Allergy Realities: Food for Thought

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“Do you have anything that’s gluten-free?”

You’ve probably heard this phrase about a thousand times in restaurants. Maybe you’re even the one saying it. The gluten-free trend is on the rise thanks to fad diets and celebrity endorsements. What you may not realize is that passing crazes like this one are doing real damage to people with food allergies.

When you see the words “gluten-free” you may immediately assume that a person ordering it is on some sort of silly diet, but in reality, there’s a very good chance that person may actually have celiac disease. Celiac is an immune response that damages the small intestine when activated by gluten, a protein found in more than just bread. It can also be present in soups, processed meats and cheeses, condiments, fruit fillings, ice cream and even alcohol. It spans the entire food pyramid, which means people with this disease need to be extremely careful, not for the sake of their waistline, but for their health.

When it comes to food allergies, the scope of possibilities is broader than you’d think. Nuts, dairy, food dyes and even eggs can be potentially deadly triggers for some folks. If you’ve been diagnosed with a food allergy, you know just how serious they can be. For those unfamiliar, they’re no joke. 

An allergy is categorized as a damaging immune response by the body in reaction to a specific substance, and reactions can be as mild as breaking out in hives or as severe as anaphylactic shock, which causes blood pressure to drop and swelling that blocks airways, causing your body to literally go into shock, which can be fatal. It’s not something you could tell just by looking at someone, and yet it’s an integral part of their life.

Not all food allergies are that severe, but humans are diverse and varied creatures, and our chemical makeup can vary just as much as our appearance. Thanks to experimentation and new food science technology, however, we’ve been able to engineer and reinvent recipes and ingredients to provide options for everybody. You can walk down the aisle at your local grocery store and find items specifically designed around common allergens, like dye-free children’s medicine and eggless cookies. Even things like soy and almond milk are revolutionary in the context of allergens because they provide safe dairy alternatives for people with lactose intolerance.

Unfortunately, dietary trends have skewed our cultural perspective on food diversity. Many people scoff at the mention of gluten-free or the request for soy milk in their coffee, but having these options is important. And, if it weren’t for the fad diets and extra-picky people, many of these options would not be as financially viable to produce. That doesn’t completely forgive people for trivializing someone else’s necessity, but thanks to them, businesses can feel more secure when investing in allergen-friendly options.

So the next time you’re serving someone an altered menu item, or you see a gluten-free section on a menu, just remember that someone out there needs this adjustment in order to live a normal, healthy life. Something as simple as being able to go out to eat with family and friends without an emergency hospital visit can make the world of difference to someone, and everyone deserves to enjoy the joys of food without the fear of an allergy ruining their day.