PUBLISHED: 6:35 PM on Wednesday, January 2, 2008
Tips for living with food allergies
If you or your family members have food allergies you know how difficult it can be to shop for food in the supermarket, eat out at a restaurant or even simply prepare a family dinner at home.

"Twelve million Americans have food allergies to the top eight food allergens - wheat, dairy, soy, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, or peanuts," says Carol Fenster, Ph.D., a culinary expert whose company, Savory Palate, Inc. provides education on how to cook with substitutes for these allergens.

By following some simple tips, however, you can make living with food allergies easier:

Get an accurate diagnosis

See a qualified health professional to determine your food culprits.

Otherwise, you might avoid harmless foods and omit critical nutrients from your diet.

Follow doctor's orders

For instance, avoiding gluten (a protein in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut, and tricale) means absolutely no gluten - not even a tiny bite.

The same is true of all other food allergens. Tiny amounts of forbidden foods can cause reactions in extremely sensitive persons.

Beware of allergens in surprising places

For example, wheat lurks in licorice candy and canned soups, milk can be found in chocolate bars and granola, and eggs are often used in pasta. Soy commonly appears as soy lecithin in processed foods.

Read labels on everything

Labels on food manufactured in the U.S. after January 1, 2006, must state on the ingredient list -- in plain English - if they contain any of the eight major food allergens. Read the label each time you buy any food to determine its safety. Double-check the label again before you prepare the food.

Learn to cook with safe substitutes

"Almost every food allergen can be replaced in baking and cooking," says Fenster who has authored seven allergen-free cookbooks and has lived without gluten for 20 years. For example, wheat flour can be replaced with sorghum flour in baked goods, rice milk replaces cow's milk for drinking and cooking, and flax meal stands in for eggs in baked goods. Look for special cookbooks that show you which ingredients can replace your food allergens.

Avoid cross-contact in the kitchen

Use a separate toaster for gluten-free bread and buy condiments in squeeze-bottles so they aren't contaminated by serving utensils. Keep allergen-free food in clearly-marked containers and don't let it touch any food that is off-limits.

Living with allergies doesn't have to mean depriving yourself at mealtimes or not enjoying meals together with your family.