Surviving and Thriving—Despite Food Sensitivities
By Vesanto Melina, MS, RD and Jo Stepaniak, MSEd

Current thinking is that the lentil is one of nature's most perfect foods. I remember when milk was one of nature’s most perfect foods, but that was a long time ago.
--J. Carroll, San Francisco Chronicle

Consider how your perceptions of foods have changed during your lifetime. Foods such as dairy products or wheat, which have long been viewed as dietary staples, now are shunned by many who experience unwelcome reactions to these items. Food allergies and intolerances have increased at alarming rates in recent decades. For example, it is estimated that allergies have tripled during the last three decades in developed countries. Although dairy products maintain their “essential food group” status on some national food guides, their tendency to cause gastric distress for so many individuals raises questions about the soundness of directing people to eat foods that make them ill. Since 70 percent of the world’s population experiences some degree of lactose intolerance, a diet that excludes milk can be considered more “normal” than one that includes cow’s milk for humans.

Many of us find our quality of life is immensely improved when we eliminate one or moreof the “Big Eight” triggers for food sensitivities: dairy, eggs, fish, shellfish, soy, wheat and gluten, peanuts, and tree nuts. But why has there been an allergy epidemic? What can we do to make life easier when familiar favorites are banned from our menu? How can we ease the physical or emotional distress of friends and family with food sensitivities? These questions are explored and answered in-depth in the Food Allergy Survival Guide: Surviving and Thriving with Food Allergies and Sensitivities by Vesanto Melina, Jo Stepaniak, and Dina Aronson (Healthy Living Publications, 2004).

Food allergies and sensitivities are linked with arthritis, asthma, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), candida, celiac disease, dermatitis, depression, digestive disorders, fatigue, migraines, and other conditions. At one time the medical profession dismissed any links between these common conditions and diet. Yet recent scientific research confirms that for some of us diet can be a significant contributor to these widespread ailments, and dietary changes can potentially alleviate symptoms and improve our lives immensely. We are also discovering the powerful role that our intestinal wall plays in food sensitivities. The intestinal wall is the main interface between the cells of our body and the outside world of foods and beverages, and we expect (or hope) it will distinguish between wanted and unwanted food particles and allow entry only to the former. In recent years scientists have discovered natural ways to increase our oral tolerance for foods and improve the health of this crucial part of our body. These safe, health-supporting methods are described in detail in the Food Allergy Survival Guide.

At first we may view food sensitivities as little more than an unwelcome prohibition against foods that have been lifetime favorites. Yet an unexpected but welcome benefit is that sometimes food sensitivities can provide the inspiration and impetus to improve our diets. Even when we have a sweet treat, it can include nutritious ingredients and be free of the items that trigger adverse reactions. Here’s an example of a versatile, low-allergenic snack that can be made with dried fruit, chopped nuts, carob, or chocolate. Corn syrup is a less expensive sweetener that can be used in place of rice syrup, if you prefer it and can tolerate corn.

Crispy Rice Bars
Yield: 16 squares
These crunchy squares make a delicious dessert or sweet snack. They contain no gluten, dairy, or other animal products; soy; yeast; corn; or peanuts. Tree nuts are optional.

2/3 cup brown rice syrup
1/4 cup sesame tahini, other seed butter, or almond butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla flavoring
2 cups crisped rice cereal

Additions (choose one)
1/2 cup currants, raisins, or finely chopped apricots
1/2 cup lightly roasted chopped almonds or walnuts
1/2 cup nondairy chocolate or carob chips

Lightly oil an 8-inch square pan. Combine the brown rice syrup and tahini in a small saucepan and warm over low heat until softened. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla flavoring.

Combine the cereal and the addition of your choice in a large bowl. Pour the warm mixture over the cereal mix and combine carefully using a wooden spoon. Work as quickly as possible (this is especially important if you are using chocolate or carob chips so they do not melt). Pack the mixture evenly into prepared pan, pressing gently with your fingers. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and chill until firm. Slice into squares and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Will keep for about 10 days.