PUBLISHED: 5:05 PM on Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Allergies make food choices important

Courtesy photo
  What can be a special snack for most children, could be a dangerous combination for those with allergies to dairy and wheat.
Living with food allergies or intolerances can be a hassle, but managing around them is often a matter of diligent label reading, question asking and avoiding the food that hurts.

Melanie Hall has celiac sprue and can't eat wheat, barley, rye or oats. Her daughter, Makenna Hall, 4, is intensely allergic to milk.

Hall reads every label of every food product that goes in their mouths; then she reads it again even though she's purchased and eaten that product earlier.

"I found out (about celiac sprue) because I've always had stomach problems," Hall said.

A biopsy confirmed the diagnosis.

Celiac sprue, a genetic disorder, is the result of the body's autoimmune response to a type of protein called gluten in grains.

The damage keeps the body from processing nutrients and can lead to other problems like malnutrition.

People avoid intestinal damage by not eating gluten-containing foods like wheat or barley.

"If I ate something with wheat in it, I'd have a stomach ache," Hall said.

Four-year old Makenna showed symptoms of milk allergy from infancy.

"We eat a lot of meat and vegetables," Hall said.

For pizza, Hall uses tofu cheese. In fact, she can score a double with pizza because Hall can make milk-free, gluten-free crust using rice flour and top Makenna's pizza with tofu cheese and her pizza with regular cheese.

"She thinks it's her special pizza," Hall said.

If you look into Hall's pantry, you'd find gluten-free products, like Namaste, plus regular stuff that costs much less and is okay for Hall's husband and son, Chase, 2, who don't have any food problems.

Eating out presents other challenges.

If you invited her over, she'd ask about the menu to see whether she needs to bring some food or whether there are gluten-free or milk-free items planned. Last fall, her stepmother made a gluten-free Thanksgiving dinner.

She has learned to speak up in restaurants and ask about ingredients. Some restaurants' Web sites, such as McDonald's, show allergens in their menu items.

Hall arms herself with that information when she goes out and knows that Makenna can eat a hamburger Happy Meal but not a chicken nugget Happy Meal due to the milk content.

"It is at first very overwhelming. I guess I was determined I wouldn't live without," Hall said.

Kaid Malone is 19 months old. His mother orders much of her kitchen life around him and his allergies to milk, oats and barley. It's not terribly hard and she's used to it, but she's diligent.

Kaid breaks out in hives when he eats oats or barley.

"The first time he started breaking out, he was probably about 8 weeks old," said Heather Malone. "I was nursing. I had eaten some cheese. He had some eczema on his legs. When I quit eating dairy it cleared up."

After that, Malone cautiously introduced a food a week to her infant son. He broke out with hives after eating oats and barley.

Now Malone is a careful label reader because those cue her to the foods her son should avoid.

In the place of dairy products, Malone uses soy products.

"It's a lot easier now than it would have been five or 10 years ago," she said.

Key words are casein, whey and lactose, Malone said.

Another way she avoids trigger foods is by eating in.

"We just don't eat out a lot, because you just don't know what they're eating," Malone said.

For example, milk might hide in the breading used for chicken nuggets, she said.

Or it hides in products one might not suspect, Malone said.

"When we do eat out, I take food for him usually or I have to be real careful to ask. Even spaghetti sauce, even spaghetti sauce has milk," she said.

Since Malone discovered Kaid has food allergies, she's turned into a scratch cook.

"With him it's just easier. I've had to learn," she said.

Recently Malone cooked potato soup with soy milk, as an alternative to cow's milk.

The altered recipe tasted somewhat different, but not so different that her husband complained, she said.

Some recipes don't translate well.

"Soy ice cream is not the same," Malone said.

The good part is that Kaid doesn't know the difference, she said.

"He's never had anything with dairy," Malone said.

She hopes to train him to stay away from foods that are not good for him.

"He may get to where he can tolerate more, but he's probably never going to drink milk or eat ice cream, but maybe he can eat breading.

"Right now he breaks out with a sliver of cheese," Malone said.