As allergy rates are on the rise , more and more spaces are becoming nut-free, peanut-free, or even allergy-friendly environments (free from the top 8 most common allergies). This includes classrooms, entire schools, office spaces, airline flights, manufacturing facilities, and product brands.
Symptoms of allergic reactions fall on a broad spectrum: hives, itching, nasal congestion, tingling mouth, difficulty breathing, fainting, vomiting, and/or swelling of the lips, face, tongue, or throat. This can be an uncomfortable and quite scary experience for both the person having a reaction, as well as, any person(s) witnessing the reaction. It is important to take food allergies seriously and be mindful of the fact that what we choose to eat, while it may not directly impact us in a negative way, may have consequences for someone else in our vicinity.
The Top Eight Food Allergens
The following eight food sources account for ~90% of food allergies. These are:
Milk (cow, sheep, goat)
Tree Nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, pine nuts, brazil nuts, and pecans)
The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) requires that manufacturers include allergen warnings on a label if the item’s ingredient list contains one of the top eight food allergens. It does not require this label if the food was packaged in a facility or on equipment that also processes food containing one of the top eight allergens. Some brands voluntarily include disclaimers on the label to indicate a risk for cross-contamination. While this is helpful, keep in mind that it is not required.
This is where things get a bit more confusing. The term “natural flavors” indicates a proprietary blend of ingredients that a manufacturer does not have to disclose to their customers. If “natural flavors” is listed as an ingredient, keep in mind that their proprietary blend can include a potential food allergen that may or may not be noted on the label because that particular item is not specifically listed as an ingredient. Confusing, right?
It is entirely unclear to me whether or not a food containing “natural flavor” on the ingredient list is required by law to note if it contains one of the top 8 food allergens since the ingredient is technically not included on the list of ingredients. This seems like a gap in protection for customers and one that I cannot find a clear answer to on the FDA’s website. I even read through the FDA’s Code of Food Regulations and labeling document (riveting, I know). Some articles and sites state that manufacturers have to note “contains insert top 8 allergen here” if the blend contains one of the top eight allergens, yet several websites state that they do not have to list “contains insert top 8 allergen here” because the food allergen is technically not listed as an ingredient. I have contacted the FDA for further clarification around this law but I’m not holding my breath on hearing back anytime soon.
With this ambiguous label law, I encourage you to be diligent about consistently reading labels (ingredient lists can change without notice so repetitive checking is necessary). Contact brands to inquire further about potential allergen concerns and purchase from reputable brands that you trust. At the end of the day, you get to choose whether or not you want to risk consuming a food with “natural flavor” if allergies are a concern, especially allergies outside of the top eight allergens which we know manufacturers are not required to label. I would caution you against taking items containing “natural flavor” into a shared space because it’s someone else’s well-being that you are risking.
At the end of the day, nothing beats consuming real, whole food ingredients that don’t require labels (we know that a hard boiled egg contains egg). Food allergies can be very serious and life threatening for some. Please be mindful and respect designated allergy-free zones. An allergy-free zone is a clear indicator that someone will be impacted by the presence of that ingredient in a shared space (through cross-contamination, not washing hands or food surfaces properly, or possibly even airborne particles).
Allergy-Friendly Snack Ideas
The following snack ideas can be used in any combination. In fact, I recommend combinations so that snacks seem more appealing to you (or your children). This also makes it easier to ensure that snacks contain fiber, healthy fat, and protein to feel fuller longer, to prevent a food/sugar crash, and sustain mental and physical stamina.
Plan ahead & pre-pack snacks for the week so that they are ready to grab and go. Make a list of “safe” snacks that you can take into designated allergy-free environments so that you always have options.
Veggie Sticks with Dip
Mix it up with a variety of veggie sticks (call them veggie fries if that’s more appealing to kids). Bell peppers, carrots, celery, cucumber, jicama, broccoli, etc. all make great choices. Dip options can include: hummus, dairy-free pesto*, vegan Ranch, dairy-free BBQ Ranch**
*See notes section of the recipe for a nut-free substitution
Popcorn with Berries or Apple sauce
The best option to ensure that your popcorn is free from dairy or peanut-oil is to pop it yourself using an air popper. If you want to add toppings try coconut oil, nutritional yeast, or sea salt. If you want to purchase popcorn, check out Boom Chicka Pop Air-popped Sea Salt or another brand that has ingredients that fit your dietary needs. Be mindful to stay away from butter, ranch, and cheddar flavored popcorn if someone has allergies to dairy and avoid products that use soy or peanut oils.
Rolled Organic Oven-Roasted Deli Meat
This can be an interesting territory because there are a lot of unhealthy deli meat options out there. Focus on organic, hormone and antibiotic-free meats without food additives (or items that you cannot pronounce). Here are some options that fit the bill as allergy-free right now: Trader Joe’s Organic Oven-Roasted Turkey and Applegate Deli Meat*
Don’t forget to add some fiber and healthy fat to this snack! Place sprouts, leafy greens, carrot shreds, cucumber, and/or avocado in the center of the deli meat and roll it up! Serve this with a side of allergy-friendly crackers like these** or these for some extra crunch.
*Read the labels to double check for food allergens because they have many different products
** Contains: soy and sesame
It’s incredibly easy to make your own trail mix at home. In fact, it’s a nice way to guarantee that you are getting all of your favorite ingredients and flavor profiles. Try to avoid nuts and peanuts or products with added oils if you plan to take your trail mix into a designated allergy-free space. Trail mix options can include: raw pumpkin seeds, raw sunflower seeds, dried berries, dried fruit, coconut shreds, dairy & soy-free chocolate chips, cacao nibs, etc. Eat your mix as is or toss it with melted coconut oil and cinnamon or another flavor profile that sounds delicious to you.
Crunchy Snacks with Pickles or Olives
Start with a crunchy snack of your choice: kale chips, roasted chickpeas, or Mary’s Gone Crackers. Combine it with some fermented or vinegar-based plant power: pickles or olives (pitted options for children). This way you get that crunchy snack desire fulfilled while adding some fiber, healthy fats, and/or a fermented foods that support gut health.
What Are Some of Your Allergy-Friendly Snack Ideas?
Let Us Know In the Comments Below.