With an eye on the food allergy community as a unique group of consumers since 2008, we're on a quest to find and share ways to continue enjoying the good things in life.

08 February 2016

Food Allergy Consumer: How Do You Do Your Due Diligence?

One of the most important things a new diagnosis of a food allergy calls for is learning how to decide what is safe to eat.  Food allergies are manageable and it is up to us to learn how to best manage them. What kind of information gathering do you do before selecting food for yourself if you have a food allergy, or for your loved one, if you are a caregiver or parent of someone with a food allergy? How do you do your due diligence when it comes to choosing foods? In addition to your own comfort levels, that probably depends on the advice you have received from your allergist. Different allergists across the United States (as well as Canada and overseas) give different advice about food allergy management.

Some allergists advise their patients to live by the label since food manufacturers selling food for human consumption in the U.S. must label if any of the ingredients are among the top 8 allergens as defined by the FDA. Other allergists say to trust the label for major manufacturers but not for smaller local ones or generic store brands. There are some allergists who recommend that patients pay attention to voluntary "may contain" statements and other allergists say it is legal cya and to ignore such statements. Then there are other allergists who instruct their patients to call or write to every manufacturer. There are some allergists who say shared facilities or shared lines are safe. Others say the opposite. There is a great deal of contradictory advice out there!

Confused? Guess what? Many people who manage food allergies are confused because there is so much conflicting advice! What to do? Probably the best thing to do is follow your allergist's recommendations and also your gut feeling. If you don't feel good about the advice you are getting from your allergist, get a second opinion from another allergist. Following advice provided in an online food allergy support group of people you have never met is probably not a great way to make choices about something that could be a life or death situation. Such groups are wonderful sources for support, and info for tips and suggestions, potentially safe product options, and even files of food manufacturer responses and emails regarding allergens and cross-contamination. Be sure, however, to check out things yourself, following your allergist's instructions! Don't just take a stranger's word and assume it is good information. Do your due diligence! You should feel confident in the approach you are using, whatever it is.

Furthermore, if going to the grocery store is so stressful or overwhelming that you find yourself on the verge of tears there, something is amiss! Stop and reconsider your approach. Perhaps seek some assistance from a third party--the allergist, a dietician, a nutritionist, a food allergy coach, or a social worker or therapist specializing in food allergies and other restricted diets. Consider joining a local support group such as an AAFA- affiliated support group. With the right information and resources, food allergies are manageable and should eventually become a normal part of your routine and it should not take years for this to happen.

When it comes to making decisions about what foods are safe to eat, you need to become your own food allergy expert by arming yourself with good solid resources and tools so that you can make safe choices. This goes for non-food purchases as well, such as cosmetics, cleaners, medicines, etc. There are many resources available to help you do so! Some helpful food allergy resources to get you started are listed in the right sidebar of this blog under the heading "Food Allergy Resources." In addition, if you are a parent, you can easily demonstrate this time and time again in everything you do for your child, to show your child how manageable food allergies are and that they will be able to make safe choices--with confidence--like you, as they grow.

If you are feeling discouraged, please take heart! Plenty of other people have walked this road ahead of you, and they have done it safely, with grace and finesse, and far fewer resources than are available today. They enjoyed and continue to enjoy a full life free of their allergens-to-avoid, and you can too. It does get easier with time, and as you become your own food allergy expert. You got this!

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