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Expert Q&A: Eating With Food Allergies

An interview with Stanley Cohen, MD.
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If you are trying to avoid allergenic foods, what should you look for on food labels? continued...

Become familiar with all the food terms for your specific allergy. For example, if you are allergic to milk protein, you need to avoid all foods made from milk, including cheese, yogurt, half-and-half, and cream.  Avoid all foods that contain whey, casein, caseinate, nonfat milk solids, lactoglobulin, cow's milk protein, nougat, curds, sodium caseinate, or lactalbumin. Look carefully at butter, margarine, ice cream, cakes, puddings, sorbet, breads, soups, vegetables with sauces, and more.

People with allergies would benefit from a diet that is less processed and closer to natural foods, because there are fewer additives in these foods that could cause problems. 

How are allergies diagnosed?

There are several ways to confirm an allergy. First is the old-fashioned prick test, where the skin is scratched with the allergen and observed for reactions. The second is the patch test, which is similar to the prick test, and the last are specific food allergy blood tests. In all of these tests, there is a possibility for false positives and negatives, so physicians usually try an elimination diet, in which the suspected food is avoided. This is followed by a food challenge in which the suspected food is reintroduced under careful observation on three separate occasions to confirm the allergy. 

How do you treat allergies?

At this time, there are no medications that cure food allergies. The most important treatment is the elimination of the allergy-causing food. Careful reading of ingredient labels is essential to avoiding all foods with the allergy-causing ingredient. For example, milk may be listed by its components casein or whey, and eggs can be labeled as albumin. If you have an allergy to a certain food, you must become familiar with all related ingredients that could potentially cause a reaction. A good rule of thumb is, when in doubt, don't eat it.

Evolving research suggests that certain probiotics ("friendly" bacteria) may help to prevent or moderate the effects of some allergies. Consult your physician to determine if you might benefit from including probiotics in your diet.

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