Megna Nutrition Associates, Inc.

Published Articles

Published in: Metrowest Daily News
By: Victoria Groves and Camille Hendsbee, RD, LDN
Date: December 23, 2005

Kids and allergies: If ingredient labels have you confused - help is on the way

     If you're ever confused by ingredient labels on your children's food, some good news is right around the corner. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 will be enforced starting January 1, 2006, making it easier for parents to know what to put in their shopping cart and what to bypass.

     Especially if your children suffer from food allergies, a trip to the grocery store can be a risky endeavor. A gluten allergy can mean sensitivity to ingredients like rye, barley, oats and triticale, and a food containing albumin can mean bad news for someone with an allergy to eggs. The act requires that food ingredient statements identify in common language that an ingredient is itself, or is derived from, a main food allergen, including peanuts, tree nuts, fish, crustacean, eggs, milk, soy and wheat. These foods account for 90 percent of all food allergies.

     When Deborah Elbaum's now six year old son developed severe food allergies as an infant, she had to rethink her supermarket shopping strategy. "It was very frustrating initially to be confronted with all of these things," said Elbaum, of Newton, who had the added complication of her son not being old enough to verbalize what was wrong. From vomiting to developing haves and coughing, his allergies included dairy, eggs, peanuts, mustard and sesame. "When I started out, I wrote everything down and I called every new company and even old companies if their packaging changed," said Elbaum.

     With the new act in place, parents like Elbaum can breathe a little easier, but will never be completely carefree. "The positive thing about this new food labeling act is that the ingredients will now be in plain English-if 'casein' is listed in the ingredients, 'a milk derivative' would be printed next to it," says Alison Lanifero, MS, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian based in Waltham. "But I would still want the parent, and the child, depending on his or her age, to understand the terminology and not completely rely on this."

Other examples are:
  • Gluten allergy-wheat, rye, barley, oats or vegetable gum may be listed
  • Milk allergy-in addition to casein, whey, curds or lactoglobulin may be listed
  • Egg allergy-albumin may be listed

Here are some additional pointers on keeping food allergy troubles at bay:

     Prepare for play dates. "Our rule is that he brings his own snacks," says Elbaum. "He knows not to eat anything at someone else's home." This kind of preparation will also put your child's host at ease, as they won't have to worry about mistakenly giving your child a prohibited food. Nutritionist Camille Hendsbee, RD, LDN of Megna Nutrition Associates, Inc. in Natick also suggests tucking an index card with allergy information in your child's backpack. He or she can show the card if an allergic reaction does occur. "The more people know about your child's allergies, the better," says Hendsbee. "If anything happens at a friend's house, there will be allergy information on hand."

     Collect resources. Information is your best defense against the confusion of ingredients and food labels. After visiting an allergist and/or a dietitian or nutritionist, you should learn as much as you can about your child's specific allergies. Start with the web resources listed in the sidebar. Elbaum also suggest the cherryBrook Kitchen cookbook, which provides recipes that are dairy, egg and nut free, and Kellie's candies in Wilmington, which sells dairy and nut free confections.

     Find local support. The web might be a great source of support and it could also be a way to connect with parents locally who are dealing with the same challenges. "You can get a lot of advice through those personal connections," say Elbaum. "I'm lucky to have some good friends." She is a coordinator for the New England Chapter of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America ( where members can share recipes, hear speakers and offer ideas and suggestions.

     Finally, keep food basic, especially for little ones, suggest Hendsbee. A candy bar may have trace elements that could cause an allergic reaction even if at first glace it seems to contain nothing threatening. Or, for example, some Indian dishes contain almond paste that could be problematic if your child has a nut allergy. And always be vigilant about your label-checking. "Even if you buy a certain product all the time, check often to make sure the ingredients are the same," says Hendsbee. "And if there's no label, don't buy it."

Online resources: Registered dietitian Alison Lanifero, MS, RS, LDN, offer the following web resources for parents to get started in their allergy research:

The USDA's Resource List on Food Allergies and Intolerances-

Understanding Food Allergies from the International Food Information Council-

Food Allergy Fast Facts from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology-

Special Diets for Food Allergies from the Cleveland Clinic Health Information Center-

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network- allergens.html

Will they ever out-grow it?

According to the University of California Children's Hospital in San Francisco, children can sometimes outgrow their allergies to milk, eggs, soy and wheat. However, allergies to peanuts, nuts, fish and shellfish tend to persist throughout adulthood. Regular trips to an allergist can help you keep tabs on what allergies your child still has.

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