By Kinley Beshers
For the Opelika Observer
National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month has circled back around, and this time, let’s take initiative to better acknowledge, understand and overcome food allergies.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America dedicated May 9 – 15 as Food Allergy Awareness Week.
Food allergies affect many more people than commonly believed. In fact, Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Connection Team (FAACT) gathered results that conclude food allergies can affect as many as 32 million Americans, including six million children.
When a body consumes food that it mistakenly believes is harmful, it will release massive amounts of chemicals and produce an immune system response to that food, which is then referred to as an allergen.
These allergens can affect the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, skin and the cardiovascular system, according to the FAACT.
Most of these responses involve physical reactions from skin, eyes, mouth, throat, brain, heart and lungs, however the most common reaction to food allergies is throat twinges or swelling.
Opelika resident and mother, Leigh Ann Parker has been through the ups and downs, the growth and learning and some of the most treacherous and traumatic experiences regarding food allergies.
Parker discovered her son, Sully, had food allergies at the early age of nine months.
One year, for a big Father’s Day breakfast, Parker fed Sully scrambled eggs, without thinking twice about it.
Parker said Sully ate them quickly, and was fine for the few moments after. But as time passed, he began itching and his eyes started swelling shut.
After rushing him to the ER, Sully was given epinephrine to keep his throat from closing.
Reactions like the one Sully was having occur like a domino effect. After consuming these allergens, the tongue tingles and the throat swells, causing the lungs to have a shortage of oxygen. As this is happening, the brain can get anxious and begin to panic.
“That same year, the day after Christmas, we were out of town at my mom’s, and I gave him a bite of my Larabar,” Parker said. “This time, his reaction was worse with him itching, vomiting and wheezing.”
Reactions can occur within a few minutes of allergen consumption or up to two hours after – similar to Sully’s first experience.
These allergic episodes can be short and easily manageable or longer in duration and life-threatening.
For anyone with food allergies, including children, this issue can be especially tough to cope with.
For parents of children, however, the difficulties are incredibly comparable.
Parker said it tends to be harder when Sully is around other children or in events and settings that revolve around food.
“I follow him around as he plays making sure that he’s not picking up food that was dropped by others, as it could lead to an emergency room visit or worse if he ate some of the foods kids often eat,” Parker said.
Heather S., from AllergyEats.com, expresses similar issues that her parents experienced.
“I thought it was easy, but my parents did not,” Heather S., said. “They were constantly protecting me, worrying what was in the packaged food and what was in the food another child brought into class.”
Food allergies most commonly stay prevalent throughout childhood years, but improve as the body ages.
However, though these allergies tend to improve, they can also worsen with time, sometimes developing into a new allergy.
“After high school, I developed allergies to wheat, dairy and a life threatening allergy to tomato,” Heather S. said. “My childhood food allergies were nothing compared to my new ones.”
Parker said she was referred to the allergy specialist at Children’s Hospital of Alabama twice a year to test for any signs of improvement or outgrowth of Sully’s allergies.
Throughout her journey with Sully, Parker said she is grateful for the people who are knowledgeable and have helped her learn about food allergies in the process – her experience has made her want to learn and share more information about the issue.
Parker said she tries her best to ensure that her child always feels “special” when he is with his friends.
For birthday parties, Parker bakes special cupcakes specifically for Sully to ensure that he can still eat treats with the other children.
Although these instances are tough to cope with, many tips, medicines and treatments, recipes and sharing sites are available to help better ease people through their food allergies.
“We had our first appointment and were overloaded with information, nose sprays, Claritin, Epipens, creams and puffers,” said Kristin Lee-Campbell, mother of two children with food allergies, in her article on stuff.co.nz.
Campbell said she chooses to keep her home allergen free, not allowing any consumption of nut or egg because of the chance of cross-contamination.
Parker usually spends extra time meal prepping for Sully, using ingredients such as almond milk, vegan cheese and coconut yogurt to achieve similar tastes in recipes.
“While this is not the childhood we would have hoped for our Sully, we are very thankful to live in an area where we can buy safe substitutes,” Parker said.
In the name of Food Allergy Awareness Week, Parker shared two fun, go-to recipes (listed below) that she and her family enjoy, without any fears of a reaction.
– 1.5 cup vegan milk
– 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
– 2 cups all-purpose flour
– 1 tablespoon baking powder
– 0.5 teaspoon salt
– 1 tablespoon brown sugar
– 1/4 cup melted vegan butter
– 0.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
– combine vinegar, milk and vanilla and set aside for 5 minutes to create vegan “buttermilk”
– sift flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl
– add in sugar, melted butter and “buttermilk”
– gently combine (lumps are okay)
– scoop into preheated waffle maker
– cook and enjoy
Cinnamon Sugar Vegan Doughnuts
– 1 cup all-purpose flour
– 0.5 cup granulated sugar
– 1 teaspoon baking powder
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 0.5 teaspoon ground cinnamon
– 0.5 cup vegan milk plus another 2 tablespoons if needed
– 1 tablespoon applesauce
– 1 tablespoon melted vegan butter
– 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
– 0.5 cups granulated sugar
– 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
– 1/4 cup melted vegan butter
– preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a donut pan with nonstick spray
– whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in large bowl
– add in milk, applesauce, melted vegan butter and vanilla and mix well
– spoon batter into donut pan, being sure not to overfill
– bake 9 to 10 minutes or until edges are lightly golden brown
For the topping:
– stir together cinnamon and sugar in a bowl
– in a separate bowl, melt vegan butter
– dip cooked donuts into melted butter and dip into cinnamon sugar mixture.