Q. What do 3 Million Kids in the US Have in Common?

A. Food allergies.

And that number is growing. I'm sure the trend is the same in Canada. It's a huge number considering that we haven't even added adults into the equation.

As many of you know, food allergies have affected my life in a big way - some positive, some negative. We definitely eat healthier because of it, but I'm not sure we could maintain 100 percent diligence in our diet all of the time if we didn't have food allergies keeping us in line.

Combined, our family avoids a lot of food. Want to see the list?

  • Soy and all legumes
  • Grains, including corn
  • Buckwheat
  • Quinoa
  • Chia
  • Dairy
  • Nuts
  • Eggs, including duck eggs
  • Chocolate
  • Oranges
  • Canola Oil
  • Stevia
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • All forms of refined sugar

Basically, what this list means for us is that there are close to zero convenience foods for us to buy at the store in the small community where we live. Very few products do not have at least one of the above allergens in it. Even if they don't, they could be cross-contaminated by being produced in a facility that contains one of the above. It means that we make everything we eat from scratch. It means we dine out very, very rarely. It means that our days largely revolve around preparing food. We try to keep it fun and make it enjoyable, but some days, I have to be honest, it's a real drag.

In many ways, I am glad that I'm forced to take better care of myself and my family, but it sure is nicer to have the choice - and that is the truly unfortunate thing about food allergies in kids. I'm sure those 3 million kids are going to grow up just fine, but it's never easy being the odd person out. The one that causes every other student to have to avoid peanuts at school. The one that has to ask to see the list of ingredients on everything before taking a bite. The one that has to carry an epi-pen. The one that lives in constant fear of an allergic reaction.

I don't have all of the answers as to why food allergies are on the rise, but here are a few of my thoughts:

  • Our immune systems are overburdened.
  • Our produce is laden with toxic chemicals.
  • We are unknowingly consuming genetically engineered food with unknown consequences.
  • Food additives, preservatives and colorings are not food, but we eat them nonetheless.
  • There is too much sugar hiding (or not) in our food.
  • Packaged food is often devoid of nutrients and of vitality.
  • We're eating too much processed food.
  • We're eating more soy, corn and grains than we realize.
  • Lax food labeling standards means we don't always know what is going into our food.
  • There is a major problem with conventional food growing and raising practices.
  • Vaccines and antibiotics have contributed to an unbalanced digestive flora.
  • We've forgotten many of the traditional ways to prepare foods that make them easy to digest.

There are many more reasons as to why I think food allergies are on the rise, but I'll stop there.

The biggest stumbling block right now with food allergies is awareness - specifically of allergy symptoms - and what we can do about it. Food allergies cause a whole range of symptoms, from instant anaphylactic shock to skin rashes to digestive discomfort to neurological changes 24 hours later. Since many of the symptoms are delayed, they are dismissed as being caused by something else. I'm sure there are millions of more kids out there that have yet to be diagnosed with food allergies.

Avoidance of food allergens is certainly the first step in remaining symptom free, but it is not a long term solution. Many people with allergies have experienced healing through specific diet changes (ie: GAPS, SCD, Fodmaps) and holistic treatments (ie: NAET), and I think the knowledge of what is working needs to become more mainstream.

I didn't start off writing this as a plug for the Circle of Moms Top 25 Food Allergy Blogger contest, but being on that list did spur me to think about why allergy awareness is important to me. There is a definite need for more voices on the subject and remaining in the top 25 means that I could have the amazing opportunity to be one of them. It's an issue that's very close to my heart.

Many people tell me that they are so thankful that they don't have food allergies, and then one day, they realize that the symptoms that have been plaguing them all of their lives are, in fact, because of food allergies. That was me four years ago. That was why I started this blog.

It's an important issue. If you think it's important too, click here and vote.

Shanon Hilton is a mother of a child with multiple food allergies, wife, aspiring farmer, and passionate food advocate. She writes about her thoughts on food, farming and health at www.foodfarmhealth.ca.

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