As a chef/guest speaker, I recently participated in an informative and fun roundtable at Hudson Allergy, one of the best practices for food allergies care in New York City. The event was hosted by two amazing allergy doctors, Dr. Julie Kuriakose and Dr. Tim Mainardi, who shared their insider knowledge on food allergies — covering everything from sulfites, gluten, and soy as well as sharing their tips on dining out with allergies.
So What Are The Top Food Allergens?
Here is the FDA’s list of the top 8 food allergens and a bit about food labeling laws. Labeling laws were put in place when congress passed the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) in 2004. The law applies to all foods regulated by FDA, both domestic and imported, except for poultry, most meats, certain egg products, and most alcoholic beverages.
- Tree nuts (such as almonds, cashews, walnuts)
- Fish (such as bass, cod, flounder)
- Shellfish (such as crab, lobster, shrimp)
- Although gluten and sesame don’t appear on the list, they make up the top 10 allergens in the US
Hidden Sources of Gluten
Experts say that 1 out of every 100 people could have gluten sensitivity or Celiac’s Disease. If you suspect you have issues with gluten, get tested, since a mind-boggling amount of foods contain gluten!
The best way to stay clear is to cook with whole foods that are naturally gluten-free (such as meats, fish, poultry, vegetables, fruits, and oils) and to use delicious gluten-free cooking sauces to make healthy meals at home.
If you’ve fallen in love with a product that’s marked “gluten free” and it’s not gluten free certified, call the company hotline. Ask how it is made, ask if it rides the conveyer belt with another product, and ask what other products are handled in the facility.
You might have to educate the company owner since many people still don’t realize what gluten is or where it can be found. Sadly, many food companies still don’t know that just a speck of gluten (anything more than 20 ppm) can be an issue or that their product might actually contain an item that has gluten in it, so if it’s a food product you plan on eating a lot of, be specific.
Since gluten isn’t part of the FDA labeling law, here are just a few hidden sources of gluten:
- Chicken beef and vegetable broth can be a haven for gluten-containing ingredients like natural flavorings, yeast, starches and stabilizers.
- Salted Butter that contains natural flavorings may contain gluten since natural flavorings are sometimes made with brewer’s yeast that does contain gluten.
- Bacon that contains “smoke flavoring” sometimes contains yeast or other flavorings that might contain gluten.
- Low-fat dairy can also be the culprit. “Light” sour cream, and other light products can be thickened with flours, starches, and stabilizers that can be hidden havens for gluten.
- “Caramel flavoring” is another potential hiding place for gluten. Wheat is sometimes used to produce caramel coloring depending on what plant produced it, so if you fell a bit “off” after eating a product, call the company directly or switch to a certified gluten free product.
Soy Food Allergies
Soy, one of the allergens regulated by the FDA, will be listed on labels if the product contains it. That said, soy is the second largest American crop, next to corn in the US. That’s just one of the reasons it’s used so often in food products, apart from the fact that soy beans have certain qualities that lend themselves well to packaging foods.
Soy is high in protein, so it’s a cheap protein booster, it’s also used as thickener, and sometimes used as a way to extract MSG (monosodium glutamate), a naturally occurring flavor enhancer that can also be an allergen for some people. An additive called lecithin, used as a thickener and emulsifier, is sometimes isolated from soy beans.
You may recognize these other names for soy-based foods or products: edamame (fresh soybeans), Miso (fermented soybean paste), and tamari (a type of soy sauce), all of which may be easy enough to avoid.
But be aware than many foods you might never have suspected contain soy, so be diligent with label sleuthing: baked goods, candy, chicken broth, chocolate, deli meats, as well as many vegan products (since soy makes an excellent binder and thickening agent).
Food Allergies: Tips For Dining Out
Tip #1 — Be friendly and kind when you talk to waiters about your allergies, it’s also a good idea to mention a reaction if you eat one of the foods you’re allergic too. Sadly, many waiters and cooks believe that allergies are fabricated in people’s minds and hence, don’t take special care.
Tip #2 — If you go to a restaurant on a regular basis, build a relationship with the Maitre D’. It might be as easy as calling him or her by name or complimenting them on the service or their outfit. I used to bring baked cookies for the MD of some restaurants I’d go to on a regular basis. They were a welcome treat for people who are used to eating the same food from the same menu, daily.
Tip #3 — Call a day in advance to let the restaurant manager know that you have a severe allergy. Mention “hidden sources” where your allergy-based food might be hiding, ie if you have gluten allergies, store-bought broth, stocks, or sauces, desserts that they might source from outside (including ice creams and sorbet), as well as puree or vegetable mashes.
Tip #4 — Choose a restaurant that doesn’t use your “allergy food” as a prime ingredient, so if cheese or gluten is an issue, try Japanese. If fish is a problem, a BBQ joint might be your best bet. If soy is a problem try Italian.
Share Your Comments On Food Allergies
Do you suffer from food allergies, or are you gluten-sensitive? Share your thoughts, strategy and tips — or simply share your pet peeves when it comes to labelling and food allergies…