Monday, July 7, 2008

Allergies Versus Sensitivities and Reading Labels

I hope all of you had a great weekend. For those of you in the U.S., I hope your holiday was a good one. We're all relaxed, refreshed and ready for our weekly routines, right? Um, sure. Well, ready or not, let's go.

So far, I’ve approached food as if we’ve all already identified our allergies, sensitivities and we’ve been advised as to particular dietary needs. However, I have had a few friends ask me about the differences between allergies and sensitivities and what a person should do if they suspect an allergy but don’t know for certain. I’ll address the second part of this question first. Those of you with other types of dietary needs, please bear with me for today while we talk about allergies a bit.


It’s important. If you suspect a food allergy, it is important to get your advice from a qualified health professional. Allergies can be mild and easily managed or they can be severe and deadly. Dangerous anaphylaxis can result from ingesting a food to which you are severely allergic. Thankfully, this is not a common reaction but that doesn’t mean you need to take that risk. Get proper medical evaluation of your situation and follow the advice and instructions your doctor gives you.

Having said that, let’s look at the first part of a question. What is the difference between an allergy and a sensitivity? Briefly, an allergy results in an immune response in which your body produces an excess of immunoglobulin E as a reaction to the presence of something (in this case, a particular food) that would otherwise be benign. In other words, your immune system identifies the food as a dangerous foreign substance instead of nourishment and launches a major and, for you, uncomfortable defense. The excessive reaction is what gives you the hives, swelling, itching and swelling. The swelling can sometimes become quite dangerous, especially if it occurs around the the mouth and nose or in the throat.

A sensitivity may have similar symptoms to a mild allergic reaction but isn’t really an immune response. When you eat something that ‘doesn’t seem to agree with you’, you’ve experienced a sensitivity. This can be quite uncomfortable but not on the same level as an allergy. Have a look at this article ( I found at WebMd online. Again, this DOES NOT replace a visit to your doctor! It does, however, give you a pretty good idea of the difference between allergies and sensitivities and some of the ways in which your doctor may evaluate your situation.

As you probably noticed in the title of this entry, I also wanted to talk a bit about reading labels. I realize this seems like a forehead-slapping subject. I can hear some of you now. “Well, duh. Of course we read labels. What do you take us for? Sheesh.” Well, as simplistic as it seems, I do think it is worth addressing given the number of allergens that can hide in the most unlikely foods. I’ll use one of my allergies as an example.

As I have mentioned before, I am allergic to yeast, both brewer’s and baker’s. The obvious things to avoid, then, are baked goods that rely on yeast to rise. Simple, yeah? Well, not so simple, really. Yes, I do avoid bread and many other baked goods (I admit I sometimes mourn my donut-less existence but since I’ve found a solution that I will mention before I close this entry, I’ll muddle through, somehow). The thing that really surprised me was the myriad of foods that use yeast as a flavoring. Would you expect to find yeast or yeast extract in a can of beef broth? I didn’t but there it was. I was beyond surprised to find the package of bologna which listed yeast as an ingredient. Light, fluffy bologna? Nope, but it’s still in there. So, it is really terribly important that you read the labels on ALL the foods you buy.

Most ingredients lists include a line at the bottom which highlights the presence of known, common allergens. This can be very helpful but, don’t rely on that. If you have any allergies or sensitivities that are less common, your particular Waterloo may still be there, even though it isn’t listed in that special allergen warning.

Of course, there's more to it. Even after you’ve ascertained which foods and brands work with your dietary needs, you can’t just forget about it. Recipes used to prepare these foods can and do change. Remember to check those labels. Most of the time, you’ll be okay but checking only takes a moment and can save you a lot of trouble later.

As often as possible, I'll offer alterantive ingredients for all of the recipes I post so as to accommodate a variety of dietary needs. Unfortunately, there will be some recipes that simply won't work for certain needs. However, I'll do my best to keep a variety of recipes so no one is entirely left out.

Now, to close this entry on a positive note, let me tell you about my alternative donuts. Here’s what you’ll need:

1 tube of refrigerated, ready-to-bake biscuits (check that label! These often contain diary and nearly always contain soy)
Powdered sugar
Skillet (at least 12”)
Canola or other vegetable oil (I DON’T recommend olive oil this time), enough to fill skillet about ¾ “ deep
Thimble or small melon-baller

Get your skillet and oil ready on medium heat (you’ll probably have to adjust this as you go but this is a good place to start).

Separate the biscuits and make a hole in the center with the thimble or melon-baller. Save your ‘donut holes’ to cook with the donuts.

CAREFULLY place the donuts and holes, a few at a time, into the hot oil. Don’t overload your skillet as this will drop the temperature of the oil and cause the donuts to be oily. Also, you want plenty of room to flip your donuts without risking splashing that hot oil around.

When the donuts are golden, flip with a fork and allow the other side to cook. This can happen very quickly so DON’T leave these.

When fully cooked, remove the donuts to a rack or plate lined with paper towel and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Let them cool a bit and eat warm. These are still quite nice at room temperature but I think they have a nicer flavor while warm. You can mix up a glaze or frosting with powdered sugar and milk (or diary substitute), as well.

These donuts are a great to make with kids because they are quick and the kids can handle the thimble to make the holes and the powdered sugar or glaze. Children SHOULD NOT handle the skillet full of hot oil, however. Please take over the cooking process, yourself.

I think that’s all for today so, until next time, let’s go eat that!


Corinne said...

I've got a little surprise for you on my blog... Its nice seeing you on GCC and foodbuzz!

Sandra Gordon said...

Hey Corrine!

I paid a visit to your blog and WOW! Thank you so much for listing me among the great reads on your Tasty Reads list! How sweet!

I admit, I followed your widget to Great Cooks so thank you for that. What a nice community it is!

Corinne said...

Lol, ok, you're too fast for me... NOW check it out.

Sandra Gordon said...

Corinne! Thank you! What a lovely surprise! Unfortunately, something is up with your blog at the moment and I wasn't able to access it this morning to pass the honor along to others. I'll have to save that for next time.

Thank you again!