Food allergies and food intolerances are not the same thing. Food allergies are an abnormal immune response to the protein in certain foods and food intolerances (other than celiac disease) do not involve the immune system. While food intolerances can make you feel horrible, food allergies can cause serious reactions and can be life threatening. Registered dietitians can help patients with both food allergies and food intolerances, but this post will focus on how they can help those with allergies.
The top eight food allergens
While it is possible to be allergic to any food, the most common allergens (known as the top eight) are peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, eggs, milk, wheat and soy. For those with food allergies, the only way to avoid adverse reactions is complete avoidance of the allergen.
How dietitians can help after an allergy diagnosis
After a new food allergy diagnosis, patients often feel lost. They may not know which foods are safe to eat, or how to read the nutrition facts label. Dietitian’s can teach patients and their families which foods are safe to eat, hidden sources of allergens, and how to identify and avoid unsafe foods. They can also provide tips to patients and their families to help them feel safe when dining out.
Those who know and understand which foods to avoid and how to identify unsafe foods will still benefit from seeing a Registered Dietitian. The focus with allergies is often on eliminating foods from the diet. However, when foods are eliminated from the diet, nutrients are removed too. It is important to replace eliminated foods with safe alternatives to prevent nutrient deficiencies. For example, if dairy products are removed from the diet due to a milk allergy, the milk allergic individual should include alternatives to make sure they get adequate calcium, vitamin D, phosphorous, riboflavin and vitamin B12. Registered Dietitians that specialize in food allergies are able to evaluate someone’s diet to see if they are missing nutrients. They are then able to provide meal and snack suggestions to fill in any nutrient gaps. By helping patients find alternatives to their favorite products, dietitians can make eating with food allergies easier.