Author: Renu Puri
This blog talks about a topic that is still considered taboo in this day and age, especially in India. Despite a hefty chunk of the population being affected by its prevalence, food allergy is one thing that is not talked about often.
We have included the dangers, the symptoms, how it happens, what are the kinds of allergies, the most common food allergies, and some mind-boggling statistics in this blog to spread awareness of the severity of the topic. Read on to find out everything about food allergies.
Living with food allergies can be tough, especially if the ingredient you are allergic to is omnipresent in all types of foods. If you go to a restaurant or a food chain in any foreign country, they make it a priority to ask you if you have any food allergies before you order your food to accommodate your sensitivity. In India, however, it is quite the opposite. Most of the waiters do not know if the ingredient you are allergic to is present in the food you’ve ordered. Big food chains and food delivery applications also do not pay much heed to the food directions you give them and end up giving you the default preparations. If the same thing is done in any first world country like the United States of America or any European country, a food chain, food delivery app, or restaurant can easily get sued for millions of dollars.
So why is it that allergies are not accommodated in India but given so much importance in foreign countries? The answer is awareness. A lot of people still believe that food allergies are rare or that they are just mild intolerance. This leads to a lack of recognition of the severity of food allergies and the need for proper management. The lack of education is a close second, where people believe food allergies are just a “myth” and one can never be allergic to foods. This kind of psychology is still very much prevalent in rural India where people do not believe that food allergies exist at all and label them as some sort of disease or even mental illness. The lack of awareness about food allergies can lead to serious consequences for those who suffer from them. It is important to educate others, raise awareness, and support research to help better understand and manage food allergies.
The topic of food allergies always reminds me of the one incident that truly changed my perspective on the topic and made me wonder why it isn’t talked about often. At the beginning of this year, I had gone to Goa with a group of friends. One of my friends, Rita, had always been very sensitive to certain foods but her shellfish allergy was one that she wouldn’t stop ranting about. A lot of my other friends thought she was just being picky and high-maintenance. “Goa aye aur seafood nahi khaya toh kya kiya?” is often one’s mentality amidst the beauty of those high tides and beautiful waves.
So one fine day, we all decided to go to a fine dining restaurant and treat ourselves to a wholesome dinner. Rita, as always, opened the menu and called the waiter to ask if there was any shellfish in the soup to which the waiter said “No ma’am, it's a special shellfish-free broth made just for customers like you.”, She asked him once more “I hope this does not have any derivatives of shellfish too?”. “ No ma’am, it is completely shellfish-free.”
Feeling relieved, Rita ordered the soup and took a big spoonful. But as soon as it touched her lips, she realized her mistake. The soup was filled with chunks of lobster, shrimp, and crab!
Rita quickly called over the waiter and demanded to know what was going on. The waiter replied with a straight face, "Sorry ma’am, I did not know that shrimp is a shellfish"
Needless to say, we had to rush Rita to the ER to make sure that she was ok. Thankfully, she had not consumed the soup in large quantities so she did not have to face the ill effects of her allergy. However, it made our entire group realize how these high-end restaurants don’t educate their staff on what certain foods are, what allergies can do to a person, and how important it is to accommodate a food request.
Even though Rita now looks back at this incident and laughs, she always makes sure to ask multiple questions and double-check everything she eats, to avoid any more unexpected seafood surprises.
If you have a certain food intolerance or allergy, you are not alone. A whopping 32 million Americans have food allergies. The exact number of people with food allergies in India is not known, as there is limited research available on the subject. However, it is estimated that between 4-6% of the population in India is affected by food allergies. This is in line with the worldwide estimate of 4-6% of the global population being affected by food allergies. It's important to note that the prevalence of food allergies can vary based on several factors, including age, genetics, and lifestyle factors.
A food allergy can be defined as a type of condition in which some foods tend to trigger an abnormal response in the body. The reason for the abnormal response is the immune system seeing that particular protein in that food as a threat to your bodily functions. So, when you ingest a food that you may be “allergic” to, your body launches some protective measures that cause inflammation.
In some cases, one may experience little to no effects from the foods whereas, in others, even small exposure to certain foods can cause deadly reactions. So make sure to be cautious, present, and aware of whatever you’re putting in your body.
Milk, especially cow milk is said to be one of the most common allergies affecting babies and young children worldwide. This majorly happens when a child consumes cow milk protein before he turns 6 months old. Although the allergy mostly dissipates once the young child reaches the age of 3 and above, it is categorized as one of the most prevalent allergies in children, affecting about 2-3% of toddlers.
Cow milk allergy can be IgE or Non-IgE but IgE cow allergies are very severe as they can cause anaphylaxis. The non-IgE cow milk allergy can be rather difficult to identify as there are no foolproof ways to test if you are allergic to it and the symptoms may be similar to lactose intolerance. The only way to avoid this allergy is by refraining from drinking cow milk or consuming any cow milk derivatives. This includes ice creams, chocolates, flavoured milks, lassi, yogurt, butter, etc. We always encourage our clients and supporters to read labels on the back of the product packaging before buying anything to make sure that it does not contain any allergen. It hardly takes 5 minutes and is a practice that will save you lots of bucks and trips to the emergency room.
Peanut allergies are also very common and can be fatal if not treated in an instant. The immune system refuses to acknowledge the protein in the peanut and classifies it as some foreign harmful particle thereby triggering an allergic reaction. Some people are so sensitive to peanuts that even slight contamination can cause them to have severe anaphylaxis reactions like urticaria. Swelling of the face is also another symptom that is common in people with peanut allergy.
Food allergy testing for Peanuts can be checked by exploring a person’s diet and the severity as well as the duration of their symptoms after being exposed to peanuts. After this, a skin test for allergy or a blood sample to check for IgE is usually done to rule out the possibility of any other allergy.
Allergy to wheat is also very common in adults and children. Similar to cow milk allergy, wheat allergy can also be either IgE-mediated or non-IgE mediated so you may experience symptoms almost immediately or it may take some time to show up. Gluten is a protein that is seen in grains like wheat, barley, and rye but having gluten intolerance does not necessarily mean that you may be allergic to wheat. People oftentimes get confused and ask us if a wheat allergy is the same thing as celiac disease. A wheat allergy is an immune reaction to one or more proteins found in wheat whereas Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder in which the ingestion of gluten leads to damage to the small intestine and can result in a variety of symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, fatigue, and malnutrition.
The severity of wheat allergy would solely depend on your body. Wheat is omnipresent around us – in the forms of children’s play doh, cosmetics, skin care products, shampoos, face packs, etc so it is very important to ensure that you read labels, be cautious, and make careful decisions for your health.
Like my friend Rita, a lot of people suffer from Shellfish allergies. For anyone who doesn’t know, Shellfish is a group of crustaceans and mollusks that have a shell around them. They are known for causing extreme reactions in people who are allergic. You will see it mentioned on a lot of seafood menus and caution signs in a lot of restaurants due to the nature of the severity. We highly recommend you ask questions, know what’s in your food, and inspect your food thoroughly before consuming it.
The symptoms of a shellfish allergy can range from mild (rashes, hives, itching, nasal congestion, stomach upset) to severe (anaphylaxis) and occur after ingesting shellfish or coming into contact with shellfish proteins. People with a shellfish allergy are often advised to avoid all forms of shellfish and to carry an epinephrine auto-injector in case of a severe reaction.
Soy allergies can affect children under the age of 3. They are mostly triggered by a protein present in soybeans or soybean derivatives. Studies say that a small number of children who are allergic to cow’s milk would most definitely be allergic to soy. But not to worry, around 70% of the children who are affected by this allergy overcome it by the time they grow up.
The symptoms of Soy allergy can mask itself in the forms of an itchy and tingly mouth, cold, rashes or hives, and difficulty breathing. In severe cases, it can lead to anaphylaxis. The only effective treatment for this kind of allergy is to completely eliminate soy or soy derivatives from your diet and replace them with other protein-rich sources.
You may not have heard of this allergy much but it affects more people than you would think. Sesame allergy, although most commonly seen in children, can affect people of any age group at any given point in their life. Only 20% of children who are allergic to sesame outgrow it with age. Sesame is a common ingredient in many foods, including bread, crackers, hummus, and a lot of Asian cuisines. It is also used as an ingredient in some cosmetics, such as lotions and soaps, and in some medications. For this reason, people with a sesame allergy must be vigilant about avoiding products that may contain traces of sesame.
The symptoms of a sesame allergy are hives or rashes, flushed face, itching on the face and body, trouble speaking, swollen tongue, and brain fog. The occurrence of Sesame allergy has increased over the years, so it is good to take caution and go to an allergist for an allergen test or food allergy treatment if you get an adverse reaction.
According to Prevalence of food sensitization and probable food allergy among adults in India: the EuroPrevall INCO study,
A high level of sensitization (26.5%) was observed for most of the foods in the general population, higher than that observed among adults in Europe, except for those foods that cross-react with birch pollen. Most of the sensitization was observed in subjects who had total IgE above the median IgE level. A high level of cross-reactivity was observed among different pollen and foods. The prevalence of probable food allergy (self-reports of adverse symptoms after the consumption of food and specific IgE to the same food) was 1.2%, which mainly accounted for cow's milk (0.5%) and apple (0.5%).
Sometimes it may be difficult to know right off the bat what dish encompasses what ingredient and it’s safe to say, living in India with a food allergy is not fun. Prevention is always better than cure. That is why we advise people with allergies to team up with registered dietitians to curate a diet plan that would accommodate their condition so they can live their best life without being in constant fear of having an unwanted reaction.
Our certified nutritionists curate allergy-friendly diets for everyone. These diet plans are created considering your body type, genetics, activity levels, allergy type, and even your tastebuds! Yes, you heard it right. We believe that a diet should never feel like a compromise, but rather a lifestyle that you can sustain, and that is why we recommend mouth-watering recipes that will take care of any cravings and make you feel like you never left any type of food.
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