Christmas is obviously a time for celebration and partying but for those with allergies it can be like a minefield!
While most people generally eat and snack with abandon the millions who suffer from some form of food allergy, sensitivity, or intolerance must be extra wary. It may be easy to tell which foods contain common allergens such as wheat, dairy and eggs when eating the main Christmas dinner but when it comes to snacks and party buffets with lots of pre-packaged foods things get a little trickier.
If you are planning your own party you can obviously check labels to make sure the foods you buy don't contain ingredients that you, your family members, or your guests are allergic to. If you are cooking or baking yourself there are also a large number of alternative ingredients to the common allergens that can be substituted.
The most common allergens include: wheat, dairy, eggs, corn, soy, nuts, and seafood
Here are a few examples to help you out:
- Rice - Millet
- Oat (certified gluten-free)
- Rice - Coconut
- Oat (certified gluten-free)
- Mix 3 tbsp hot water with 1 tbsp linseed/flax meal. Let stand, stirring occasionally for about 5-10 minutes or until mixture is thick
- Fruit puree. E.g. puree a banana for use in cakes.
- Baking Powder (gluten-free)
- Baking Soda
- Tapioca Starch
- Arrowroot Starch
- Guar Gum
- Xantham Gum
If you are having guests over who have or may have food allergies then the following tips can make things go smoothly and ensure everyone enjoys themselves:
Save every product label. This way, a guest can determine whether a dish contains an allergen.
- Skip nuts if you know someone has a peanut allergy. Peanut oil and dust are easily spread and can cross-contaminate other foods.
- Prevent cross-contamination by having a single container and a single serving utensil for each item. For instance, don't put chocolate-chip cookies and peanut-butter cookies on the same plate. Don't put fruit and cheese on the same platter.
- Keep dishes simple. The more ingredients, the harder it is to determine whether an allergen is present.
- Serve dressings and sauces on the side. Otherwise, fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables are good bets. So are beef, chicken and ham.
- If you know guests who have allergies, talk with them in advance. They may help you discover easy substitutions. And don't be offended if they bring their own food. That's not uncommon among parents of children who have food allergies.
Sources: Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, About.com: Allergies, Culinate.com
Of course food allergies aren't the only problem around the Holidays. Research has shown significant increases in asthma and sinus problems around the Holiday season, a fact attributed in part to the focal point of most family's festive decorations - the Christmas tree.
According to Allergy UK many people are allergic to the pollen and sap of the trees. Mould can also be a major trigger of symptoms. American researchers recorded high levels of mould spores in homes which had a live tree. These spores triggered allergic symptoms that lasted until the tree was removed in the New Year.
The obvious solution is to get a fake tree but for me and I'm sure many others the smell and look of a real tree is a major part of the Christmas experience. Allergy UK has some tips for minimising the allergenicity of a real tree so check those out in this blog from last year: Allergies: Could your Christmas tree be a trigger?
Hopefully these tips will go some way to helping all you allergy sufferers enjoy the festive season.
Have a very Merry Christmas!!
About: Matthew Hogg ("Maff")
Diagnosed with M.E./chronic fatigue syndrome aged only 11 years old and subsequently associated illnesses including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). Despite his own struggles he has constantly sought to educate and support others suffering from such "invisible illnesses" through his website, The Environmental Illness Resource. He fully recovered from MCS using his own approach and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nutritional Health.