What’s With All The Food Allergies?

Susan Page
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Wednesday - June 29, 2011
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“We are indeed much more than what we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are.” -nutritionist/author Adelle Davis.

Sometimes a topic strikes a chord with readers. My last column was about allergies, or rather “intolerance” to gluten, a protein found in wheat and certain other grains, which I and 30 percent to 40 percent of the population have.

Response to the column was heavy. This tells me that, like me, people who, after a battery of inconclusive medical tests, don’t know where to turn so they’re willing to explore food allergies. After all, as the aforementioned Adelle Davis, who became quite popular in the 1960s, said, “Thousands upon thousands of persons have studied disease. Almost no one has studied health.”

One very enthusiastic reader from Honolulu contacted me to find out more about gluten-free living. When she said she was 91 years old, I instead wanted to pick her brain on how to live long and stay so mentally alert. The irony! But, poor thing, she has had intestinal problems for years and was desperate to see if gluten might be the culprit.

Food allergies can wreak havoc on a body. In my case, gluten, shellfish and a few weird items - coffee beans and blueberries - take their toll on my health, in different ways.

And now it seems allergies in children are increasing. A recent study by Catholic University medical center with 40,000 children across the country found a growing number to be allergic. Peanuts, milk, shellfish and other tree nuts were the top four diet culprits. (My granddaughter, 3, has a dairy and soy allergy, so she drinks a tasty alternative, almond milk).

Intolerance to gluten is a genetic predisposition that can show up at birth or anytime thereafter with varying symptoms. But when asked what is causing the increase in childhood food allergies, experts can only theorize: Environmental pesticides may have changed the cilia in stomachs and/or that American children may just be too clean nowadays - so clean that they aren’t building up immunities.

I’m not really sure how to keep a child that clean. I got so filthy as a child I thought my grandmother was going to scrub my ears completely off in the bathtub. And my children certainly got plenty grimy, but nothing a good bath and Ivory soap scrub couldn’t fix.

We didn’t have Wet Wipes or hand sanitizers in those days, so I guess grubby little hands were picking up germs right and left. When children sucked those dirty thumbs, who knew they were building up immunities?

It’s no wonder today’s parents are preoccupied with germs. Television reports on e-coli and other tainted food disease outbreaks are frightening.

My friend, pediatrician Victoria Schneider, is a huge believer in hand-washing. Her daughter and I were the “education team” on a medical mission in Swaziland last year. While the Swazis waited to be seen by “Dr. Vicky,” we talked to them about the importance of hand washing using visual aids.

So what’s a parent to do? Sacrifice one bad outcome for another?

Allergies to food can wreak all sorts of havoc on the body, from symptoms as severe as a throat closing up to mild gas. I guess the bottom line is to pay heed to our health, filtering out information that clearly does not make good common sense, then take the health “Catch 22s” of life with a grain of salt (or maybe dirt?). Was it eating mud pies as a kid that caused my allergies or the humongous clouds of DDT regularly sprayed over the neighborhood to kill mosquitoes? We’ll probably never know.

NOTE: When going gluten-free, finding tasty food can be a challenge. Another reader shared that she makes and sells gluten-free, ready-to-eat, local style grinds found at Vim n’Vigor at Ala Moana Center. Her website is www.chrysalisfoods.com. Whole Foods, Down to Earth and some grocery stores carry gluten-free foods. Rumor has it that California Pizza Kitchen will have a gluten-free pizza menu late this month. Be still, my stomach!

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