Diet is like religion, it is not one-size-fits-all. And as controversies swirl over how to handle the obesity epidemic, as individuals, we are quickly learning that there are a lot of little things that we can do that will make a big change in the health of families. And that as we take these baby steps, these changes add up.
And with recent reports suggesting that even a 64 calorie reduction a day could go a long way to reducing the escalating rates of obesity, maybe it’s as easy to do as ditching a can of soda. If you need some inspiration, try the infographic below.
Written by Robyn O’Brien, founder of the AllergyKids Foundation, author of The Unhealthy Truth
Today, one in eleven children struggle with asthma, and one in four are affected by allergies. The incidence of allergy has increased significantly over the past two decades, and allergy to peanuts has more than doubled from 1997 to 2002. Approximately 30 million children – more than 1/3 of our kids – are affected by one of these four new childhood epidemics. This is not something we can just accept.
The official statistic holds that allergies affect some 7 million Americans, including about 6 percent of children below the age of three. That information comes courtesy of U.S. Food and Drug Administration Deputy Commissioner Lester M. Crawford, J., D.V.M., Ph.D., speaking before the Consumer Federation of America on April 22, 2002. But that data is now almost ten years old.
Since then, the only update we’ve had is from the Centers for Disease Control and a report issued in 2008 that said that there has been a 265% increase in the rate of hospitalizations related to food allergic reactions.
This begs explanation.
An allergy is basically an overreaction by your immune system to a protein that it perceives as a threat—for example, the proteins in particular types of food, the dust mite protein, or pollen. For people without allergies, these proteins are harmless. But if you’ve got an allergy, your immune system sees these proteins as dangerous invaders.
To drive the invader out, your immune system mobilizes all its resources: mucous, to flush out the intruder; vomiting, to force it out; diarrhea, to expel it quickly. Such conditions may make you feel sick, but they’re actually evidence of your body’s attempts to get well.
A key aspect of the immune response is known as inflammation, characterized by one or more of four classic symptoms: redness, heat, swelling, and pain. Inflammation doesn’t occur only in allergic reactions; it flares up whenever your body feels threatened, in response to a bruise, cut, bacteria, or virus as well as to otherwise harmless pollen, dust, or food. Scientists now believe that much of our immune system is found in our digestive tracts, where many of these inflammatory reactions occur in the form of stomachaches, cramping, nausea, bloating, and vomiting.
Ironically, the immune system’s inflammatory reaction—meant to heal and protect the body—often causes more problems than the initial “invader” in the cases when allergic reactions become life-threatening.
Common Symptoms of Food Allergy: Immediate Reactions
* rash or hives
* stomach pain
* itchy skin
* shortness of breath
* chest pain
* swelling of the airways to the lungs
Food Allergies and Food Sensitivity: Our Immune System Overreacts Again
At first glance, the distinction between “allergies” and “sensitivity” may seem like a meaningless word game. But understanding the relationship between these two conditions is crucial to grasping the true nature of the allergy epidemic—and to seeing how even the supposedly healthy foods in our kitchens may be harmful to our health.
As we’ve seen, allergies are an overreaction of our immune system, a kind of exaggerated response to a perceived danger. When a child comes in contact with these proteins (peanut, egg, wheat, etc.) her immune system “recognizes” the protein as dangerous, just as it would have seen the danger in the bacterium that causes pneumonia or the virus that causes mumps. In response, her immune system creates special “fighter” proteins called antibodies designed to identify and neutralize the “invader.”
These fighter proteins are known as immunoglobulin E, or IgE for short. When they’re released into the bloodstream, their purpose is to “seek and destroy” the invader, which they do by creating one or more of the classic food allergy symptoms, such as the hives, or the diarrhea with which other children respond, or, in more extreme cases, the anaphylactic shock that can kill a child within minutes.
The classic IgE response occurs within minutes or even seconds, because IgE proteins are some of the most aggressive antibodies we know. That immediate IgE response is the defining characteristic of an allergic reaction.
Food sensitivities start out in a similar way. If a “sensitive” child is exposed to a protein that his system perceives as a threat, he’ll manufacture another type of fighter protein, known as Immunglobulin G, or IgG. Although IgE and IgG antibodies play similar roles, they produce somewhat different—though often overlapping—symptoms.
A crucial difference between the two, though, is their reaction time. The less aggressive IgG antibodies typically produce a delayed response that might not appear for hours or even days after the child has consumed the offending food.
So even though food sensitivities and food allergies both produce painful, inflammatory, and potentially dangerous responses, this delayed reaction time has led many doctors to give food sensitivities second-class status. Partly that’s because they don’t present an immediate and obvious threat to children’s lives: only the IgE proteins trigger anaphylactic shock, for example, and in that sense, only the IgE proteins can kill (though the IgG reaction can have serious long-term consequences). I also think that traditional doctors tend to downplay the importance of nutrition, frequently dismissing the idea that such symptoms as earache, eczema, crankiness, brain fog, and sleep problems might be related to a child’s diet.
However, an article in The Lancet, Britain’s most respected medical journal, casts another light on the subject. The article referred to doctors who use elimination diets—diets that begin with a very limited, “safe” array of food choices and then add potentially problematic foods back into the diet, one by one.
The reason to do an elimination diet is to identify which foods in your diet might be triggering symptoms like skin rashes, fatigue, or stomach ache. Often, some foods affect us without our realizing it and we live with the symptoms, taking medicine to alleviate the suffering. But if you eliminate these foods from your diet, you may find that your symptoms disappear. What becomes even more interesting is that when you reintroduce the offending food, you may suddenly suffer drastic symptoms which make it clear that the food was indeed triggering one or more problems. An elimination diet can sometimes reveal with dramatic speed that a particular food you’ve always believed was harmless is actually causing such chronic symptoms as headache, digestive problems, and even more serious complaints. Masked by your daily diet and by the slowness of the food-sensitivity reaction, the offending food does its dirty work without ever realizing that it is the culprit behind your—or your child’s—disorders.
When you take a break from eating that problem food, however, and then add it back into your diet, you see how powerful its effects are and how responsible it may be for a seemingly unrelated problem. Foods that you thought were safe for you turn out to be highly problematic, indicating the presence of a previous undiagnosed food sensitivity. As a result, the authors of the Lancet article conclude that the prevalence of food sensitivity (referred to in the article as “food intolerance”) has been seriously underestimated.
Certainly, food allergies are far more dramatic. Whenever you read about a kid who died within minutes of eating at a fast-food joint or after breathing in the peanut dust from a friend’s candy wrapper, that’s an “IgE-mediated” food allergy. They’re fast, they can be deadly, and I’m glad doctors want to give them the attention they deserve.
But I also think doctors should be looking at delayed reactions, too, the “IgG-mediated” responses to food sensitivities. And some doctors do look seriously at both. Most conventional doctors, though, tend to focus on IgE immediate reactions. I think there are lots of reasons why they should view the two types of reactions as part of a larger, single problem.
First, both reactions have the same ultimate cause: the immune system’s overreaction to apparently harmless food. According to internationally acclaimed author and physician Kenneth Bock, M.D., there’s also quite a bit of overlap between IgE and IgG symptoms. Both can contribute to inflammatory responses in multiple body systems.
True, the delayed IgG reactions are less likely to cause hives and are more likely to produce a host of apparently vague symptoms, such as headache, brain fog, sleep problems, joint pain, fatigue, and muscle aches. But both the immediate and the delayed responses are immune system problems triggered by a supposedly “harmless” food.
Conventional doctors’ tendency to separate “IgE-mediated” food allergies and “IgG-mediated” food sensitivities into two separate problems has the effect of minimizing the allergy epidemic. Remember, IgE allergies, IgG sensitivities, and asthma—three similar ways that our immune systems can overreact—are all on the rise. It makes sense to find a doctor who is willing to address all three as symptoms of a greater underlying issue.
Common Symptoms of Food Sensitivity: Delayed Reactions
* gastrointestinal problems, including bloating and gas
* itchy skin and skin rashes like eczema
* brain fog
* muscle or joint aches
* sleeplessness and sleep disorders
* chronic rhinitis (runny nose), congestion, and post-nasal drip
1. Even if your kids can’t talk, their skin speaks volumes! Did you know that the skin is a person’s largest organ? Even when your kid is too young to tell you how he feels or too used to her symptoms to identify them (when kids hurt all the time, they don’t know they hurt!), you can often read your child’s condition in his or her skin.
Does your kid have eczema? Does he get rashes around the mouth, especially after he eats a certain food or swallows a certain beverage? Rashes around the knees, elbows, or armpits? Does he have “allergic shiners”—that is, dark circles under the eyes?
These are all inflammatory reactions, signs that the body is trying to rid itself of what it perceives as “toxic invader.” In your child’s case, that “toxic invader” might be an apparently harmless food, to which your kid is either allergic or “sensitive.” Keeping that invader away from your kid may bring relief from symptoms—and it may clear up other problems, such as brain fog, crankiness, sleep problems, inattention, acne, and mood swings.
2. The toilet bowl has a lot to tell you. Your kids’ bowel movements, not to be too delicate here, also speak volumes. Runny poops are a sign that a person isn’t properly digesting his food. And indeed, as we got the allergens out of some children’s diets, poops tend to firm up.
3. Chronic ear infections are often a sign of dairy allergies. In some cases, milk may have ill effects like eczema, upset stomachs or chronic ear infections for children who are allergic or sensitive to it.
4. Find a doctor who is willing to work with you, test for both IgE and IgG allergies and sensitivities and to address the important role that elimination diets can play in managing allergic symptoms like eczema, ear infections and chronic mucous.
Disclaimer: Always discuss individual health inquiries and medical issues with a qualified personal physician and/or specialist. Robyn O’Brien/AllergyKids is not responsible for medical decisions made by any one person. The professionals who share their knowledge, discussions, minutes, handouts, agendas, and other products do not constitute medical and/or legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Always discuss individual health inquiries and medical issues with a qualified personal physician and/or specialist.
Written by Robyn O’Brien
I was not always good about following directions. I was way too curious. So during my early attempts at cooking as a kid, when anyone would put a recipe in front of me, all I could see were “rules.” The boundaries telling me to do “do it this way”, “do it that way”, too much, too little. Those rules didn’t seem to allow for much deviation.
So my tendency was to opt out of cooking, which I did for a very long time until we hit some bumps along the road in the health of our children. I then realized that I was going to have to set a new rule for myself if I were going to attempt anything in the kitchen: Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.
In the years since, I have had to lean on this rule a lot, especially in the kitchen. I was known to burn beans, noodles and pancakes, so those insecurities lingered, and I wasn’t too sure I was going to be able to create much of anything. And as I got started, while I tried to follow the rules in recipes, I found it far less intimidating to get creative.
So today, when a friend asks for “a recipe”, I reflect back on how much we can learn, at any age, and how, if you think about it, we have the ability to become the best version of ourselves that we can be.
Did I ever think I’d be sharing recipes? Not at all. I hardly trusted myself to hit 2:00 START on a microwave without burning something, but life’s lessons can be sweet, especially in the kitchen, so here’s that recipe (and the different ways we made it listed in the options below). It’s been a favorite, and it incorporates foods that are good for balancing blood sugar levels, full of vitamins and minerals and full of antioxidants and health benefits.
But better than that, it just tastes good.
Sweet Summer Salad
Heat oven to 400°. Bake potatoes until tender, about 15 minutes; gently peel off skins (you can do this with your fingers as they cool). Cube potatoes.
For dressing, in a bowl (though in all honesty, I mix dressings in water bottle canteens), mix lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper.
In another bowl, mix potatoes, beans, onions and pumpkin seeds; add dressing and toss.
Chill in the fridge if you have the time for about an hour then serve over the greens…or not. We love it absolutely plain.
And if you have some ideas of ways you want to change it, add to it, we’d love to hear them.
Written By Jen Maidenberg for AllergyKids
When my son was diagnosed with nut allergies at age two, I was sure my life as a mother would never be the same. Almost eight years later, I can’t even remember the ceramic tiled world I was so afraid to drop him on. The world peppered with choking hazards, and poisonous household chemicals. That world – the one that was dangerous enough already – practically disappeared as soon as food became lethal, and now that my son is almost 10, I can almost laugh at what used to keep me up at night before I had nightmares about food.
I felt so desperately alone in the beginning – excommunicated in an instant from parties and playdates dressed in goldfish crackers and populated by filthy hands. Those interactions would never be a gift to me; they would always be a burden. I also didn’t jump with joy, like the other moms I knew, the first time my son was invited to a drop off birthday party. In fact, I spent the next three years as the mom you could count on to stay behind to help (aka hover), while the others ran errands without a thought in the world.
I miss those days.
Little did I know then that those would be the glory days of parenting a child with food allergies. I remember with fondness when I used to fill out detailed forms, and sign up for meetings with principals eager to know every single last detail about my son’s condition. I sigh with longing when I think about the nut-free preschool I sent him to; the school where he was one of at least ten kids with food allergies. I dream about the nut free camp my son went to for three summers, the one where he could eat anything on the menu and the nurse was especially trained in epi-pen administration. I remember when the convenience store was a place my child had never heard of, and the only cash he handled came inside birthday cards and when straight to his piggy bank.
I miss the days when I thought I was in control.
Now, my son runs around our tight knit community in Israel, with a pack of other kids his age. Kids with credit accounts at the convenience store so they can buy snacks after school. Kids who don’t have to read the ingredients on the candy bar labels, and never do.
Now my son earns money for chores and uses that money to buy candy, the labels of which he is responsible to read on his own. Now my son goes to birthday parties and field trips without me. Now, he is the one who surreptitiously scopes the scene to see whose filthy hands he needs to steer clear from; which of his friends have packed weapons masquerading as snack packs.
Now my son carries his Benadryl and his epi-pen twin pack on him wherever he goes. He has been trained how to inject himself in the thigh, with that tight fist (the one we hope and pray we will never have to make) and hold for ten seconds.
Now, I hold my breath and wait for him to come home.
I could blame this new generation anxiety of mine on our move to Israel last year, and sometimes I do. Sometimes I wish we had stayed in what I now know was our “food allergy aware bubble” of suburban New Jersey. (I am careful to make a distinction between “aware,” mind you, and sensitive). Sometimes I wish I could return to that imaginary place, the one I thought was safer than the place I live now.
And then there are days when I meditate on the path my son would have taken had we stayed in NJ. I think of the local tweens and teens who used to gather after school on the main street of our small town; who popped into the bagel store or the Dunkin Donuts for an afterschool treat. I think of sleepover parties and overnight camp and all the other normal childhood milestones I would have wanted him to experience. Would it have been much different if we stayed in New Jersey? Would he have gone to a nut-free junior high? No. Would there have been a nurse accompanying the traveling soccer team? I don’t think so.
If we were living in New Jersey now, I imagine this still would have been the year: The year I decided not to hold my breath for the rest of my life.
The year I grudgingly understood I couldn’t protect him forever. The year I reluctantly accepted that this was the world and I, or rather he, better be prepared to live in it. Not carefully walk around it, but live in it.
We aren’t handed a manual along with our newborns, and we certainly aren’t offered a contract to sign; one with guidelines and guarantees. If we were offered a contract, a preview into the future, how many of us would sign?
Ironically, what many mothers are offered as we prepare for birth, are techniques for how to breathe through the pain of labor. It is the breath that allows us to face our fears. Breathing deep and down into our backs and our bellies, maximizing our oxygen intake and reminding our internal operating systems to relax. And exhaling softly and slowly, reminding ourselves we are safe.
No, there are no guidelines and there are no guarantees. And the parental control we think we have is an illusion that lasts only so long.
But I will always have the breath. And from now until the end of time, I imagine I will breathe deep into my belly when my son walks out the door; hold it; and exhale softly and slowly when he returns to me once again. Safe.
Jen Maidenberg is a writer and mom to three kids, two with food allergies and one (sigh with relief) allergy-free, so far. More of her writings can be found at www.jenmaidenberg.com
One of the most compelling promises that the agricultural and biotech industries use to justify the need for their food science and the genetic engineering of crops is that this new technology and the ingredients it creates have the potential to feed the world.
Who can argue with that?
But according to Business Week, it turns out that “after millennia when the biggest food-related threat to humanity was the risk of having too little, the 21st century is one where the fear is having too much”.
Can you imagine? What if the chemical industry is busy manufacturing demand, using scare tactics, to get us to believe that we need their genetically engineered, chemically dependent products in order to fend off mass starvation? When in all actuality, we have mass produced their corn and soy to such an extent that a global obesity epidemic has resulted and food waste beyond anyone’s wildest imagination?
It turns out that just might be the case.
According to Business Week, “the issue isn’t so much that we can’t grow enough. Rather, existing food supplies are so poorly distributed that those hundreds of millions have too little for their own health, while 2 billion-plus have too much.” On top of that, a third of food is wasted worldwide, spoiled and thrown out before it even reaches consumers.
We are wasting enough food every day here in America to feed the hungry. And while much focus has been on the obesity epidemic, it is becoming increasingly hard to ignore the fact that with advertisements and food access available 24/7, we’ve got more food than we know what to do with.
One of the most insightful disclosures of just how bad this food waste and excess of commodity crops has gotten is documented in the movie, Dive! The Film, a film made with Jeremy Seifert and Josh Kunau, that highlights exactly what goes into dumpsters in America. And it is shocking what we throw away.
This 45-minute documentary follows Seifert and his friends as they explore the alleys and backstreets of America’s grocery stores in search of good food tossed away because of overly cautious expiration dates. These guys don’t mess around. They suit right up in their bathing suits and dive right in…to America’s dumpsters, and turn up some of the most amazing information.
Americans throw away 96 billion pounds of food every year, or 27 percent of the total amount of available food. That’s 3,000 pounds of food a second.
But it’s not just us tossing those PB&J crusts out, the main line of food waste tends to be coming out the back end of the grocery stores. And the film shows that a frightening amount ends up being tossed by grocery stores before it can be purchased by consumers.
Now that’s good news for the food industry, as it creates a constant state of demand for their products.
But what if we were to figure out a better business model, designed to deliver all of the food we need without wasting over a quarter of it? What if our taxpayer dollars were used to build a distribution model to get this food to people who need it, like the 1 in 4 American children at-risk for hunger, rather than on farm subsidies which are arguably contributing to this mounting waste?
With the Farm Bill hitting the Senate floor this week, we have an opportunity to actually build a better food system, one that creates less waste and more nutrient-dense foods. Wouldn’t that be in the best interest in the health of our families, our corporations, our economy and our country?
Cleaning up the food supply is messy business, but it can also be a lot of fun. If you are interested in learning more, please visit: http://divethefilm.com/