Food allergies have been on the rise for the past several years, with little insight as to what’s causing the widespread epidemic. Approximately 15 million Americans suffer from food allergies; even more experience food sensitivities which, though less severe, still greatly affect an individual’s food choices. Reactions to allergies can be as extreme as asphyxiation, as with certain nut allergies, or simply troublesome, as with itching in the mouth, trouble breathing or swallowing, abdominal pain, vomiting, or diarrhea, or hives on the skin.
Strict avoidance of the allergy-causing food or nutrient is the only way to avoid a potentially life-threatening reaction. The most common offenders include milk and lactose, corn, eggs, tree nuts, soy, wheat and gluten, fish and shellfish. Certain foods are easier to avoid than others, while corn, soy, and wheat are used extensively as fillers in many processed foods.
In addition to the listed side effects, allergies and sensitivities can also interfere with nutrient absorption and assimilation, a significant concern for those whose conditions necessitate the use of enteral feeding. Little information exists on the matter of allergen identification in enteral products, though some larger manufacturers – like Abbott Nutrition, makers of Ensure – adhere to federal guidelines, listing allergens in bold script following the complete list of product ingredients.
Certain ingredients derived from allergy-causing foods may not cause adverse reactions. Specialists with the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, indicate that some corn-derived substances may not affect a patient who’s allergic to the vegetable: “corn syrup (also known as glucose syrup), corn syrup solids, glucose, dextrose, maltodextrin, corn oil, and high fructose corn syrup have no detectable corn protein residues and should be quite safe for someone with [an] allergy to corn.” Similarly, according to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, “studies show that most soy-allergic individuals may safely eat soybean oil (NOT cold pressed, expeller pressed, or extruded oil) and soy lecithin. Patients should ask their doctors whether or not to avoid these ingredients.”
Before beginning use of enteral nutrition, patients with food allergies or sensitivities must discuss their concerns with a medical provider, to ensure proper digestion and nutrition.