Learning A Different Different
Until now, we have not had to deal with food allergies or food issues (maybe this should be called food sensitivities/reactions?) in our home, but we recently discovered that my son has a few! Weirdly, he's allergic to a couple of foods he's never been given, other than maybe through cross contamination (or perhaps by accident at some point). I say "weirdly" because the allergist told me that the test usually detects allergens a person has been exposed to, and, to my knowledge, my son has not been exposed to these allergens directly. Because we don't eat them in our family. The two biggest offenders, which are the ones we don't consume in our family, are dairy and eggs. We avoid those anyway, other than in products that warn of cross contamination. My son is allergic to a couple of other things, and those other things are things we DO eat in our family. Specifically, peanuts, almonds, and sesame. Almond and sesame came up as very mild, while peanuts came up as slightly less mild. On top of the foods he's been determined to be allergic to, I have a gut feeling that he has some issues with other foods, ones that were either not tested for or just did not come up as allergies, and I'm going to try to limit his consumption of those foods, too. So it will take some adjusting.
I will say that I don't actually know the severity of my son's allergies, but I do not believe he's at risk for anaphylaxis AT THIS POINT. Of course, I am aware that allergies may worsen over time, or they may improve. He has eaten the foods to which he is mildly allergic (peanuts, almonds, and sesame seeds) many times and has had a super mild skin reaction, and this is what leads me to believe he would not have an anaphylactic reaction right now (though his pediatrician prescribed an EpiPen Jr for the dairy and egg allergies just in case). However, I have an anaphylactic reaction to some medications, so it's certainly possible that my kids could pick up that type of reaction from me. But, so far, thankfully, we haven't had to deal with that. Regardless, this is a whole new world to me even though I am used to reading labels all the time. Now, I have to read them a little differently and I am prepared to make a lot of mistakes, much like I did when I first went vegan. Part of this feels almost like starting from scratch a little because now I have to rethink what I say "yes" to my kids (or, at least, my son) having. For example, something as harmless as hummus. If it has tahini in it, which it most likely will, it's a no-go for him for a bit. Same with all these treats I make with a peanut butter base. That's a nope, too. At the same time, because I received very little information from the allergist, I believe it'll be trial and error with cross contaminated food items. He's had plenty of foods with the "may contain" or "may contain traces of" warning and has had absolutely no reaction. So, I think we'll be OK with those for now, but I will continue to look out for a reaction. Because his allergies to almond and sesame were very low on the scale, I believe it will be possible to do an elimination diet with these allergens and, ultimately, reintroduce them to see if he still has any reaction.
Beyond my son's allergies, another "different different" for us (me, really) is removing (or, at least, significantly reducing) gluten from my diet (for thyroid purposes). At the time of this writing, it has been just over a month and it has not proven to be THAT challenging (though finding quick food on a road trip HAS been challenging, but nothing a little advance research couldn't solve), but I believe this will be the most challenging "different" to learn. But that's not always a bad thing! Removing gluten from my diet (while not removing from my kids' diet) has forced me to be more mindful about what I am eating, versus eating and (mostly) snacking mindlessly, and I am grateful for that. For the record, I love gluten, I think it can be part of a healthy diet, and I am definitely a little disappointed to be removing/reducing it from my diet. (Click here for what Dr. Greger has to say on the subject.) For these new endeavors, I think it is helpful that we already eat a little "different," so we can only be so mindless and we already have to read labels and pay attention. So all we have to do, really, is read a little more closely and educate ourselves about where these ingredients could be hiding (under different names). With respect to gluten and its various names, I'm extremely fortunate to have a few friends who have blazed this trail before me, so they will prove (and have already proven) themselves to be valuable resources! Much like I have proven myself to be a valuable resource for anyone looking to make substitutions for animal products for whatever reason.
More good news is that this is all happening in a time when there are options in abundance! While I have mentioned before that we prefer to eat whole plant foods, we do very much enjoy treats and vegan meat, dairy, and egg alternatives. There are several brands that produce allergen-free food products and treats (see my next post about how we handled Halloween and treats), and there is almost nothing out there that can't be swapped. As they say, "what a time to be alive." :) Enjoy Life is a great allergen-free brand. They make chocolate chips, snacks, cookies, brownie bites, and I think maybe granola bars. YumEarth makes allergy-friendly sweets and treats, too. For vegan, allergen-free chocolate and chocolate candy (that is DELICIOUS), check out No Whey! Foods. Last year (and, now, this year) I ordered a vegan, gluten free gingerbread house kit from Sensitive Sweets (which is a dedicated gluten-free and nut-free bakery) and it was delightful! I also found this helpful curated list of allergy-friendly treats for future reference. One area of the market that is currently lacking in options, at least as far as gluten free goes, is the vegan meat market, because much of it is made using vital wheat gluten. There ARE still options, though, however limited they may be. Beyond Meat has allergy-friendly options (they contain peas, so not allergy-friendly if you have a severe legume allergy), Gardein has beefless crumbles (aka "Ground Be'f"), which are gluten free but are not soy free, and Impossible Foods' meatless burger, sausage, and pork are gluten free, while their chickenless nuggets DO contain gluten. There are many, many more options out there, but I wanted to list a few. Do you have any to add to the list?
The moral of our story is, we are already used to "different," so we fully embrace this "different" different. :) There are so many options available and there are so many wonderful resources out there for us to find good information, so it is very helpful and comforting to feel like we are not going at this alone!
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