Sunday, March 28, 2010

Food Revolution

I missed the premier episode of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, but thanks to the internet did catch a small segment. It was pretty disturbing.

In this clip, Jamie brings in a group of kids to do an experiment. He takes a raw chicken and proceeds to cut off all of the good parts, breast, wings and legs, explaining that this is the best and most valuable part.  Asking the kids if they want the remaining chicken carcass, he elicits lots of appropriate statements of yuck and gross. He proceeds to hack at the chicken, throwing pieces of bone, skin and connective tissue in the blender and makes this nasty pink goo. Again, the kids are all grossed out. Jamie then throws in a handful of "stabilizers" and "artificial flavors", makes small circle patties, dips them in breadcrumbs and drops them in a fry pan. When they're ready, he puts them on a plate and asks the kids who wants to eat them.  He is absolutely dumb-founded when all the kids raise their hand and say "ME!"

We're fooling ourselves if we don't think that kids are "programmed" to want certain foods based on what they see on TV, how the food is packaged or what shape it is.  The square organic cheese crackers don't meet with as much enthusiasm as the cheese crackers shaped like fish.  The cereal in the white "boring" box can't possibly be as good as the kind printed with rabbits, Leprechauns or other annoying characters.  And in Jamie's experiment, the kids were willing to eat the nasty pink goo because it was put into a shape of a nugget.

My kids love chicken nuggets, and they're perfect for those evenings when they need something quick.  Right now, I'm buying the Yummy brand, 100% All Natural Chicken Breast Nuggets.  There's no hormones or preservatives in the white meat, but they do have 23 other ingredients, i.e., "minimally processed."  I've found an organic brand, but Abigail doesn't like them meaning she's not going to eat them.  So, why spend the money?  After all, they're not cheap!  Does this mean I'm going to have to now start making chicken nuggets?  I don't want my kids eating pink goo.  I found this video clip on how to make chicken nuggets. Doesn't look too bad.  I could make a bunch and then freeze my spare time!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Keebler's Allergen Labeling Policy

There's not many Keebler brand products that I purchase these days since eliminating processed foods from our pantry.  However, it doesn't mean that Abigail won't have the opportunity to indulge at a friend's house or at a class party.  I recently contacted them regarding their allergen labeling policy.  Here's what they had to say:

Our production lines are thoroughly cleaned between allergen containing products and we follow good manufacturing practices. We have validated (through testing) our allergen cleaning processes in all of our facilities. We are very concerned about food allergies and want to ensure that our products are safe for food allergic consumers to eat. Scientific evidence has shown that consumers with peanut and tree nut allergies can have a severe reaction to amounts that are below the current detectable limits based on existing technology. For this reason, we have chosen to warn consumers allergic to peanuts and tree nuts of the potential for extremely low levels by using a may contain statement.

So, hat's off to the makers of the elf for properly using a "May Contain" statement for products made on the same equipment!  Just a side note though, they didn't address making products in the same facility.  Do we assume that because they are so diligent about products on the same equipment that they equally diligent with products made on separate lines?  This is where labeling standardization would be very welcome!

By the way, they've got a cute website.  My 2 1/2 year old asked repeatedly to see it again. Also, I'm not endorsing Keebler product with this post.  I'm just sharing information.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Anxiety - A Symptom of Food Allergies?

Abigail's stomach started hurting 3 weeks or so after starting the Peanut Clinical Trial at Duke University.  Almost a year later, it still hurts.  Is it coincidence or a result?  I'm having a hard time answering that question.

When her belly first started hurting, it was usually dinner time or soon after at bedtime.  In the beginning, Abigail couldn't really tell me much.  Not having had a lot of stomach issues as a child, she really couldn't explain what she was experiencing.  Now she can tell me that it doesn't burn like acid indigestion nor does she feel nauseous.  It just hurts in her belly right around her belly button area.  The ache comes and goes.  She also occasionally regurgitates.

After a visit to the pediatrician and trying childrens' Pepto, Miralax and then Prilosec for a short period of time, I began to consider that her bedtime belly aches were a result of being anxious about school the next day or even not wanting to go to sleep (she's always had a good deal of bad dreams).  When she'd complain, I'd tell her to go to sleep and that it'd quit hurting.  Sounds pretty callous, but I didn't want to feed the anxiety.  I was a little concerned when one evening she started going into a full scale panic attack.  Fortunately, that's only happened once, and I learned I could distract her by talking about something fun to take her mind off of whatever she was anxious about.  At that point, my husband and I considered counseling.  After all, she's was only 6 and way too young to start having panic attacks.  However, with her belly just hurting at night, and with her somewhat being able to "manage" it by thinking of other things, I never scheduled an appointment. Well, now her belly hurts during the day as well as continuing to hurt off and on at night.

Early on, I asked our doctor at Duke, but he knew of no one else in the program that was experiencing anything similar. So, for a year I chalked it up to coincidence.  Coincidence also that she takes her drops late in the afternoon, and if her stomach hurt, it would always be dinner or bedtime, 2 to 3 hours later.  Then, I started doing research on the impact of food on Attention Deficit Disorder, something else she's showing tendencies towards, and began finding articles showing anxiety as a symptom of food allergies and/or food intolerance.  After hours of internet searching though, I'm no closer to an answer.  I can't find any link between the two on any site that I feel has high enough credentials.  I found one study done in 2001 that found a link between allergies and panic disorder but no other anxiety disorders. 

So, what now?  There is a possibility that the peanut protein drops Abigail takes on a daily basis is causing a mild allergic reaction, and as one particular article suggests, symptoms are manifesting in her weakest organ system, the nervous system, causing anxiety which in turn is causing her stomach to hurt.  It could be that subconsciously, she is more anxious about her allergy than she realizes and her stomach hurts as a result.  What if she's developed an additional food intolerance?  It's also possible that her belly is inflamed from the continuous exposure to the peanut protein and that's why it hurts.  In those cases, the anxiety is the coincidence.

Right now, I'm operating on the assumption that the last option is what is occurring.  After consultation with her pediatrician, we've started Abigail back on Prilosec.  According to her doctor, it could take 6 to 8 weeks for it to work. I didn't give it to her for that long last year when her belly first started hurting.  If it doesn't help, then our next step could be a visit to a GI doctor and an in depth conversation with our doctor at Duke. 

Please leave a comment if any of this is sounding familiar.  I'm stumped and frustrated.  There's nothing like the feeling of not being able to help your child!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Allergic Reaction Anxiety

More than 12 million adults and children suffer from a food allergy.  Many are life-threatening, meaning that if they ingest, or in some cases are just exposed to a certain food, their body goes into extreme defense mode.  It causes their blood pressure to drop leaving the brain starving for oxygen and inflammation in the lungs to occur causing severe shortness of breath.  These people, including my daughter, have to consider every food they eat.  Everywhere they go, they bravely carry an epinephrine device with the understanding that at some point in time, a needle might be jabbed in their thigh.  They have parents and loved-ones that are super vigilant, sometimes to the point they feel suffocated and crippled.  In some circumstances, they're isolated and even blamed for causing inconveniences for others.  They've been told that they're blowing their allergy out of proportion and even labeled "disabled" by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Many food allergy sufferers take their life-threatening allergy in stride, controlling it rather than letting it control them.  Abigail, at 7 and having not experienced a severe reaction, is mostly just upset that she can't eat the foods she wants.  As her parent, though, I've worked extremely hard to make it that give her the right level of "anxiety".  Her dad and I read the labels although she knows how and when to question.  We carry her Epi-Pen, but she for the most part, confirms that we have it.  We discuss all the details of her allergy with her care-givers and create a safe environment for her, but she'll also not hesitate to ask if she's uncertain. She's not ostracized at school because she's matter of fact about her allergy.  She doesn't have to eat by herself but she does make sure that none of her lunch buddies are eating anything with peanuts.  She's not denied special treats on special occasions because there's always a yummy alternative (thanks to me).  And, thanks to the Duke Clinical Trial, we also are blessed to be able to give her something else...a light at the end of the tunnel, the possibility that in several years (just in time for those independent teenage years), she can eat what she wants without the fear of a severe allergic reaction.

But, what about those children that have actually suffered a life-threatening reaction requiring epinephrine and come away emotionally scarred?  Or, are the only child in their school that suffers from a severe food allergy and are feeling isolated?  What about those that are blamed by other kids for not being able to bring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch?  Even worse, what about being told that it's all in your head...that your allergy can't be as serious as it's made out to be? Regardless of whether you can take it in stride or not, the bottom line is, these kids live with a fear of dying on a daily basis.  Abigail may be well-adjusted (with her allergy) now, but what if circumstances change?

According to a study conducted at the University of Southampton, the quality of life suffers for these children.  The study suggests that "children with peanut allergy have a worse quality of life than those living with insulin-dependent diabetes."  They found that the children with peanut allergies felt more threatened by potential hazards within their environment, felt more restricted by their allergy regarding physical activities, and more worried about being away from home. In contrast, the children with diabetes were more upset about their “restricted” diet, and none mentioned a fear of dying.

That's just the children.  Being a parent of a child with a life-threatening allergy is no walk in the park either.  And, we have the added burden of not projecting our fears onto our children.  There's a good article on the Kids with Food Allergies website.  Titled "Raising a well-adjusted child who happens to have a food allergy", it gives several steps to do just that.  A few include, never let them see you sweat, make your home a safe haven, don't let food allergies define your child and don't make your life revolve around food.

As mentioned in my last post, Abigail has had bouts of anxiety over the last year.  It typically shows up at night around bedtime and manifests itself as a belly ache.  When I ask if it's related to her allergy or participating in the clinical trial, her answer is always an adamant "no".  It could be her age.  It could be school although she does well. I've been doing some research and there is a link between having anxiety as a result of consuming a food that one is allergic too.  That's the next topic.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Food Allergies and Anxiety

I read a post the other day about food allergies and anxiety.  It was written by a fellow blogger and mother of a peanut allergic daughter.  She wrote about a study that indicates that it's not uncommon for children with food allergies to express a lot of anxiety and how she was seeing this first hand in her 10 year old daughter.  It got me thinking and doing some research of my own.

I "interviewed" Abigail to see how she feels about having an allergy to peanuts and to see if her anxiety (manifested as a frequent belly ache around bedtime) could be contributed to her allergy.  Getting her to open up and express herself is about as challenging as getting her to clean her room, so our discussion was very brief.  Here's our conversation:

Does having a peanut allergy make you feel anxious?  No
Does knowing that you can have any allergic reaction scare you?  No
What makes you nervous about having a peanut allergy?  Nothing
Do you trust mommy and daddy to give you foods that are safe?  Yes (Although, if it's a new food, she will ask me if I'm really sure)
Do you trust anybody else to give you foods that are safe?  Yes, Family  Anybody else?  Really, really good friends  Anybody else?  No
What's the worst thing about having a peanut allergy?  Can't eat things I want to.
What do you think makes your stomach hurt (i.e., anxiety)?  I don't know.
Does going to Duke make you anxious?  No
Does anything about the clinical trial bother you?  No  Not even the blood draws?  No, not scared.

And that was the end of our conversation as she ran off to do more important things. Regardless of her casualness, I do know that I've seen an increase in her anxiety level this last year.  I also know that hers are the sentiments of someone that hasn't experienced anaphylaxis.  The tingling that she has in her ears, mouth and throat as a side effect of her clinical trial drops is a nuisance at most.  The one occasion of getting the drops on her tongue that sent her into a panic is a distant memory.  My blogger friend's daughter who has had a severe reaction and gone into anaphylaxis wouldn't answer these questions at all in the same manner.

Monday, March 8, 2010

SafetyTat Temporary Safety Tattoo Give-Away!

Have you seen these temporary tattoos from SafetyTat?  I love these things. What a fabulous idea!

Just peel and stick them to your child's arm, write their allergy and your phone information and the tattoos stay in place up to 2 weeks. They're also available for specific allergies and can be pre-printed with your cell phone number. Those require a damp cloth for application and last 1 to 5 days.

I, of course, love the Allergy Alert tattoos, but SafetyTat also make tattoos for lots of other situations.. medical alerts, special needs and "If Lost" for crowded places. They even make a "kiss" tattoo for those occasions where your child needs a little TLC.

Just think of the uses...first day of school, vacations, summer camps, trips to theme parks, sporting events. I would have loved to have these for the preschool years, birthday parties and field trips when Abigail was younger and not as verbal.  Even at 7 though, she thinks they are way cool and wants a reason to wear one. She's got a school field trip coming up which will be the perfect occasion to try out the allergy alert tattoo.  And, next trip to a large, crowded event, my 2 year old will be sporting an "If Lost" SafetyTat.

Love these as much as me?  I've got great news!  SafetyTat is going to give 2 of my lucky readers a sample pack of the Quick Stick Write-On's.  Winners get their choice of either the boy, girl or multi-design.  There's more! Through the end of the month, you guys also get 10% off all orders of $15.00 or more if you use the following coupon code (it's case sensitive): PeanutClinicalTrial.  Find all of their products on their website, or follow them on Facebook at "SafetyTat:Kids Temporary Safety Tattoos."

This give-away is limited to U.S. and Canadian residents only. Entries must be received by March 31, 2010.  Want to earn extra entries?  Earn 2 extra entries for becoming a "Follower" and 4 extra entries for linking this post to your blog, website or Facebook page.  Just make sure to leave a comment with the link to your blog or website.

Good luck!  Be sure to take advantage of the 10% discount!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Preventing Food Allergies in Children

Last week, I wrote about a new study in England being conducted to determine if either eating peanuts or avoiding peanuts between birth and age 2 was more likely to result in a peanut allergy.  This week, information on a study in Australia was released reporting that avoiding the offending allergen from the 3rd trimester of pregnancy until the age of 2 resulted in less food allergies.

WebMD reported that 7 out of 10 babies born to mothers who to took care to avoid food allergens (based on older sibling allergies) had no food allergies versus 45% of babies born to mothers that did not follow precautionary advice.  The study leader, Velencia Soutter, MD, goes on to say that avoiding the allergen also means eliminating the offending food not only from the diet but also from the environment, in other words, clean house!

At this point in reading the study, I'm intrigued.  This is exactly what I did. I ate lots of peanut butter crackers when I was pregnant with Abigail and while breast-feeding.  My husband and I continued to eat peanut butter products while she was an infant.  At 18 months, I gave her peanut butter, and she had an allergic reaction.

Okay, I'll admit that we do keep a few snack bars, not containing peanuts, but manufactured in the same facility, on the top shelf of our pantry. But, that's really the extent of the peanut products that we've had in our house since we found out she was allergic.  I can also probably count on 2 hands the number of times I've eaten an offending product like a peanut butter candy bar.  So, I can say with much confidence that when pregnant with our second child, I did not consume any peanuts, nor when breast-feeding, nor when he was an infant.  In fact, he's 2 1/2 and still has not had any peanut products.  We've had a RAST test performed, and he shows no signs of being allergic to peanuts.

So, back to the study...
Dr. Soutter did the study because many moms were asking in desperation if there was anything they could do to prevent future children from having food allergies.  They advised 274 pregnant women in their 3rd trimester to avoid the foods that their children were allergic too, but did not require them to.  Of the 274 women, approximately 2/3rds followed their advise.  Their babies were then given skin prick tests at 1 1/2 and 3 years of age to test for the food allergies of their older siblings.

Here's the results:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Another Reason to Shop Trader Joe's

I've written how much I love to shop at Trader Joe's.  I've also written that I'm frustrated that there are so many products that are not safe for Abigail to eat because they are manufactured on shared equipment or in the same facility with other peanut/tree nut products.  That being said, I do have to commend them for their voluntary labeling policy.  On Trader Joe's website, they discuss their allergen labeling policy which includes a statement about their supplier's Good Manufacturing Practices.  At our house, we're zero tolerance on labeling, so regardless, we don't purchase these products.

I recently contacted Trader Joe's about their use of genetically modified ingredients.  They just gave me a really good reason to continue to make my monthly trips across town.  As if I needed another one! Here's their response:

Our customers can be assured that all products in Trader Joe's private  label are sourced from non-genetically modified ingredients. Our efforts began in 2001, when we determined that, given a choice, our customers would prefer to eat foods and beverages made without the use of  genetically engineered ingredients. Our process has been to identify any product containing ingredients that could potentially be derived from genetically engineered crops and work with our suppliers to replace offending ingredients with acceptable alternatives.

Please know that because this is a standard for Trader Joe's products we do not highlight or place a Non GMO statement on our products.

How awesome is that!  I can purchase Non-GMO, Organic, rBST-free and other Natural products for prices less than a lot of processed foods.

Trader Joe's hasn't endorsed this review.  I write this because I'm a huge advocate for eating healthy and want to share any tips I have to make it easier to do so.  But...I wouldn't be opposed if they would advertise on my site or do a give-away.  I might just have to ask them!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Food Allergen Labeling, Part 2

In my last post, I wrote about how, not too long ago and much to my chagrin, I was surprised to learn that the "May Contains" statement on a food package is voluntary.  As long as the Top 8 Allergens are listed in consumer-friendly terms somewhere in the ingredient list, then food manufacturers are following the laws as outlined in the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act.  When a food manufacturer does include information, they do so in good faith but without any type of industry standardization.

So, while us consumers who purchase food for ourselves or for someone with an allergy are very appreciative of this labeling, we are also very, very confused!  In Part 1, I discussed a recent study that found over 24 different advisory terms with the major ones being some form of "May Contains", "Manufactured/Processed in a Facility/Plant", or "Made on the Same/Shared Equipment". I posed a question to you readers. Which allergen advisory labels prevent you from purchasing a food?

A study was published in 2007 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology regarding that very question.  At both a 2003 and a 2006 FAAN conference, participants (625 and 645, respectively) from all over the US were asked whether they heeded advisory labels, and if so, which ones.  This graph was included in a report by Dr. Scott Sicherer and presented to the FDA regarding the Use of Advisory Labeling of Allergens in Foods.


In 2006, consumers were less likely to heed precautionary warnings (75%) than in 2003 (85%).  From the graph, you can see that they are more likely to not purchase products with a "May Contain" statement than products manufactured or packaged in the same facility as products containing the allergen.  There is also caution exercised with products made on the same equipment.

As part of this study, the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of Nebraska tested various foods containing advisory allergen labels for traces of peanuts using Veratox, a peanut allergen test.  Accordingly, peanut protein was detected in 10% (20/200) of the foods they sampled, foods such as cereal bars, snack items, frozen foods, desserts, instant meals, bakery goods and baking ingredients. They found clinically significant levels of peanut (>1 mg of peanut or >0.25 mg of peanut protein) in 13 of those 200 products.  Their conclusion was because food products with advisory allergen labeling do contain detectable levels of peanuts, a risk exists to consumers choosing to eat such foods. This is important. They found that the type of labeling statement did not influence the likelihood of finding detectable peanut (except for products listing peanuts as an ingredient).  However, as we can see from the chart above, the wording of those advisory allergen statements did influence the types of foods that consumers purchased.

In looking at another graph from that presentation to the FDA in 2008, it appears that of those 13 products that had clinically significant levels of peanut protein, 2 had a "May Contain" statement, 3 were labeled  "Manufactured using Shared Equipment" and an astounding 7 had labels stating "Manufactured in a Shared Facility."  That's huge...that's the label that many consumers think is probably okay and not so much a risk!

I know it was just one study with 200 items, and I know that everyone has to make up their own mind and follow their own gut instinct as to what they feel comfortable eating.  We've never given Abigail anything that has the word peanut on it's label unless it ends with "free" as in peanut-free facility.  This isn't a game-changer for us.  But, if I was purchasing foods that had advisory warnings and thinking some were less risky than others...than I might consider the possibility that there's a bigger risk than I original thought!