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Special Dietary Requirements

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Various foodstuffs in a prohibited sign

Allergies and special dietary requirements are the scourge of the modern age. We're increasingly hearing of people developing allergies - some of them life-threatening - to the most common foodstuffs and many restaurants now cater for those with special dietary needs as the number of sufferers increases and their plight becomes more apparent in the public's consciousness. And remember, allergy sufferers aren't freaks! Food allergies are commonplace. This entry takes a look at a few of them.

Cow's Milk Allergy

A very common allergy is one related to an intolerance to cow's milk. The following is one Researcher's story:

This is my pet hate. I have a mild intolerance to cow's milk, and my son has a total allergy to it. He showed the same symptoms that I did as a baby when he was put on cow's milk at six weeks old. Neither of us could go five minutes without being sick. Luckily, I was more persistent than my mother was, and I kept taking him back to the doctors, especially as he was losing weight. After six months he was put onto soya milk and the projectile vomiting finally stopped. I don't know who was more relieved, me, him, or the washing machine.
As he has grown we've tried to get him back onto it, but he always shows the same symptoms, and now he is six I think it unlikely he will be able to tolerate it. He gets sick, gets the runs, and gets eczema, and asthma comes back in winter. I took him off soya milk when he was still on Wysoy because they admitted it contained genetically modified soya and put him onto goat's milk. He seems fine on that, but he hardly drinks it. Most of his cows milk replacements come from soya now. We can get soya chocolate, mousses, yoghurts, milkshakes, milk, ice cream - and I make sure all these are GM free.

It's hard shopping for children with cow's milk allergies as milk products are in everything. These are the things to look for in ingredients lists:

  • Milk - whole, skimmed, or semi-skimmed, powder or otherwise
  • Whey
  • Whey Powder
  • Lactose
  • Milk Protein
  • Cream in any form
  • Yoghurt
  • Non fat milk solids
  • Caseinates
  • Casein
  • Lactalbumin
  • Lactic acid
  • Cheese
  • Sodium Caseinate
  • Calcium Caseinate

Note that some products may contain margarine or bread crumbs, which may themselves contain milk products, but are not listed. Be aware that things like bread and sausages can also have milk products in as well. Also it has been known for lactose particularly to be found in tablets. But are the following tablets a possible solution?

A friend of mine had a problem with milk and she found some tablets, through the Internet which she takes before she eats the milk and they stop the problem. I forget the science but I think they provided the lactase enzyme she was missing that is needed to digest milk. I think they were called Lactaid or something. Ask your doctor or get on line. It's worth a try. I think it depends what it is in milk that you are allergic to.

Another Researcher's tale that shows how even the severest allergies may disappear after a protracted period of abstinence and then a gradual re-introduction of the offending food stuff:

When I was a baby, I was lactose intolerant. This sucked as my mother had to pre-treat all my milk (adding lactase). But I grew out of it when I was two. Life was good until that fateful weekend when I was ten. I was at my cottage and after eating some ice cream I felt really sick. After an hour or so it went away, but every time I had milk, it happened. My mum figured I was getting lactose intolerant again, so she suggested that I only have milk once in a while, as a treat. This is did. I went a week without any, then had some more, and within ten minutes, I had gone into anaphylactic shock.
Unfortunately, no one knew what it was, so we figured it was just a mild reaction. I took an antihistamine and went to bed. Later my doctor figured that the only thing that kept my throat open that night was the antihistamine. Anyways, after a few trips to the doctor, he decided I was allergic to the protein in milk, so he prescribed hardcore antihistamines, and a few epi-pens, and away I went. I was on a totally milk-free diet until I was 16. At that point I started trying little bits (a dorito, or a few chocolate chips). Initially, my tongue would get itchy (a very weird feeling) and my lips would get a little swollen. I persisted though; every month, I'd try something. By the time I was 18, I had gone half a year without feeling any symptoms, so I tested myself. I had two reactines and an epi-pen ready, and I ate a bowl of yoghurt, a bowl of ice cream, a block of cheese and had a tall glass of milk. Nothing happened. So I returned, (slowly at first) to eating milk products. My doctor thinks that as my body matured it ditched the allergy.


As an asthmatic I am supposed to avoid foods with salicylates in. It's something to do with salicylic acid, a chemical that is in things like aspirin. This is something that the docs don't tell you when you have asthma, so be warned! Don't take aspirin if you have asthma! It landed me in hospital for three days, and a friend of mine ended up spending one Christmas day in casualty.

The level in foods depends on certain things, but foods containing high levels are:

  • Fresh apricots
  • Chilli
  • Canned guava
  • Cinnamon
  • Curry - very high
  • Cumin
  • Peaches
  • Green pepper
  • Dried fruit (eg, dates, prunes, raisins)
  • Fresh chicory
  • Leeks
  • Melons
  • Grapes
  • Onions
  • Oranges
  • Oregano
  • Pineapple
  • Peppermint tea
  • Plum
  • Tomatoes and tomato sauce
  • Baby marrow
  • Dried celery
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Thyme - very high
  • Mixed herbs
  • Sage
  • Turmeric
  • Tarragon
  • Vinegar
I do find I can eat most of these in small amounts without problems, but I wouldn't touch an aspirin no matter how much pain I was in. Being well and risking it is different to being ill and risking it again.

Wheat Allergy Advice

Here are some small, probably obvious tips for anybody that suffers form a wheat allergy:

  • Always carefully check ingredients lists - even of products which you wouldn't think could contain wheat flour. It's amazing the number of products which use it as a thickener - especially those such as flapjack, which is otherwise a superb alternative to bready snacks.

  • Because of the above, always ask the person serving you in a restaurant about what's in your meal - a massive range of soups are thickened with wheat flour, and you don't want to start ravenously gulping your soup down only to feel awful soon afterwards. Be warned!

  • It is likely that your place of work will mostly only sell bread-related products for snacks - so bring chocolate bars, bananas etc, to keep yourself going.

And here are some alternatives to bread made with wheat flour:

  • Rye bread

  • Bread made with cornflower - this can sometimes be just as nice as 'normal' bread, but is usually much more expensive and difficult to find in the shops.

  • Rivita - tasteless brown pieces of a cardboard-like substance: made acceptable when used in conjunction with a topping such as cream cheese.

  • Potato - a great and substantial alternative source of starch. But again: mind that some pre-processed 'potato' products don't contain wheat flour as thickener.

Anaphylaxis by any Other Name

The most serious of allergic reactions (and potentially fatal) is anaphylaxis. This can include swelling of the throat and breathing difficulties. Many people encounter this with nuts (all kinds), but others have similarly distressing reactions to milk, eggs, wheat, sesame and soya. If you are a sufferer, you can never really be 100% sure of what you're eating, but a good resource (one of the few) for anaphylaxis sufferers is the anaphylaxis campaign newsletter at anaphylaxis.org.uk. David Reading started the campaign a few years ago now, after losing his daughter to a peanut allergy and for anyone with allergies, or who have loved ones with allergies, it's worth taking a look.

And Finally...

Here's an unusual allergy that would give most h2g2 Researchers the screaming abdabs1.

There is one allergy (or intolerance) which I have found to be treated with pity, disbelief and occasionally, scorn. I am allergic to alcohol, to the extent that even one glass of wine leaves me seriously sick for a few days afterwards. It is actually so intense that when one of my friends cooked dinner, forgot my requirements and put some wine in the sauce, I ended up being sent home from work the next day with headaches, pallor, nausea and gastric intolerance. By the time I got home I was suffering dizzy spells too.
Needless to say, my boss (who is a lover of red wine) took a lot of convincing that a few teaspoons could have such a powerful effect. Fortunately, mine is a fairly simple allergy to cope with, as all I have to do is avoid alcohol, which after all is NOT an essential part of the diet. My sympathies lie with those who have more serious allergies and with ones less easily avoided.
1The term 'screaming abdabs' is a British one of unknown origin meaning to get the jitters or general heightened nervousness. For other queer words and phrases check out the entry on Antiquated Words and Phrases.

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