relationship with Trader Joe’s.      Their allergy-free products are delicious and otherwise hard to find.   But many of their products are made on production lines with nuts and peanuts, making them useless for our family.  Trader Joe’s  frozen food is particularly helpful to me as I want the kids to eat well when I don’t feel like cooking.   So, I compiled a list which highlights some of Trader Joe’s dairy-free, egg-free, tree nut-free, peanut-free and sesame seed-free products.  And, if you’re only avoiding some of the aforementioned allergens, then you’ll have even better luck.  I hope this saves you all some time at the market and in the kitchen !

 

Mini Chicken Tacos:  also gluten-free!

*Beware of the beef tacos which are not free of the above allergens.

 

Party-Size Mini Meatballs

Turkey Meatballs

*Beware of the Trader Joe’s Meatballs as they contain milk.

 

Trader Joe’s Beef and Green Chili Burrito

 

Chicken Cilantro Mini Wontons

 

Pork Gyoza Potstickers

*Beware:  The chicken potstickers contain sesame oil.

 

Trader Joe’s Penne Arrabbiata

 

Coq au Vin

 

Gluten-free Waffles

 

An assortment of Sorbets and Fruit Bars (such as their Fruit Floes)

 

A wide assortment of frozen vegetables, meats, fish and shellfish to cook