When you are diagnosed with a dairy or wheat allergy/intolerance, or when your tests come back positive for coeliac disease, your first reaction is to panic! Everything that you normally eat now seems to be off the menu – how are you going to survive? What will you eat? Will you ever be able to enjoy food again?….
Well, of course, you soon realise that things are nowhere near as bad as you imagined and, although you will have to be a lot more careful, will have to read labels avidly, to learn all the different terms for wheat, gluten and dairy (modified starch, couscous, rusk, cereal binder, whey, casein etc) and will certainly have to ‘give up’ some favourite foods, there are really lots of very acceptable alternatives and you may find yourself discovering a whole new, and exciting, way of cooking and eating.
But life is not so easy if you have a more obscure and less common allergy, especially if it is a ‘serious’ allergy in which a very tiny amount of the allergen can cause a life threatening reaction.
Several you may have read the correspondence on the FoodsMatter website with Rosie who has a serious allergy tode corn. While a potentially life threatening allergy to nuts is horrible and frightening, at least nuts, as long as you are careful, are fairly recognisable in foods and nearly always identified as such – exceptions being far Eastern cooking where they are commonly used as an ingredient.
But corn is, if anything, more widely used in the food industry than wheat and forms the base ingredient for innumerable derived food stuffs. No one still really knows how small an amount of an allergen can cause a reaction or whether, if the allergenic protein is broken into small enough fragments or denatured by other processing, it will retain sufficient allergencity to cause a reaction. So, if you are life-threateningly sensitive to an allergen, you may not want to take any chances.
In terms of corn, this may mean that you have to avoid not only all products containing corn or maize, but, among many others, glucose syrup, invert sugar syrup, glucose-fructose syrup, dextrose, dextrin, maltodextrin and xanthan gum as well as starch thickeners, vegetable oils and natural flavourings, all of which can be derived from corn. Even worse, if any of these products were used in the manufacturing process but were not actually ingredients, they will not be listed on the pack. So effectively you cannot use any food or ingredient unless it is in its virgin state and has not undergone any processing at all.
However, even here you may not be safe. In a fascinating post on an helminthic forum the writer, who is extremely sensitive to citric acid, described his immediate, allergic reaction to eating ‘local, grass-fed, natural ground beef’. Assured by the store, its corporate headquarters and the farmer who had reared the animal, that what he had bought contained nothing except beef, he finally talked to the meat processor who said:
‘Oh sure, we spray lactic acid on the carcass. We’re required by law to do so. And we don’t wash it off. It’s an acid intervention. It kills bacteria. It can be either lactic acid, acetic acid or citric acid.’
As many of your will be aware, potential allergens (lactose, wheat starch, egg, glucose) are frequently used in drugs and although, theoretically, they are listed in the accompanying literature and are obtainable in a pure form, this is not always the case. (See old articles on the FM site – Deadly Drugs and FreeFrom Medicine.) I know one subscriber to this blog who has struggled for years to get anti-biotics that will cure rather than, literally, kill her.
And the dangers are not restricted to foods and medicines. Posts on the Wings of Hope and the Avoiding Milk Proteins blogs point out that as ‘environmentally friendly’ and ‘biodegradable’ products become more common, more and more of them will be made from plant and milk proteins. Thus disposable plates and cutlery can be made from wheat or corn fibre, as can fabrics, clothing and yarn. Casein (milk protein) has been used in glue for millenia and, from the end of the 19th century, has been used in the manufacture of many plastics. Peanut fibre can also be used in carpets. And both peanut and corn can be used as the basis for biofuels; indeed the main allergen in bio diesel is currently ethanol, derived from corn. Sufficient allergenicity remains in the fuel to cause reactions in corn allergics who have breathed in the fumes.
I hate to end any post without some postive ‘spin’ but I really struggle to see the positive in this situation. Because the number of people with allergies this serious are, comparatively speaking, very small and because the benefits of products derived from their allergens are very great, the chances of those allergens not being used are also very small. The best one can hope for is more transparency in terms of ingredients – and excellent forensic faculties and capacious memories on the part of the allergy sufferers so that they can track down, and then remember, all the places in which their allergens may lurk.
But then, of course, one could come at it from another angle…
Rather than worrying about avoiding the allergens, how about seeking to make oneself less reactive? And maybe this would lead us to those friendly little Necators Americanus…. Check in to John Scott’s latest posting on the FoodsMatter site – ‘Over 100 personal accounts of those using helminthic therapy, an amazing 80% of whom have derived significant benefit from the therapy, having already tried every other treatment available for their condition’ – those conditions including anaphylactic allergy…