Growing up, I think we can all relate to having that family member who was violently allergic or even slightly allergic to a certain food product. In my family it was my sister, she could not eat nuts of any type without getting extremely unwell to the point where the family avoided cooking anything that required a nut-based product. As she has gotten older her allergies have worsened and she is now unable to eat gluten-based products and has to avoid many dairy products.

Food Allergies

In simple terms, a food allergy is when a person’s immune system reacts badly to a particular type of food, which in the vast majority of people is generally harmless. The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) 1https://www.allergy.org.au/patients/food-allergy/faqs provides clear and concise information as to what a person who believes they or a loved one experiencing food allergies can do along with a quick guide on varying levels of food allergens. Mild or moderate food allergies are the most common type of allergy in Australia with severe reactions being classified as reasonably rare, but incredibly harmful potentially resulting in anaphylaxis and in extreme cases death.

Signs and Symptoms

Generally speaking, as mentioned the most common type of food allergy is classified as mild to moderate, presenting with signs such as:

  • Swelling
  • Welts/hives on the skin
  • Abdominal pain, sometimes resulting in vomiting

In more extreme cases; difficulty breathing, swelling of the tongue and/or throat causing airway blockages, wheezing and paleness and listlessness in children. If you start to see any of these in a person after recently eating, take action to avoid a potentially serious situation.

Food substitution

Society has only recently started catering for allergies and food intolerances, where previously the person would just need to avoid those products, slowly more specialised shops started catering for these requirements including Gluten-Free Foods which offer delicious foods for those who have an allergy to gluten-based products. Nowadays allergies are especially prevalent in Australia, where we now have the highest rate of food allergies in the world 2https://allergyfacts.org.au/faw at 7% of the population and this number is increasing every year.

Common Allergens & Alternatives

With this seemingly ever-increasing allergy around Australia, it is important when running an event or even having friends over to check if there are any allergies and then be in the know about what alterations to the expected menu may be required. Fortunately, helpful websites discussing this important issue and offering ideas for ingredient substitution are becoming more commonplace. This provides more information for the more adventurous allergy sufferers who still want a tasty and unique meal. Speaking about the substitution of products rather than removing them entirely or changing the whole menu around the allergy. There are many such alternative ingredients 3https://heas.health.vic.gov.au/resources/plan-a-menu/how-to-modify-recipes-for-food-allergies/ one may utilise when dealing with specific allergies such as advising instead of using regular cow’s milk to try soy or rice-based.

Accommodating guests with food allergies

Catering for an event with any number of guests can be quite stressful without the added worry of trying to make meals that cater for everybody. The Martha Stewart website offers articles, tips & tricks to support your events to make them a success. Whether having an event or just supporting a family member with allergies there are always a few simple things you can do to ensure you are not making a frustrating situation worse.

Simple Tricks

Understanding the various dietary requirements and restrictions of your family members and guests should always be at the forefront of your mind. If catering an event, try having an rsvp card with a specific space requesting dietary requirements allows for clear instruction on what foods should be avoided. If dealing with a friend or family member, simply ask before they come over. If wanting to have appetisers on the menu could look at serving varying options such as one without meat, one without dairy and one without gluten to cover or bases. Alternatively, look at adding a substitute such as a meat replacement, soy-based milks, and gluten-free carb options. Additionally, to ensure no confusion put labels clearly outlining what each item contains.

People with food allergies can learn to live with and manage their condition by knowing the signs and symptoms of a potential allergic reaction and coming up with strategies to minimise their risk factors. This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t enjoy a full and taste-filled life, enjoying the foods they love, or the substitutes that make them viable.

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Additional resources and citations

  • 1
    https://www.allergy.org.au/patients/food-allergy/faqs
  • 2
    https://allergyfacts.org.au/faw
  • 3
    https://heas.health.vic.gov.au/resources/plan-a-menu/how-to-modify-recipes-for-food-allergies/
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