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5 Tips for Allergy-Friendly Holiday Parties

December 11, 2011 •  2 comments.

 •  Blog, News

The holidays are festive, filled with good friends and good food, but for people with food allergies and sensitivities, holiday parties can be a source of uncertainty and anxiety. While other party guests enjoy delicious treats, guests with celiac disease or food allergies have to forgo holiday favorites containing their “trigger foods,” such as gluten, nuts, dairy or eggs. So how can food-allergic and food-sensitive guests eat, drink and be safe during the holidays? And how can hosts better accommodate their guests with special dietary needs?

AllergyKids is excited to share this valuable advice from Alicia Woodward, LCSW, Editor of Living Without Magazine (www.livingwithout.com), the nation’s leading magazine for people with food allergies.

Alicia specializes in the psychological, spiritual and social aspects of celiac disease, food allergies and sensitivities. And below, she has provided tips for guests with food sensitivities, as well as for party hosts that want to accommodate them. Her suggestions are great for those looking to incorporate some easy and smart tips into upcoming holiday events.

5 Tips for Allergy-Friendly Holiday Parties:

  • Communicate. Call well before the party to alert your host to your food sensitivities. Be specific about your food “triggers,” clearly explaining what you can (and can’t) eat.
  • Embrace the potluck. Bring a favorite dish to the party. That way, there will definitely be something safe for you to eat.
  • Eat beforehand. Don’t arrive hungry, when you may eat something “risky” that you’d never try on a full belly. Snack at home so you won’t be disappointed, famished and irritated if there’s not much you can eat at the party.
  • Keep it simple. Stick to simple, whole foods – like plain fruit, vegetables and meats that haven’t been processed, coated or mixed. Avoid sauces, dips, marinated items, casseroles and desserts unless you know for sure what’s in them.
  • Go first. If the party is buffet-style, be the first in line to avoid any potential cross-contamination (e.g., scattered ingredients, mixed-up serving spoons.) Or ask your host if you can prepare a plate before the buffet starts.

Got some ideas that we should include? List them in the comments below so that we can make sure to share them with others so that everyone can have a safe and healthy holiday.

About Alicia Woodward:

Alicia Woodward, LCSW, is editor-in-chief of Living Without magazine, the nation’s leading food, health, and lifestyle magazine for people with allergies and food sensitivities, including those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Alicia has been with the magazine since its inception, serving as editor of the premier issue in 1998. Now in its 13th year of publication, Living Without’s mission is to help readers live well–and thrive–on their special diets.

Alicia has been a journalist and professional writer for many years. A former hospice therapist, she is a licensed psychotherapist who specialized in the psychological, social, and spiritual aspects of living with chronic medical conditions, including celiac disease and food allergies and sensitivities.

Is Juice Soda in Disguise?

December 6, 2011 •  4 comments.

 •  Blog, News

At AllergyKids, we are always looking for insight into ways that we can protect the health of children.

With Dr. Oz recently bringing a much-needed awareness to what exactly is in the juices that we are giving our kids, we turned our attention to the sweet stuff and came across this infographic from Health Science that highlights just how much weight-promoting sugar is now found in our “fruit juices”.

Since we had no idea that an 8 ounce serving of juice contained more sugar than 2 1/2 donuts or a can of soda, we felt compelled to share it.

Since the rate of having a food allergy is 59% higher in obese children, this new-found knowledge might do more than help reduce the obesity epidemic we are seeing in our children, it might help reduce the burden of allergies, heart diseases and other conditions weighing on the health of our families, too.

Double Standards? Serving Up Food Dyes, UK Style

December 5, 2011 •  2 comments.

 •  Blog, News

Written by Robyn O’Brien

Right now there is a lot of discussion around the science of food dyes. Do artificial colors contribute to hyperactivity in kids? Are food dyes responsible for ADHD? Is it the government’s job to take these dyes out of our kids’ foods or is it ours?

And on the heels of a holiday weekend, loaded with bright colors, little yellow Peeps and eggs dyed the color of the rainbow, it just might be a good time to take a hard and honest look at some of the answers.

The fact of the matter is that you are going to get a different answer depending on who you ask. So some important questions to ask when reviewing the scientific literature include: Who has funded the research? Is there a financial incentive involved to protect the status quo? And are doctors that are speaking out on this issue in any way affiliated as spokespersons for either the food or pharmaceutical companies that stand to benefit from the continued use of these food dyes in foods?

Since there are usually extensive financial ties between doctors and food and pharmaceutical corporations, it is often helpful to turn to the consumer marketplace and food companies themselves for answers because money talks.

And interestingly, Kraft, Coca Cola and Wal-Mart have already removed these artificial food colors and dyes from the products that they distribute in other countries. They’ve reformulated their product lines in other countries and no longer include these food dyes, and they did it in response to consumer demand and an extraordinary study called the Southampton Study.

The Southampton Study was unusual in that it not only tested an overall number of six dyes (three of them are used in the US (Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6) and the other three are used in the UK) but also the combination of two ingredients: tartrazine (yellow #5) and sodium benzoate. The study’s designers knew that a child very rarely has occasion to ingest just a synthetic color or just a preservative; rather, a child who is gobbling up multicolored candies is probably taking in several colors and at least one preservative.

What’s amazing is that in the U.K., the federal food safety agency actually funded the Southampton Study that led to even U.S. corporations eliminating synthetic colors and sodium benzoate from their U.K. products.

And in response, a whole host of companies, including the U.K. branches of Wal-Mart, Kraft, Coca Cola and the Mars candy company (who make M&Ms), have voluntarily removed artificial colors, the preservative sodium benzoate, and even aspartame from their products. Particularly those marketed to kids.

When I first learned about this in the spring of 2007, I was stunned. Our American companies had removed these harmful ingredients from their products overseas—but not here?  But then I realized that we aren’t asking our corporations to reinvent the wheel, we are simply asking for them to place the same products on our grocery store shelves that they are selling overseas.

Because Kraft, Coca Cola and Wal-mart are living proof that is possible for giant corporations to make and sell kid-friendly, family-friendly, and healthy processed foods so that we can give our kids some special treats—like the U.K. versions of Starburst and Skittles, for example —without necessarily exposing them to a chemical cocktail that might also give them brain tumors, or leukemia, or the symptoms of ADHD, as the Center for Science in the Public Interest recently highlighted in their report “Rainbow of Risks”.

And it is inspiring (once you get over the initial shock) to see how far the companies have gone and how quickly they acted to remove these dyes from kids’ foods in other countries.

Asda, for example, the U.K. branch of Wal-Mart acted just one week “after details were leaked to the UK press of a study by researchers at Southampton University. . . ” They didn’t even wait for the study to be published—that’s how concerned they were about public opinion.

In an article published by the Food and Drink Federation, a Web site that monitors food issues in Europe, Jess Halliday reported that “Asda [U.K. Wal-Mart] has pledged to remove any artificial colours or flavours from its 9,000 own label products, as well as aspartame, hydrogenated fat, and flavour enhancers such as monosodium glutamate.”

Wow. The Southampton study didn’t even mention those last three items. Why was the U.K. Wal-Mart rushing to make such healthy choices, when the U.S. Wal-Mart still offered the same old stuff? Wal-Mart had even been slapped by a lawsuit from the Ajinomoto, the company that now makes aspartame, which claimed that U.K. Wal-Mart’s publicizing of its aspartame-free products was a kind of defamation—all while U.S. Wal-Mart continued to use the sweetener.

Can you imagine how grateful parents in the UK must be when they read this? “[U.K. Wal-Mart] will also meet the Food Standards Agency’s salt-reduction targets–two years ahead of the 2010 deadline,” the article continued.

Isn’t that amazing? Over in the U.K., our American companies rushed to meet government standards two whole years before they even go into effect. It begs the question, why?

According to Asda/U.K. Wal-Mart food trading director Darren Blackhurt, “We know that our customers, particularly those that are mums and dads, are becoming more and more concerned about what’s in the food they buy.” Indeed, the article continues, “consumer awareness of nutrition and food quality in the UK has soared in the last few years. . . ” Accordingly, U.K. Wal-Mart was planning to spend 30 million pounds, or about $50 million, to reformulate its product line, adding that, “in the main, taste will be unaffected.”

Pretty stunning, right? Clearly learning about this remarkable decision is sure to leave a few American parents a little hyperactive. And if you look at the decision a little more closely, you will discover that Asda/Wal-Mart was far from the only British company to respond to the Southampton Study in such a dramatic way. According to the Food and Drink Federation in the U.K., several companies—whether British-based or British division of American corporations—had started offering their customers color- and additive-free processed foods.

“We are aware of the recent publication from the University of Southampton on selected artificial colours, and we will continue to follow the guidance of regulators on this issue.”—Coca- Cola Great Britain. And in fact, on May 27, 2008, the story broke that Coca Cola was removing sodium benzoate from its products—but only in the U.K.

“Kraft Foods UK has no products aimed at children that contain the ingredients highlighted in the FSA [Southampton] study. . . . [W]ith our recent Lunchables reformulation in the UK, we reduced fat and salt, as well as removed artificial colours and flavours. Without compromising quality, taste and food safety, we will continue to see where we can make changes and still meet consumer expectations.”—Kraft Foods UK

“We know that artificial colours are of concern to consumers, which is why, in 2006, Mars began a programme to remove them from our products. . . in November 2007, Starburst Chews became free from all artificial colours. . . . in December 2007, Skittles were made free from all the artificial colours highlighted in a landmark study by Southampton University. . . We have already removed four colours mentioned in the Southampton study from Peanut and Choco M&M’s, and are in the process of removing the final one so they too will be free from these artificials during 2008.”—Mars UK

“Nestlé UK does not manufacture children’s products that contain any of the additives investigated by the FSA [Southampton] research. . . . and from September 2007, the UK’s favourite kids’ chocolate brand—Milky Bar—is to be made with all natural ingredients.”—Nestlé UK

“We are committed to replacing all artificial colours in our sweets. We note the Southampton University findings, but we had begun this process already because we are continually listening to our customers.” —UK Cadbury Chocolate division

Every time I read over those quotes, I find them absolutely stunning. Why are companies that operate in the U.K.—including our very own U.S. companies—so eager to take out the artificial colors there and so completely reluctant to do so here? Why are they willing to spend the money to reformulate their products there while refusing even to consider such a change-over here?

Maybe the answer can be found in a BBC report on Asda/U.K. Wal-Mart, “Explaining its decision to halt the use of artificial colours and flavours, Asda said it was acting because ‘mums and dads are becoming more and more concerned about what’s in the food they buy.’” An Asda/U.K. Wal-Mart press release elaborates: “Reformulation was hard work, but it was a labour of love.” Well, why can’t they perform that same labor of love over here? Is it too much to ask for what they have overseas?

After all, we’re not asking them to reinvent the wheel—they’ve already removed these ingredients from their products elsewhere. So why can’t our children get the same protection? Why can’t they serve up the same products to us?

Today it is estimated that 50% of Hispanic and African-American children will develop diabetes, that 1 in 88 children is being diagnosed with autism, and that 1 in 4 children has asthma. The Journal of Pediatrics reported that from 2002-2005, there was a 103% increase in diabetes medication for children, a 47% increase in asthma medication, a 41% increase in ADHD medication and a 15% increase in high cholesterol medicine.

And while the science may be disputed, depending on who is funding the study, as to whether commonly used food dyes such as Yellow 5, Red 40 and 6 others made from petroleum pose a “rainbow of risks” that include hyperactivity in children, cancer (in animal studies), and allergic reactions, because of the problem of hyperactivity, the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to ban the use of these dyes given that the British government and European Unionhave taken actions that are virtually ending their use of dyes throughout Europe.

Is it too much to ask for the same value to be placed on the lives of the American kids in their cost-benefit analyses that has been placed on the lives of kids in the UK?

As a proud American, it seems to me that our duty as citizens is pretty clear. We have to get this information out there so that our government and our corporations listen to us, the way that governments and corporations in Europe, Australia, the U.K., Japan, and other developed countries listen to their citizens.

Because while our children may only represent 30% of our population, they are 100% of our future.

Perhaps it’s time that we value them like our country depends on it.

Trust Your Gut: How One Mother Healed Her Son

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Guest blogger Christina Tibesar shares her experience and hope in helping her son deal with multiple allergies and eczema.

My son was born in 2009 and received an Apgar score of “9” at birth. As all new parents are, we were thrilled to bring home a healthy baby. I had trouble nursing, and after three months of combined formula/breastmilk feedings, we switched him over to feeding him a standard, name-brand formula exclusively. Other than losing a little weight initially, he was a sweet, chunky little baby by 12 weeks old.

At around that time, we began seeing the first signs of eczema on his skin – rough, scaly patches.

My husband and I checked in with the pediatrician with regards to this. She said it looked like “classic baby eczema” and prescribed steroid cream for us to apply to his skin. My husband and I had full faith in all things that our pediatrician directed us to do –we grew up trusting western medicine, and had no reason to question things now. We began applying the steroid cream and saw positive results, but the flare ups continued.

I will always remember our son’s first ear infection at four months old. Again, without question, we administered the ten day antibiotic prescribed by an urgent care doctor. This resulted in a horrible diaper rash and a very unhappy baby with digestive issues. We found out only during the re-check that the doctor should have advised us to give him a probiotic, as well. We began administering a daily probiotic and more prescription creams, which cleared up the rash and temporarily cleared up the digestive irritation. Unfortunately, this cycle continued – illness, antibiotics, diaper rashes and eczema flares, periodic probiotics and creams to relieve the symptoms, and so on. As solid foods were introduced into his diet, the eczema became worse. Illness and digestive issues were frequent, as well. At ten months old, he was itching so much that it would distract him from play – sometimes he would itch until he bled.

We began to feel frustrated and uncertain about the path that we were on. Each visit with the pediatrician made me feel more uneasy – I began to question the status quo. My motherly instinct began to alarm me that something was not quite right. It was an internal battle – who was I to question our pediatrician’s advice? At the same time, I could not ignore my gut instinct – I needed more information.

I reached out to my network and met with Taiha Wagner, owner of Just One Biteand a registered nurse with a specialty and passion for pediatrics who also believes in a more holistic approach to wellness. She visited with our family, analyzed our son’s diet and agreed that there was something more going on. She helped us to change our son’s diet and motivated me to go back to my pediatrician and demand allergy testing. After some convincing, our pediatrician did the blood test and it came back positive for allergies to wheat, eggs, soy and peanuts. We eliminated these foods and saw 80% of our son’s eczema clear within one month.

Between 17 and 18 months, our son made two trips to the ER with asthma attacks and failed a hearing test due to fluid sitting behind his ear drums. Our pediatrician directed us to an ENT for tubes and put him on multiple prescriptions (to be administered on an ongoing basis) for his asthmatic symptoms. During this time, he was also put on two 5-day regimens of oral steroids, which caused some short term side effects that made both my husband and I very uneasy. These side effects included periods of hyperactivity for the few hours each day after administering the medication in addition to uncontrollable tremors/shuddering, even when he was sitting still and wrapped in our arms. Again, through all of this, my inner motherly instinct continued to nag at me – I knew deep down that there was more we could do to heal him as opposed to masking the symptoms over and over with prescription medications.

We began seeing Dr. Carrie Clark who also specializes in traditional foods, chiropractic care for children, and holistic wellness. We implemented more supplements, probiotics, homeopathic remedies and significant dietary changes into our son’s daily routine. We also found a pediatrician who supports a more integrative approach to medicine and began seeing her in place of our former pediatrician immediately.

As a result of all of this, we never even made a visit to the ENT, our son’s eczema is now 95% cleared and he is very healthy and happy. When he does get sick, he bounces back quickly. He only uses prescription nebulizers for acute breathing episodes and is off of all other prescription medications.

I am telling my story because I have learned so many lessons from our experience.

It is okay to question the status quo! The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” could not be more true whether or not your child faces health challenges in his or her early years. Building a team of medical professionals to work through your child’s health challenges is critical, especially if you find yourself with more questions than answers when leaving a doctor’s office!

YOU are the ultimate decision maker for your child’s health and well-being. Don’t be afraid to make a change! In our case, finding a pediatrician who was supportive of an integrative approach to our son’s wellness was critical. Western medicine is miraculous – without it, my son would be in grave danger during an asthma attack or an allergic reaction. However, we all have the responsibility to think big picture about our children’s health – how will certain treatments or medications impact them in the long run? What can we do to take a more well-rounded approach to their health care?

Trust your gut. A “mother’s intuition” is a powerful thing. You may not have a background in medicine, but you will need to sort out what is best for your child. Reach out to other parents (my network of moms and dads is invaluable), reach out to a variety of health care practitioners in your community for advice and treatment, read books and articles that help you to sort out the information. Trust that when you find that right combination of solutions, your instinct will tell you so! Be proactive and be ready to ask the tough questions. It isn’t the easiest route, but in the long run your entire family will benefit and your child will have the best opportunity to thrive.

Christina Tibesar blogs at http://www.elevatewellness.blogspot.com and contributes to the Just One Bite Facebook page.