How Allergies Changed What I Eat

Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s allergies?

Allergies can change a person's life. See how my new found allergies changed mine and how it can impact your health.
Allergies can change a person’s life. See how my new found allergies changed mine and how it can impact your health.

 

When it comes to food we all have our preferences. We like this or that, prefer that over this, but sometimes people have allergies. Maybe one or two, maybe more than they want.

Here are the top food allergies according to the Food Allergy Research & Education:

  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Fish
  • Shellfish

Can you guess which ones I’m allergic to? I’ll give you a hint; peanuts, milk, eggs (egg whites to be more specific), milk, and soy. So, four of the top eight most common allergies. That’s half. Yay (can you feel the sarcasm?).

My family and I have known since I was little that I was pretty allergic to peanuts so I’ve avoided them my whole life. When it comes to peanuts I’m not so allergic, like some of my fellow classmates growing up, that I can’t have things that “may contain peanuts.” Products like that I’m usually fine with. Some people are so allergic that they will have a reaction just from the smell. I’m not that way either. I grew up eating a lunch meat sandwich while my brother had PB&J.
We didn’t really think I was very allergic and that one day I might grow out of it. So, while I as in high school we had my blood drawn and tested to see if I was still allergic to peanuts. Little did we know that I was actually more allergic to peanuts than previously thought and I had other allergies I was unaware of.

My Allergens

Peanuts

The person who went over the allergies test with us wasn’t all that helpful, to be honest. What I do know now is that I am more allergic to peanuts than previously thought. I can still eat things that “may contain peanuts” but cannot consume any products that have peanuts listed as an ingredient, even if it’s the last ingredient.

Peanut allergies are actually very common and are surprisingly on the rise. About 20% of kids with a peanut allergy may grow out of it but it’s usually a lifelong allergy. Yay me. Oh, and peanuts are not related to tree nuts. I can have tree nuts.

My experience with accidentally consuming peanut products has gone from minor incidents to life-threatening.
There was one instance where I was out with my mother and we had stopped at a place of business to get a quote on something and they had a thing of M&Ms on the counter. I took a few, not paying attention to the lack of their signature “m” and popped them in my mouth. I chewed them a couple times and noticed they were not M&Ms but Reese’s Pieces. I ran outside and spat them out in the grass. Found a bottle of water and kept rinsing my mouth trying to make sure I didn’t swallow any of the candy. For a little while after, the side of my tongue was slightly swollen.

Another time, just last year, I bought some cookies made by one of my favorite brand of granola bars that don’t normally use peanuts. I didn’t bother looking at the ingredients before I bought them because I thought there was no way there could have been peanuts. Always check ingredients before buying something if you have an allergy. I should have known better. I got home, busted out a cookie, and then decided to check the ingredients as I was chewing the cookie. Sure enough, it had peanut flour in it. I was quick once again to spit it out and rinse out my mouth. I was lucky on both occasions that I did not swallow the peanut product and didn’t end up going into anaphylactic shock.

So those were my two minor encounters with peanuts. While they did not have any serious effects on me, there are those who could have gone into anaphylactic shock from eating just a bit of what I did.
Now, I have had one life-threatening encounter with peanuts. My family was on our way to visit my grandparents for the holidays and ironically it was a short time after I had gotten my allergy test result back. We were on our way to Indiana when we made a stop at a rest stop. There was a church group there giving out free snacks and coffee for travelers. My brothers picked a treat and I stood there contemplating what I wanted. Everything was bake sale style so no labels. Just everything in small plastic baggies. I picked up a thing of what I thought to be vanilla Oreos and asked if they had peanuts in it. The kind old lady said no, they’re just vanilla Oreos. So I took them and ate one in the car. Then I ate half of another. The cream tasted fine, just like Oreo cream does. The cookie seemed to taste fine as well but something was off. I started to get hot and clammy. I could feel my throat tighten. I drank some water but it wouldn’t go away. My muscles began to tense in my arms and my throat muscles were tightening even more. I grabbed my phone because I didn’t think I would be able to speak. I began to panic. I typed out as best as I could saying that something was wrong, my throat was tightening and I couldn’t speak. I think I ate peanuts. I handed my phone to my mother. She turned around in the front seat and I began to cry. No one knew what was going on, my dad began to freak out. My mom searched for the nearest hospital. We did not have an EpiPen. By the time we got to a hospital I was sobbing, hyperventilating, the muscles in my arm had seized up and I could not move my hands. We walked in, I took a seat, my mom told the lady at the desk I had a peanut allergy and was having an allergic reaction and needed to see someone right away. The woman gave my mom a clipboard with paperwork. I was given a bag to breathe into. We were told we would have to wait. We were the only ones there. So we sat in the lobby a good 5-10 minutes after my reaction started about 10-20 minutes before we showed up. We had to wait. I thought I might die. We were finally seen by a doctor who hooked me up to an IV and pumped me full of epinephrine. I could breathe again. My muscles relaxed and I stopped crying. My father thought it would be a good time to take a picture of me (insert intense glare here). After a little while, everything started to feel okay. Then it started again. For some reason, my body decided to go back into anaphylactic shock and they had to give me more epinephrine. Once my body finally chilled out and I didn’t think I was going to die, I was released and all I wanted to do was go back home. Instead, we continued onward to visit family (insert another intense glare here).

So, yes I have consumed peanut products and had minor reactions and have been hospitalized because of consuming peanuts. Moral of this story is always double check ingredients if you have allergies, always have an EpiPen with you, don’t trust little old ladies with cookies at a restroom stop, and confiscate all photography devices while you lay in a hospital bed dying.

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Soy

I find it interesting that I’m allergic to both peanuts and soybeans since they are in the same family, Fabaceae, or the legume family. However, just because you are allergic to one, does not necessarily mean you are allergic to the other. But it can, and does happen from time to time.

The interesting thing about soy is that it’s more common in children and they usually outgrow the allergy by the age of 10. Allergic reactions to soy are usually very mild and rarely send people into anaphylactic shock.

Soy and I have a not so great relationship. I’m not super allergic to it like I am to peanuts, but it is a thorn in my side. I can’t have straight up soy, like edamame, though I have had a few pods before without too much of a reaction. Just not a fan of soy and an old wise tail says that sometimes not liking a food can be a sign that you are allergic.
Things that I can’t eat that has soy includes; edamame, lots of Asian dishes, tofu, soy milk, soy sauce, and soy-based protein foods. I wanted to try a Cliff Bar once and saw that it had a lot of soy in it. I knew I wasn’t super allergic to soy so why not? Took one bite of it and chewed it a couple of times and my mouth became really raw and began to hurt. I spat it out and that was the last time I tried anything that is soy based. So, straight soy tears up my mouth and I don’t dare to see what it does to my system if I actually eat some.
The hard part about soy it that it’s in everything. I can still eat things that have a little amount of soy in it like commercial bread, cakes, etc. Though, why do they honestly need them?

Eggs

Eggs? You mean Ewws?

Eggs are gross and this is where the old wise tale of not liking something may mean you’re allergic really plays in. The smell of cooking eggs is revolting. Almost to the point where I feel sick, especially when people are cooking up only egg whites. Because I did not like eggs or how they smelled, I avoided them for most of my life.

Yes, I am allergic to egg white but not the yoke. The egg white contains the proteins that cause reactions. It is recommended that if you have egg allergies that you avoid the entire egg because you can not fully separate the white from the yoke. I still use the yoke from time to time, though. Egg allergies are pretty common in kids and most grow out of it. Looks like I’m not the growing out type.

I am not as allergic to eggs as I am to peanuts but I won’t touch scrambled eggs with a 10-foot pole. I can still have bread and cake and such that have eggs in it but I cannot have egg based food products like omelets, french toast, angel food cake, meringue, macrons, various pastry puffs, and other egg-based desserts. I also have a tendency of avoiding waffles and brownies because the egg doesn’t always get mixed in fully or correctly. Nothing’s more fun than biting down into a brownie and getting a chunk of cooked egg. Gross.

Not begin able to have some of these things make me sad, like angel food cake. I love angel food cake but one cake has 12 egg whites. 12!!! If I eat more than a bite or two my mouth starts to get raw just like it does when I eat soy. So, I miss out on a lot of delicious baked good because they are egg based. When it comes to cooking, more specifically breading meat, I will typically use egg yokes mixed with a little water rather than an entire egg. I can’t do breading with egg whites. And if I eat something like scrambled eggs, I gag, and gag, and gag, and pray I don’t throw up. So, eggs are just a no go.

Milk

Mmm, milk. I do love milk. I actually would drink about a gallon or so of milk by myself in a week. Now, I might have a glass a week.

Milk is another one of those things where it’s common for infants and toddlers and will typically outgrow it.

And you may be sitting here reading this and thinking, “Milk allergy? Don’t you mean lactose intolerance?” No, I do mean an allergy. An allergy and intolerance are completely different.However, my symptoms to milk are very similar to those of lactose intolerance but I don’t have to stomach or intestinal issues and it registered as an allergy on my allergy test.

I’m not very allergic to milk at all but it is something I have significantly reduced in my diet and I am continuing to try to reduce my dairy intake. After my allergy test came in and it said I had a milk allergy I thought my world was going to end. Goodbye, milk. Good bye cheese. Good by sweet, sweet ranch dressing. My life was over. After a couple of days and my mom trying to find dairy-free products so my life wouldn’t be over, I got over it. I reduced the amount of milk I was drinking and took up water instead. Tried almond and coconut milk and was not a fan. I just stuck with water. Since I stopped drinking milk (but not giving up cheese or ranch!) these dark circles that used to be under my eyes that never went away finally did. I was sleeping better, I had more energy, my body felt better. Now, if I drink too much milk the circles start to appear and I start to feel gross again. I do still eat cheese but I’m slowly trying to switch over to nondairy products. I don’t think I’ll ever give up cheese.

Management

So there you have it. A breakdown of my allergies. Now the question is, how do I manage to eat with all these allergies? I’ll start with the severity of my allergies.

  • Peanuts– Life-threatening, avoid at all cost, can consume products that “may contain peanuts”
  • Egg Whites– Not life threatening, can cause mild reactions, avoid egg-based foods
  • Soy– Not life threatening, can cause slight-mild reaction, avoid soy-based foods
  • Milk– Not life threatening, causes discomfort if consumed in large quantities, avoid      drinking more than 8oz of cows milk per day

Here’s a simple breakdown of how I choose things to eat:

I avoid all products containing peanuts. It’s not a choice, I have to.

I avoid egg-based foods but most times I will eat other foods if it contains eggs.

I typically avoid all soy-based meals (a lot of Asian foods, unfortunately) and will eat some processed food that may have a little bit of soy.

I do not drink milk very often but will still eat products with milk in it and milk based soups and sauces.

When you have allergies you start to find and understand what food you can and cannot eat. It can be hard, I know, but it can be done.

Now you know my allergies and experiences, so what about you? Do you or your family members have allergies?