Friday, May 21, 2010

Another unwanted picnic guest: Allergens

Spring has sprung, and sprouted, and blossomed, and it has me thinking about allergies. Actually, it's forced me to think about them, as I rub my watery eyes, and sneeze just walking out the door. I'm not alone; as many as 50 million Americans suffer some type of allergy.*

And I was wondering, how do YOU keep your kids from eating stuff they're allergic to?

As summer approaches, out come the grills, the picnics, the family reunions, and the outdoor food festivals. When choosing what to cook or bring, it's handy to be aware of the most common food allergies, especially amongst children. So here they are, the five leading childhood food allergies:

1. Cow's Milk and things made from cow's milk. It's the protein in the milk that trigger's the allergy.

2. Eggs. Common in babies and young children. About 80% of kids outgrow egg and milk allergies by age five. Egg and egg powders are found in all sorts of dishes, from cakes to some fried chicken recipes.

3. Seafood and shellfish (including shrimp, crab meat, clams, lobster and other crustaceans).

4. Peanuts and tree nuts.

5. Wheat. There are wheat allergies and then there's Celiac Disease. A parent of a kid with Celiac Disease has to be hyper aware of what their kid eats, because gluten (the trigger) lingers in other grains as well.

How do allergies happen? An allergic reaction occurs when a person's immune system over-reacts to a food or substance that is harmless to most people. Their immune system produces antibodies to that food or substance, which causes other cells to release chemicals into their bloodstream, including histamine. Histamines can produce moderate to life-threatening symptoms in the eyes, nose, throat and lungs.

An Allergy is different from a "food intolerance". Food intolerance is an adverse reaction that does not involve the immune system. Lactose intolerance is one (inability to digest the lactose in milk). When I was little I had an intolerance to MSG, the seasoning that some Asian restaurants still use. It gave me a tingling sensation in my jaw followed by a pounding headache. This is a common childhood food intolerance. MSG is present in many grocery items including some rice mixes, so be careful when introducing little kids to seemingly harmless dishes like flavored rice.

Have I ruined your picnic yet? I don't mean to. Usually there are lots of options at these gatherings. As the host you'd be kind to ask ahead, and place the offending dishes in a separate area or a cooler, just out of reach of tiny hands and mouths.

* References: "All About Allergies".

Aucland Allergy Clinic:

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Are breakfast eaters really slimmer?

You've seen the commercials... healthy breakfast... start to a healthy day, yada yada... but what could be wrong with skipping the morning meal when trying to lose weight, right? A lot, as it turns out. says that: Studies showed that athletes who consumed breakfast performed better in competition; kids who ate breakfast were able to concentrate more in class; adults who ate breakfast were able to control weight better than those who did not eat breakfast.

Wait.... WEIGHT?

Yes, avoiding the morning meal may be dampening your best efforts to stay slim. Breakfast, a word meaning "break the fast", kick-starts your metabolism in the morning. Also, people who eat a high-fiber breakfast are less likely to load up on higher calories in the evening, when your metabolism naturally slows down.

I was at a hotel breakfast bar recently, watching two XXL teens load up on biscuits, gravy, eggs, sausage, and orange juice. Let's take a look at this typical nutrition breakdown for biscuits and sausage gravy. While having a decent amount of protein, the "price" in calories, fat, and sodium per gram of protein is exorbitant.

Serving Size 1 biscuit with gravy

Amount Per Serving
Calories 508
Calories from Fat 285
Total Fat 31.65g 49%
Saturated Fat 7.249g 36%
Sodium 1461mg 61%

Nutrition Values are based on USDA Nutrient Database SR18

So obviously, that meal is not the breakfast of champions. But you don't have to love organic 100% bran flakes to get a productive jump on the day, and your BMI. Look for cereals, muffins and breads, and even berries, that have at least 5% fiber per serving. Not all muffins are created equal, and FIBER is the key. (Read labels for sugar calories, it's not always obvious by the taste.) On the weekend, eggs or whole-grain pancakes with blueberries also count as excellent choices for healthy weight control.

Oh, and what's that syrup you're pouring over your pancakes? If it says "syrup" check the label...uh oh, there it is: HIGH FRUCTOSE corn syrup, a product that I'll go into later. Let's just say for now, it doesn't belong on a healthy eater's table. Applesauce makes a nice substitute for syrup on pancakes.

The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) of over 16-thousand teens and young adults* revealed that the people who nearly always skipped breakfast had 4.5 times the risk of obesity as the subjects who did eat breakfast regularly. I mean, that's a 16,000 member clue. I'm taking the hint.


* Mota, J., Fidalgo, F., Silva R., et al. Relationships Between Physical Activity, Obesity and Meal Frequency in Adolescents. Annals of Human Biology, 2008; 35(1): 1-10.