Wednesday, August 12, 2009

To Chick-fil-A or Not To Chick-fil-A?

When Abigail was first diagnosed with a peanut allergy it was recommended by the Allergist that we also eliminate all nuts from her diet and to not eat anything cooked in peanut oil. Our pediatrician also confirmed that it was best to not take the risk of eating foods cooked in peanut oil in case a small portion of peanut would make it through the refining process and end up in the oil. That eliminated one of our favorite fast food restaurants, Chick-fil-A. For my readers not familiar with Chick-fil-A, you guys are really missing out. Next trip south, you should make a point of finding a restaurant and stopping for a meal. For several years it was a place where I would occasionally treat myself to a chicken biscuit or sandwich only when I was by myself. We hated to not have it as an option for Abigail because as far as fast food was concerned, it's relatively healthy, and back in 2004 when she was diagnosed, it was one of the few fast food chains that served trans fat free food.

We avoided all restaurants that used peanut oil to cook with for years until I started asking around. More and more moms with children that had peanut allergies were letting their kids eat at Chick-fil-A and stating that their doctors had okay'd it. I even researched Chick-fil-A's website and they only use a heat processed, fully refined peanut oil. According to the International Food Information Council Foundation, commercial oils are highly refined which removes the protein from the product. Further, it states that "research has shown that individuals with severe peanut allergy have not had reactions to heat processed oils. However, people with a food allergy should avoid “gourmet” or cold-pressed oils because they may contain allergenic proteins, which provide the flavor to the oil. For the same reason, allergic individuals should avoid oils that have been used to fry potentially allergenic foods."

When we started the clinical trial, one of my questions was whether we were going to have to stop eating at Chick-fil-A again because of the peanut oil. Dr. Bird confirmed that hot pressed peanut oils were safe and that we could continue eating at our favorite fast-food restaurant.

Recently, a post was made on an allergic kids group of which I'm a member warning of a friend that had a reaction requiring a visit to the ER after eating at Chick-fil-A. The follow up posts came fast with all types of dire warnings like playing Russian Roulette every time you eat there (this coming from a patient's Allergist).

We just happened to have an appointment at Duke that next day so I again asked the question to our new doctor, Doctor Kim. He also agreed that it was 100% safe (I got the impression it was the entire department's stance). He said from a scientific perspective it was not possible to react to highly refined peanut oil. His reason (if I can reiterate this correctly) is that peanut protein is a lot of amino acids linked together. A person with a peanut allergy reacts to this group of amino acid. With high heat and pressure, those amino acids are broken into so many pieces that the body can't recognize them and therefore doesn't react. Was it possible to have a small particle escape the refining process? He said not from a very large oil producer with huge vats and a tremendous heat source. He did recommend staying away from gourmet restaurants and higher end grocery stores that use peanut oil saying that it may not be as refined or could even be cold pressed oil.

As far as the person that did have a reaction he said you really had to look at other causes, i.e. wheat or milk which would be much more likely or even something consumed several hours prior. I also asked that very telling question...if your daughter had a peanut allergy would you eat there...he responded absolutely.

As I'm doing more and more research, I'm finding it very confusing and at times very difficult to know what to believe. There is so much contradicting information all from very credible sources. Our Allergist and Pediatrician recommended against it, Duke says it's fine. And, it is my daughter's life at stake. Bottom line, I believe you totally have to go with your gut, what you are comfortable with. You have to be your family's own advocate. If you are at all hesitant, don't eat at Chick-fil-A. If you have a great trust in the doctor that's saying it's not worth the risk, don't take it. For us, Chick-fil-A is still a family favorite!