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How to Decipher Allergen Warning Labels

How to Decipher Allergen Warning Labels

Every day I am checking ingredients labels. With a nut allergy it’s just part of my food habits. I don’t think about it that much any more, because as I said it’s one of my habits to double and triple check.

But how do you figure out which warning label is ok and what’s not? I get asked this question a lot and recently I’ve been finding some funny product labelling. So I decided it was time I wrote up how I think about this stuff.

Disclaimer: This post is what I do and how I decide. You must continue to use your discretion and common sense when you check ingredients labels! If in doubt don’t eat the food. If you have further query call the company and ask for their product allergen specification sheet. You are responsible for your food choices because you are responsible for you allergy safety.

How do I actually decide which foods I’m willing to eat?

To be honest it comes down to a few things: what the warning label says, the company and my mood. I’m talk about these is reverse order and show you how I come to a decision.

My Mood

Although this might sound strange, how I feel really does shape how I decide on whether to eat a food or not. I mean we all have that but mine, having a severe food allergy, could have further reaching consequences. So I acknowledge and make sure I know when my mood is having more of an influence on my decision.

Let’s talk about when I’m in a good, energetic mood when my work is going well and I’m at the shops looking for a snack. At this time I’m less likely to eat something with a warning. This is because I can think past the hunger, the food isn’t going to make me feel anything different or more than what I’m already feeling. So I am more willing to feel like I am “giving something up,” and that’s exactly it. When I’m happy I feel like I’m not missing out on anything.

Now what about if I’m sad, stressed and or tired. I can tell you straight away I’m a comfort eater. Any or a combination of the afore mentioned emotions, I feel like I want sugar and carbs usually in the form of biscuits. Unfortunately for me if I want gluten and nut free biscuits there are only a few brands I can have which don’t have nut warnings (Schar being the most widely accessible at the supermarkets). When I am in a mood I am far more willing to risk a warning for that satisfaction of sugar. It is not rational. It is emotionally fuelled. But knowing this and accepting it as my choice, is important for owning my allergy. For taking responsibility of my allergy and accepting the risk.

Although I know my mood dictates some of how I choose a warning label, it is not the whole story. Although I may be fuelled emotionally, I still always look at the packets, the ingredients and make a calculation of the risk. Although the driving force behind some decisions may be emotional, I want the risk to be calculated.

How I make a quick risk assessment of product packets for allergens

The company is one factor when I decide what to eat. It comes down to how well do these companies understand and follow the rules for food production?

To the best of my understanding large food companies have stricter rules within their factories for food production. As such I am more likely to trust big company on what they say their factory processes are on the packet than a small packet.

On the other hand, small businesses are exactly that, small. This isn’t to say that all are bad. I just find with some small business, perhaps they are bakeries or home businesses, that unless they have experience dealing with allergies I don’t always trust them. This is because they are making lots of different things in one place. If there are nuts or peanuts in the kitchen, how do I know for sure that they haven’t been contaminated. How do I know that machinery has been cleaned properly. Do they have the same structures in place as a big factory? Being a small business may mean no protocols and procedures or they think they understand the seriousness of allergies but in their newness to the food business their naivety could make them think they understand when they don’t.

Some small businesses are great on the other hand. Being small means that you can often talk to the people who make the product because you are buying directly from them at a market. When it comes to this, it comes down to your allergy sense and you have to make your own decision of whether to trust them or not.

There’s no hard and fast rule about this, you have to trust your gut in many of these situations.

Searching the Ingredients List For Allergens

Every product in Europe is required by law to list their ingredients. There is a specific way in which they are supposed to be listed and according to the current regulations, allergens are required to be highlighted in bold.

Every food I want to consume from, I check. This includes the ingredients of drinks as well by the way (and to justify this I recently found a peanut butter drink while on holiday in the Caribbean and it was at the supermarket…). If I see one of my allergens listed on the label, this is an obvious no. I am not going to eat something that could make me sick or potentially kill me, that would be stupid.

If the ingredients list does not contain my allergens I next scower the packet for allergen warnings and any free from claims.

Now before I go on I must say I am seeing an increasing number of companies claiming “free from [insert allergen] and then putting a may contain warning on the back of the pack too. I even saw it on an entrant to the Free From Food Awards when I was judging in January 2018. It infuriates me because it is so misleading, and untrue. However, as there are no formal agreements on what constitutes free from, it is currently up to a companies judgement and common sense, which is sometimes lacking. So be careful and always check the packet.

So now what if there is an allergy warning?

how to decipher allergen ingredients labelling eat allergy safe

How Do I Understand Allergen Warning Labels?

Well for me, it depends on what the warning says. I will not go near one that specifically mentions peanuts. This was an unconscious decision at first but I’ve realised I do this because I had a severe reaction to peanuts (read my reaction story here) and ever since I have been incredibly careful. A warning label of any kind specifically saying “may contain….,” “made on a line using…,” “made in a factory handling…,” or anything else with ‘peanuts’ I stay well clear. It stresses me out too much and because I know I react within 5 minutes I just don’t want to take that risk.

When it comes to tree nuts on the other hand I am not so strict. I have a feeling it is because I’ve never had a reaction to tree nuts before, and my tests when I was a kid told my parents that peanuts and Brazil nuts were my most sensitive allergies. The rest of the tree nuts I couldn’t have but weren’t as bad.

So here is where the other factors come into play; how I’m feeling, the company and what the warning says.

As I may have mentioned, there isn’t a hard and fast rule for what is a good warning and what’s a bad warning. They are all food allergen warning labels and must be given their due amount of caution at all times.

That said here is how I interpret what allergen warning labels might mean.

“Made in a factory using…”

This warning could mean a number of things. One thing is for sure is this product was made in a factory that uses any of the allergens they list. Where and how it is handled is unknown. It could be made is a separate part of the factory floor with a partition. It could be made in a totally separate part of the factory with a door as the only connector between the allergen free side and the contaminated side. Or, it could be made right next to or on the same line as the allergen containing product.

“Made on a line handling…”

What you have to know about this is “how does the equipment get cleaned and how thoroughly?” As we all know using the same equipment is risky business when it comes to cross contamination. The smallest amount could cause a really severe reaction. For this reason I usually stay clear of these warnings. They are there for a reason and I’d much rather not take that risk.

A general “may contain…”

These “may contain…” warnings I am never sure whether a company actually means it or whether they’re putting it on to cover the their legal butts. Most times I’ve been in contact with a company the may contain is something along the lines of “there are no nuts in the recipe but we can’t guarantee its nut free.” Usually meaning they can’t be bothered to check their supply line, don’t know or just want to put a warning just in case.

It’s an allergen filled world and there is no getting away from it. Click To Tweet

So how do you know whether you can eat it or not?

As I mentioned before, I won’t go near a may contain peanuts. The memory of my reaction will always be far too vivid. When it comes to a general may contain nuts, it depends on the company and the other products they make in their range. If the company makes other products which contain nuts I will be more wary because I assume they are made in the same factory that could mean greater risk of cross contamination. I also avoid “made on the same line as…” warning because I can’t trust someone would clean down the equipment as well as I would.

Also a quick side note before I wrap this up. When it comes to factory or wrapped fresh food, I usually go for the factory packed. This is because I personally trust the protocols put in place by large companies over something wrapped but some random person working in a bakery or on a deli counter. Especially when my allergens are present in that small space.

For every food consumption decision, I try to make sure my logical brain rather than emotions (or hungry stomach) make the final decision. In the end it all comes down to what are you comfortable with. I wish I could tell you there is a hard and fast rule, but there isn’t.

It’s an allergen filled world and there is no getting away from it. When it comes to deciding which allergen warnings are ok for you, I view it as a calculated risk. I personally choose as much as possible based on the way the warning is worded, what I know about the company, and what other products they make. These logical factors coupled with how I’m feeling usually are the way I come to a decision. But it all comes down to “am I willing to risk it?” And only you can make that decision for you own allergy.

Do you eat foods with warnings? If so, how do you decide which ones to go for? Leave a comment below and share your views.

 

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Recipe book GIVEAWAY – Chocolate Treats free from the top 14 allergens!! Ends Sunday!

Recipe book GIVEAWAY – Chocolate Treats free from the top 14 allergens!! Ends Sunday!

GIVEAWAY!: How to Enter

Win a copy of my debut recipe book “Chocolate treats: decadent delights free from the top 14 allergens”!

To enter, all you need to do is leave a note in the comment section at the bottom of this post with your answer to this question:

What is the number 1 allergy-related problem that you wish you could solve tomorrow?

Deadline: Sunday 29th July at 23:59 GMT

*Entry is open for international participants. The winner will be emailed upon close and then I’ll post out your prize!

——–

I can’t believe after over a years worth of work my debut recipe book “Chocolate Treats: Decadent delights free from the top 14 allergens” is now available on Amazon.co.uk AND Amazon.com!! I am SO excited proud and thankful to everyone who had a hand in getting this book published and that includes you EAS community! 

Thank you to the very first people to email in with recipes requests and suggestions, it was you who got me on this path and inspired me to create more. Thank you to those of you who bought the first edition back in December 2017! I couldn’t quite believe it when the first orders came in.

As a thank you, in today’s post I am going to give you a little preview of what you will find in the book including: the key things to make great chocolate treats that are free from the top 14 allergens, a little bit about my favourite recipes as well as a GIVEAWAY!!

Cookies- dairy free White Choc-Lemon- chocolate treats recipe book allergy friendly

The Key To Working with Dairy Free Chocolate

Dark chocolate naturally shouldn’t contain dairy but you will often find that it has a warning label due to cross-contamination risks. As such dairy free dark chocolate works in basically the same way as ‘normal’ dark chocolate. Dairy free ‘white’ chocolate on the other hand is a complete diva! The number of times I have ruined a batch during melting or thinking that I could leave it for a bit like I do the dark chocolate is unbelievable! The dairy free white chocolate requires constant attention, hence the Diva tag.

The key to melting dark, and especially white chocolate is to use the Bain Marie method. A Bain Marie is when you melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. The rising steam from the water gently heats the underneath of the bowl. While you stir the chocolate it will melt evenly without getting too hot. If chocolate gets too hot it will separate. This is especially true when it comes to dairy free white chocolate, it has to be stirred constantly! It’s lack of cocoa solids is part of the reason for this, it is more unstable than its dark counterpart. So, being the diva she is, she must have constant attention (I.e. stirring) to keep her silky smooth once melted.

In my recipe book I have a whole section talking more in depth about the characteristics and techniques for working with chocolate and how to get the most out of it for your bakes.

Using Gluten Free Flours

In many of the recipes I use a combination of gluten free flours in various recipes. Each gluten free flour has its own properties, some are starchy, others are sticky when mixed with water, others are just thirsty little things. However when mixed in a various combination they create different textures in the bakes. For example, in my Chocolate Fudge Cake I use combination of rice flour and tapioca flour. Tapioca is a starchy flour made from the cassava root, when mixed with water it can be used as a thickener in savoury foods such as soups and stews, but for baking it can create a sticky texture in a batter when baked. Perfect when you want your fudge cake to be a thick chocolate sponge!

In many of my cakes I like using coconut flour. In the UK, coconut is not included as a nut in the top 14 allergen list. It is also one of the gluten free flours I can eat (as I am allergic to peanuts and tree nuts). I like that it has a sweetness all of its own which means I don’t have to add a huge amount of sugar to cakes. Not only is too much sugar not good for you, I found in a lot of store bought free from cakes the amount of sugar is horrendous!  I also find you get a clawing after taste when there is too much sugar in the recipe and it just tastes a bit fake…not pleasant at all! The coconut flour also has a very light texture, almost fluffy. I mix it with rice flour or tapioca flour in various recipes to add texture to the cake. I find the sponges come out lovely and light! Even my non-allergic friends think so!

Baking with No Eggs…How do you get cakes to rise??

Now this is something that wasn’t actually as hard as you may think. I use a combination of gluten free baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and vinegar to create the rise in my bakes. A bit confused as to how or why this works? Well, think back to your school science projects, particularly how you get a volcano to erupt. The ingredients you would use are vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. The vinegar and bicarb react and create a fizzing and this is what happens in the bakes too, hence the rising.

I always like to find the natural way to make food and my general food philosophy is you should be able to eat each ingredient individually, so random replacers are not my favourite. Vinegar and raising agents on the other hand are a good option and they work. I use different quantities depending on the size of the cake, but don’t worry I’ve specified exactly how much in each recipe. 

My 3 favourite chocolate treats free from top 14 allergens chocolate chip cookies chocolate truffles and sweet potato brownies

My 3 Favourite Recipes

I have a couple recipes in this book which are my favourite: Sweet Potato Brownies, Date Orange and Chocolate Truffles and the American Style Chocolate Chip Cookies. 

In reverse order, the Chocolate Chip Cookies took quite a few tries to get the recipe right (I burned quite a few batches and some others just fell apart). I had a real sense of triumph when I got it right! Not to mention the taste is brilliant! They are crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside, my version of an American Cookie. 

The Date Orange and Chocolate Truffles was a recipe I dreamed up 3 months before I actually finished it. It just kept going round and round until I actually finished making them. Then once I did the taste of the fresh orange came bursting through with the sweetness of the dates and the richness of the chocolate I could just keep eating them all day! 

Finally the Sweet Potato Brownies, again took a couple tries to get right. The first time it just went hard and burned, the second was slightly better but still not great and then I got the ratios of ingredients just right and they were perfection! They were bouncy and SO chocolatey, even 3 days after I made them (because I couldn’t get to photograph them until then). My other half and his brother (who has no allergies) helped me taste test them and we finished the brownies in one sitting, they were that good!

Where You Can Buy the Book

If you are thinking of birthday or Christmas presents, or just a recipe book to add to your collection I would of course highly recommend my Chocolate Treats recipe book (how could I not?!).

I’ve aimed it at anyone who loves to bake, has multiple food allergies or wants to bake for someone with food allergies. All the instructions are easy to follow and you don’t need to buy any fancy equipment! I started off allergy free baking while I was at university so I wanted to keep it so that you could do it in any kitchen with just a bowl, a fork and an oven at the most basic level.

Along with the recipes I have also added lots of information about living with allergies, as well as links to resources that may be useful to you. Its about choosing to make allergy living your lifestyle choice rather than just something that was forced on you. I’ve found that making that choice makes it more manageable and absolutely more fun!

I wanted to make sure the book was as widely available as possible so I have published on:

Amazon.com (USA & Canada)

Amazon.co.uk (UK)

(You can get next day delivery if you have Prime too!)

 

Pin for later:

Chocolate Treats: decadent delights free from the top 14 allergens amazon UK USA gluten free vegan dairy free paleo top 8 allergen free nut free

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When Your Opinion Gets You in “Trouble”

When Your Opinion Gets You in “Trouble”

Last week I published my Open Letter to Allergy Teenagers and it received an overwhelming amount of attention. It was part of a series of articles talking about different aspects of living with food allergies for Allergy Awareness Week 2018. 

The post had a mixture of some positive, some negative and some comments which hurt me personally and made me question whether I’d gone too far. Especially as the most vehement comments came from people I had interviewed on the podcast, who had supported and shared my other posts and had never mentioned that they had a problem with what I said.

When the comments were coming in thick and fast I felt a bit like this…

Christopher Eccleston Australia GIF by The Leftovers HBO - Find & Share on GIPHY

 

Now that I’m over the personal nature of some of the comments (and I went through a whole gamut of emotions: shock, sadness and [lots of] anger), and feel of a more rational mind I wanted to respond to some of the valid points. Although many were accusatory and attacked my character, they raised an important issue surrounding how we help food allergy kids and teenagers feel empowered.

The Open Letter was inspired by an instagram post I saw last year and later compounded with conversations I had with kids & teenagers at the Allergy and Free From Show in Liverpool 2017.

Now first up, I admit the facebook post I wrote was inflammatory and as pointed out by a fellow allergy blogger, perhaps had a negative slant whereas the the article had a positive message, in her opinion.

I’ve got a bone to pick with allergy teenagers…

Read all about it in my open letter for…

Posted by Eat Allergy Safe – gluten free, nut free, dairy free, vegan on Thursday, 26 April 2018

 

Although there were in total about 28 comments on the post, these two get at the heart of the issue:

Commenter 1: “A 16 year old was expressing how she felt about her allergies at the time […] to actually judge her for her comments or any other comment you could be referencing now I feel is rather harsh […] Please assess this was the maturity it deserves. Don’t put people off sharing their thoughts on Allergy. Not everyone has the confidence to talk about it!”

These first comments I must admit took me by surprise. I hadn’t written it from a place to judgement or to berate, how could I judge those who feel now what I had felt before.

It is true when you are a teenager, your world feels like it is falling apart all the time. I remember how each conflict or challenge was life and death, the dramas were so real. Life is chaotic for teens!

As commenter 1 rightly says, “not everyone has the confidence to talk about their allergy” and how they feel about it. I certainly didn’t when I was a kid or a teenager!

Commenter 2: “We, the adults need to help them navigate their worries about fitting in […]and it is we who can show them that their allergies definitely do not define them. Less judgement for our vulnerable age group and more support in getting them where they need to be”

 

Commenter 2 is absolutely right, we as grown up allergy kids and allergy parents do need to lead by example and show kids and teenagers that allergies don’t have to define them if they choose not. 

We do need to guide them and help them process the challenges of feeling like we belong, and what teenager truly knows where they belong? There are so many hormones and things (friendships, body, school etc) changing all the time! 

Most teenagers are worried about “fitting in” and while most people will try and give advice for how they can fit in, I am suggesting rather than trying to “fit in” to someone else’s mould, make your own.

I question the idea of following the herd. Why we would we let our allergy teens settle for trying to “fit in.” Why wouldn’t we challenge, encourage and support teenagers to forge their own path in life?

And sometimes, when we are going against the flow, when we forge our own path, we have to bare our teeth or draw our sword. Just like dragon tamers. To bare our teeth is not about trying to start a fight, but to show those who might stand in our way, whether verbally or physically, that we mean business. That we mean what we say and are willing to stand up for ourselves.

My approach is different not wrong. I wrote the open letter in a way that, I hope, would encourage action. You might even apply this philosophy to not just how we live with allergies but life in general…

Unfortunately, these commenters blocked me on instagram in the end, which is sad because it ends the conversation. Without conversation we cannot move forward nor find ways to help our allergy kids and teens who don’t have the confidence to speak out when they need help.

There isn’t a one size fits all way to raise food allergy kids. Nor live with food allergies. We all live different lives, learning and adapting in our own way. My way might not be your way and vice versa. As such, discussions on these ideas are vital for us to help our allergy community and the many more children and adults who are developing allergies.

How do you help your allergy teens and kids? Leave a comment below and join the discussion.

Disclaimer: I annoyed my boyfriend for a week about this before I finally sorted out how to respond to the personal attacks vs idealogical attacks. I have done my best to separate them and present as rational a response as possible and leave out those feelings that could divulge this post into a slinging match. 

To read my posts from Allergy Awareness Week UK, including my open letter, click on the links below:

 

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Life Is More Than Food Allergies and Here’s Proof…!

Life Is More Than Food Allergies and Here’s Proof…!

Life is more than food allergies. They won’t stop you from reaching your goals, but it’s up to you to not let them. Today, for the first time, I reveal how I know that life is more than food allergies…

If you want something, you should make it the focus. Food allergies are just one of life’s challenges, but not everything in life is about allergies. To focus on allergens is to put allergies into the forefront of your life. If you don’t want allergies to be the focus or the goal of your life, then don’t make them the only thing you think about.

When I go to the Allergy & Free From Shows in London & Liverpool, parents visiting the stand often say to me “I assume allergies isn’t the only thing you do” and I answer “no it isn’t but I have chosen to make it a focal point. I’ve done all the normal stuff: school trips, parties, university, going travelling etc and I have other interests too.”

Today I’m sharing the other part of my life with you. I wouldn’t be able to achieve it if I let every fear and worry about my allergies stop me from trying to achieve it.

I am training as a Ballroom and Latin dancer (you know, like Strictly!), specialising in Latin American. As of Easter weekend my partner and I are now the reigning European Pre-Amateur under 35 latin American champions!

Nina Modak u35 European pre-am winner

Winning U35 Pre-amateur Latin Trophy at the European Championships held at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool.

If I worried about my allergies all the time I would have never of tried ballroom and latin because Think of all the cross-contamination risks!! People eating nuts and then holding my hand. Then the worrying about asking people to change their habits for me and what if they don’t?

Of course I get concerned, but it’s simple to solve. Every dance partner I’ve ever had, in our first practice together (or before) I tell them I am severely allergic to all nuts and please would then not eat nuts when they are going to dance with me because I can’t dance with otherwise. I have never had a partner say they wouldn’t and if they did, I would certainly know they are not the right partner for me!!

Allergies had nothing to do with my dancing, actually they didn’t impact it all because I made sure my allergy fears didn’t get the better of me. I took all the proper precautions (checking ingredients labels, my partner didn’t eat nuts etc), and I had a dream. Sometimes you just have to take a leap into the unknown and actively not let your allergy rule your life.

 

Thanks for joining me for Allergy Awareness Week 2018. I hope you’ve enjoyed the the last 4 articles. I’ve covered topics close to my heart because life isn’t all about allergies, it’s just sometimes you have to do things differently. If you haven’t read the other articles make sure you check them out #1 – What allergies are not, #2 – Build confidence in your food allergy kids, #3 – backpacking with allergies and #4 – Open letter to allergy teens.

 

P.S.

So you’ve read my story and you’ve been following my posts over Allergy Awareness Week 2018. I know life is more than allergies and now I want to help you know that yours and your food allergy kid’s lives are too! For this reason I started Allergy Coaching.

Allergy Coaching is about having someone in your corner to teach and coaching through allergy challenges to help build your confidence and so you can empower your food allergy kid.

To find out more about Allergy Coaching and book your complimentary 15 minute consultation send me an email via the contact page today.

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It’s Nuts!: What Doesn’t Kill You, Makes You Stronger

It’s Nuts!: What Doesn’t Kill You, Makes You Stronger

In your life certain events are more important than others. Going to secondary school, going to university, your first ‘proper’ job and buying a house for example. Your parents realise this and start preparing you from an early age, teaching you how to: feed yourself, do laundry, manage your money etc.

Whilst important, all of the above are not life threatening.

However, for an allergy sufferer, we have a potentially deadly addition to our lives.

I have personal experience of this. January 3, 2007 was the day my parents preparation was tested to it’s limits. It was completely unexpected and as horrendous as we had imagined. It changed my life forever .

From left to right: My brother, my Mum and me (Nina), I think Dad took this picture, while on a trip to Goa to visit the seaside.

From left to right: My brother, my Mum and me (Nina), I think Dad took this picture, while on a trip to Goa to visit the seaside.

——Let’s Start At The Beginning——

You see, I have anaphylaxis to tree and ground nuts. This means I have a potentially fatal allergy. This means I have to carry a medical kit with me at all times: adrenaline pens, inhalers and anti-histamines. My parents found out in the worst possible way too, I was too skinny as a baby as I was allergic to cow’s milk, so I was given a teeny weeny bit of peanut butter, within a few minutes I was covered in hives. There was no internet, no mobile phones. I was fine, but my parents were freaked out. Fast forward 3 years and I was diagnosed with a anaphylaxis to tree nuts and peanuts and have been carrying adrenaline pens ever since.

 

——Back To The Story——

Firstly, can I just say that traditional home-cooked Indian food is AMAZING and completely different to what you get in restaurants! The aromas! I wish I could capture them and attach it to this post for you! (I will be writing up some allergy free Indian recipes for you! Watch this space!)

Indian culture dictates that guests are extremely well looked after, it’s the same as in Spain: mi casa e su casa. It is all about hospitality but.… and it’s a big but… allergies are almost unheard of, especially among my grandparent’s generation.

It was coming to the end of a 4 week family trip in India. It had been a great  trip, bringing relatives from England together with their extended family (Indians LOVE extended family connections!). It was a huge sprawling affair with lots of people to meet, being continuously fed, sight seeing and a spot of shopping. Thank goodness I was 16…had I been younger there would have been a serious amount of cheek pulling!

 

At the sides of the roads there were always fresh coconuts on sale. Rather than a service station, we would take a break and have fresh coconut water and then eat the coconut flesh from the insides. (A man with a very large knife would slice open the coconut!)

At the sides of the roads there were always fresh coconuts on sale. Rather than a service station, we would take a break and have fresh coconut water and then eat the coconut flesh from the insides. (A man with a very large knife would slice open the coconut!)

 

The last social call we made was to my Grandparent’s friends of over 50 years! More than triple my then age! A big lunch had been planned to celebrate more tenuous family extensions. It seems only a slight excuse is needed for a celebration in India! (A cultural characteristic I wholeheartedly love to indulge in!)

In preparation for this last family lunch, my parents and grandmother had been communicating with the host about my needs. She had been made aware of my allergy and there could be absolutely no nuts in the food.

We thought after multiple communications that this was understood.

Ooty india eat allergy safe

This was the view from the road while on a trip to Ooty, a hill station in South India.

After all we had managed 4 weeks of eating at out at restaurants, travelling, and being fed by other family members. There were a couple close  calls at restaurants but we would double or triple check with the staff. Those dishes that actually did nuts would be sent down the other end of the table and kept away from me, but otherwise with no incident.

The snacks before dinner were a traditional Indian snack which contained nuts. There were crisps next to the nuts. This was obviously a no-go area for me, so my Mum asked that I could have my own un-opened bag which was happily provided.

I was 16 and understood my allergy as best I could. I was wary of cross-contamination and I watched and listened checking for myself. However I think during this time I left a lot of the allergy checking to my parents. I was in a new country and at a new person’s house. Looking back, I feel that if I had had a more active role in my allergy care, asking questions and being more vocal, maybe the following incident would have been avoided…

When A Little Bit Is Too Much…

When lunch was ready all the dishes were laid out on the table. I was to sit next to my Grandfather at one end of the table. As I walked to my seat, my Mum and I noticed there were cashew nuts on top of the rice.

Errr…hang on a minute, we said no nuts…

Mum pointed this out.

Ok, I wasn’t going to have the rice, no problem.

My mum asked, “are there any other nuts anywhere else in the food?”

“No, no, there is nothing” the host said.

Ok then. Food time.

At this point in my life, the last major reaction I had had was when I was 9 months old. So I didn’t really have any idea what to look out for apart from what I had been told could happen.

I was served a plate of food with a taste of each of the dishes (there were lots to try!) and I started to eat. The first mouthful was delicious, the second divine! It was all SO GOOD!

Hmm that’s strange, am I getting ill? I feel like there is something at the the back of my throat, I can’t clear it.

My third mouthful continued to entice my palette.

As I finished chewing my fifth mouthful of food my Grandfather said “Nina, don’t eat the salad it has nuts.”

Too late.

(The reason he could tell there were ground peanuts in the salad is because he doesn’t like it when it gets under his dentures.)

My Severe Allergic Reaction…

My lips began to swell.

My panic sent me into action stations: I needed to get this poison out of my body.

I sat on the cold tiled bathroom floor, face over the toilet, my finger as far down my throat as I could get it.  I just remember thinking “If I can get this out of my body I would be ok, right?!”

I could feel my stomach screaming at me: “What have you put inside me?! Get it out! Get it out!”

My Mum held my hair back as I desperately tried to purge myself. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t make myself throw up. I started to freak out.

My stomach continued to scream. It was the worst stomach pain I have ever experienced. (Worse than any period pain – which once I have almost fainted from, had to go home from school and be dosed up on extremely strong painkillers for.)

But I had to get it together. I had to make decisions: first, piriton; second, do I use my Epipen?

My Mum sat with me as I took two piriton tablets. Hopefully that would help slow things down.

From the information I knew at the time, my Epipen was to be used if my throat started to close up. My throat was not closing up, I could still breathe. But I was scared.

I don’t like needles, but more than that, by using an adrenaline pen it seemed to confirm the situation was at its worst. That the worst could happen. That’s terrifying.

Humans are strange: with #anaphylaxis, ironically you are scared to use an adrenaline pen because it confirms the fact that your life needs saving. Click To Tweet

Ironically, you are scared to use this life saving medicine because it confirms the fact that your life needs saving. Maybe that’s just for the first time, what do you think?

I was feeling very nauseous. I wanted to throw up but I couldn’t make myself throw up.

I ignored everyone but my Mum and Dad. Anyone who was not going to do what I needed was ignored, they were irrelevant. My life is more important than other people’s feelings.

Did I want to go to hospital? Yes.

As we drove to the hospital I had a plastic bag on my lap. The bumps on the road made me feel really sick. I felt the nausea rising and my strength waning.

When we got to the hospital, I had to be carried in. One arm over my Mum, the other over the lady who had poisoned me. From my Mum’s view, she might as well experience what she’d done…

From this point on, time didn’t have value. I don’t know if it was hours or minutes I was in the hospital.

I was taken straight through and laid down on a bed. The doctors and nurses began attending to me. I felt weak. My stomach was still screaming. I didn’t have the strength to sit up.

It was probably quite obvious, I was very sick. I needed medicine and fast.

The nurse was trying to get a canula into my right hand, I turned away (I really hate needles). My Mum stood by my bedside as the nurse poked and prodded. It hurt, I didn’t like it. She kept trying. Why was it taking so long?!

She couldn’t get the canula in, they had to try a different place.

Sharp pokes again and again. Rather than the top of my hand, this time on the inside of my wrist, she was trying to get into the vein that runs up from your thumb.

Pierce, pierce, pierce.

Finally the canula was in, the sharp pain could stop.

But then there came a new sensation. A ferocious burning, forcing its way up my arm. Then again, like a molten fire. And a third time.

It was the medicine. If ever the phrase “coursing through my veins” had meaning, it was now. This fiery medicine was coursing through my veins.

Minutes or hours passed, I don’t know.

Worried people stood by my bed. I didn’t acknowledge them. I had no energy to make them feel better, to reassure them that I would be ok. To be quiet honest, I couldn’t have cared less at this point.

Then suddenly, I sat up. I could feel something welling up inside me. I was about to burst. Where was the plastic bag that I had had in the car?!

My eyes searched for it, where was it?!

This force inside of me was getting stronger.

It was at the end of the bed.

I could feel it pushing itself up inside of me, stronger and stronger. My body was tensing getting ready, and I could barely contain it.

I grabbed the bag.

I was like a dragon. A fiery force propelling its way up from my stomach, through my throat and out. It was like a river flowing and it didn’t want to stop. It was outside of my control.

My stomach kept pushing, my body doubled over, my throat began to burn. And still this fiery river propelled out.

When it was over, I fell back. Exhausted. I just lay there, semi-conscious. The burning in my stomach lessoned.

I just lay there. I didn’t panic, I didn’t think of life, or death. I just didn’t have the energy.

Looking Back…

Looking back, the reaction was short. But the ramifications were not. From ingesting the peanuts to waking up the next morning, I threw up 4-5 times.

The reaction itself was not only stressful for my parents but it also happened the day before we were due to fly back to England. So as you can imagine, caring for their daughter as well as packing was not an easy task.

When we got back to England, I do remember I was famished. I happily tucked into the pizza we had ordered. The next day on the other hand, was a different story.

I didn’t feel well. I couldn’t eat. I felt exhausted. I tried to eat some bread and cheese but the cheese made me feel really sick. Milk and yoghurt made me feel sick. Meat made me feel sick.

For the next two weeks, all I could stomach was bread and fruit. I was also due to go back to school, but wasn’t strong enough or well enough until a week later.

By the middle of January I could just about eat milk, yoghurt and cheese. But I still couldn’t eat meat. It continued to make me feel sick. It took until the end of January for me to be eating properly again.

By January, even though I could eat properly, I was still scared of food. If anything had a warning on it I wouldn’t touch it. Even foods that seemed safe I would still be scared.

Every time I put food in my mouth, the first 5 minutes would be terrifying. I would just wait for a reaction to start, for the whole process to replay itself. Lips swelling, stomach screaming, exhaustion, and medicine coursing up my veins…

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

It’s funny, you hear this phrase quite a lot but very few times can it be literally and figuratively true.

Physically, it took me 2 years to recover (because I caught every virus that went round school, including contracting Mononucleosis which took me off school for over a month), but mentally it forced me to take a different approach.

Being scared of food lasts for a relatively short amount of time because you get hungry. But, you have a choice, let the fear rule you or you rule the fear.

With allergies you have a choice: let the fear rule you or you rule the fear. What will you choose? Click To Tweet

I decided that I wasn’t going to be ruled by fear. I had to start taking complete charge of my well being.

I had to take charge of my allergy and so began a new journey in my life.

This reaction, although really quite unpleasant made it clear that other peoples feelings are never as important as my life. It showed me I absolutely had to be able to look after myself by knowing how to cook, being able to make other people understand that I am serious when I say “no nuts,” but also that getting worked up over your allergy is no way to live. I realised that how I live is my responsibility and my choice.

I was not going to let my allergy rule me, I choose to make my world safe for me and my allergy.

What will you choose?

Article Update

Since writing this article I have had a lot of people get in touch with me and want to know more about how I learn about managing my allergy and also how they can teach the children. You all made me realise I should put all the information in one place, in video, audio and written format.

So, I have been doing just that and putting together a Parent’s Guide to Allergies. It will have information on travelling, telling other people, making food fun with allergies and more!

While I’m putting this together, I am now available for 1-to-1 mentoring sessions for allergy parents and sufferers. If you feel like it’s all a bit too much and you don’t feel confident managing your allergy, I’m here to support you and coach your through. Check out my mentoring page for more information, or email me to book.

 

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Live Confidently With Anaphylaxis: 6 Tips from a Grown-Up Allergy Kid

Live Confidently With Anaphylaxis: 6 Tips from a Grown-Up Allergy Kid

Hi, my name’s Nina and I’m a grown-up allergy kid. (Make Sure you check out my video below!) 

What’s a grownup allergy kid? Well it’s an allergy kid whose grown into an adult, and that’s me. Had my allergy since before I can remember and it’s not going anywhere.

So let’s tell you my allergy kid facts:

  • I have anaphylaxis to tree and groundnuts (peanuts)
  • I have eczema and asthma as well
  • I have a medical kit: adrenaline pens, inhalers, and anti-histamines.

And here are my grown up facts:

  • I’m in my mid-20s
  • I started my own business, Eat Allergy Safe, to help other children, families and allergy sufferers on their journey
  • I LOVE food! Especially chocolate biscuits.
  • I love to dance (ballet, ballroom and latin)

 

An allergy is an auto-immune response the body has something it believes is the foreign invader. The most serious allergic reaction can lead to anaphylaxis. With anaphylaxis there is a risk that your airwaves can swell so badly that they begin to close. If this happens you begin to suffocate and without medical attention, your throat will continue to close…

That’s why I carry a medical kit with me at all times; it has my life-saving medicine in it. But why life-saving medicine? It sounds a bit drastic doesn’t it? Well my medicine is about preventing my death. Much like wearing your seatbelt in the car it doesn’t stop an accident but it keeps you safer if there is one, my medicine is like my seatbelt.

Over my lifetime I’ve had many people think it strange that a nut could kill someone. It’s so small and most people can eat them. That’s the thing about an allergy, something harmless to one person could be seriously damaging or fatal to another.

From an early age my parents taught me how to manage my allergy. The tools I learned taught me how to navigate the world safely and live confidently with anaphylaxis. Life is there to be lived and it’s too short to live in fear of your allergy.

 

Life is there to be lived. It’s too short to live in fear of your allergy. Click To Tweet

 

What Helps Me Live Confidently with Anaphylaxis?

To live the life I want, I live by a simple set of rules to keep me allergy safe.

My allergy rules are simple and very pragmatic. The aim is to keep me safe and free from allergic reactions. Here are my rules:

6. Always have my medical kit with me

You never know when you could have an allergic reaction so you need to be prepared. My allergy medical kit is there to preventing a worst-case scenario (death) and get me to hospital so that I can receive full medical attention.

5. Check the ingredients and ingredients labels myself

The simple way to stay allergy safe and not have a reaction is to stay away from known allergens. Every allergy sufferer should get into the habit of checking ingredients labels and asking for ingredients information for unpackaged foods. This is a really easy habit. Don’t let other people make decisions about what goes into your body because they don’t know your allergy like you do.

4. Don’t eat anything I’m unsure of

Better to be safe than sorry. The food might look yummy might smell good if you can’t check and make sure that safe don’t eat it. If anyone says to you “oh, I’m sure it’ll be fine,” that is not a definite yes it is safe. You need to check the food is safe for you if it’s not don’t eat it. Don’t play Russian Roulette with your life; don’t fall to peer pressure because it could be fatal for you.

3. Educate others

As an allergy sufferer you will need to involve others in your allergy management plan. This can include your family, boyfriend, girlfriend, friends, colleagues etc. Most people don’t know much about allergies or allergy management. If they’re willing to listen, educate. Tell them about your allergy what is what you need to avoid and how they can help you.

2. I can always say “no”

In the case of staying allergy safe, having the confidence and the knowledge that you can say “no” is incredibly important. The majority of people are ignorant of allergies and unaware of all the ways cross contamination can happen. This is not their fault, they don’t have any practice. It is up to you the allergy sufferer to keep yourself safe, sometimes that may mean politely but firmly saying “No. Thank you.”

1. I am in charge of my allergy and responsible for my well-being

My allergy is mine and no one else’s. I am in charge of my safety and my well-being. I know that I am my best chance of staying safe and the only way I am able to make this so, is to believe it and own it. I am confident that I can take the necessary steps to ensure I stay allergy safe such as checking labels, educating others, carrying my medical kit, and always knowing I can say “no”.

Managing allergies is simple it's just about having the confidence to do it Click To Tweet

Managing allergies is simple it’s just about having the confidence to do it. It’s about managing your circumstances to your advantage so that you can join in with all life has to offer, allergen free.

Like most things practice makes perfect. Wherever you are on your allergy journey you can always keep learning. Your life is what you make it, and allergies don’t have to stop you in any way.

How do you live confidently with your allergy? Share your top tips by leaving a comment below, I’d love to hear about your experiences 🙂

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