Christine Sloat, MS, RD, CDN

Peanut-free classrooms and dairy-free desserts are now common terms among schoolteachers and parents. In fact, some reports conclude that up to 8% of children and 2% of adults may have food allergies. While assessing the prevalence of food allergies is difficult, many health agencies suggest that cases are on the rise.

The most common culprits, known as “The Big 8,” include: milk, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish. While symptoms can range from sub-acute to very severe, it is important to remember that outward symptoms are just a small picture of what goes on inside. In other words, for those with “mild” allergies, consuming trigger foods might actually be causing more internal damage than realized.

In addition to potential reactions, food allergies can also cause severe nutritional shortages. Many of “The Big 8” foods contain important nutrients and individuals who avoid those foods are at risk for vitamin and mineral deficiencies. For example, children with a milk allergy are at an increased risk for calcium deficiency; and those with multiple allergies are at an even greater risk for malnutrition.

What, then, can you do to avoid the dangerous consequences of food allergies and still maintain a nutritious diet? How can you make sure that a food allergy isn’t causing more damage that you thought?

Consulting with an allergist is the first step in your treatment plan. But when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, a visit to a dietitian should be the next stop. As a specialist, a dietitian can discuss your symptoms, as well as compare your current intake to your nutritional needs. While simply supplementing missing nutrients with pills or powders may not be the answer, a dietitian can help you find nutrient-dense and safe foods to meet your goals.