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Health

Alternative, healthful foods available for allergy sufferers

| Saturday, June 13, 2009

Christine Doherty's body won't tolerate wheat gluten. She's allergic to corn and eggs. And her daughter has soy allergies.

They still eat. The Doherty family simply avoids processed foods -- which can be stripped of essential nutrients and contain excess sugar, salt, fat and chemical preservatives -- and seeks out gluten-free and low-allergen fare.

"It's not like you have to choke freaky food down," says Doherty, a naturopathic doctor in New Hampshire who specializes in food allergies and celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder.

More than 11 million Americans are estimated to have food allergies, which occur when the immune system reacts poorly to certain foods. If you have an allergy, you know: Within minutes of eating the offending food, you might experience hives or swelling or have trouble breathing.

Less obvious and more common are food intolerances, which can be digestive issues that don't involve the immune system. Symptoms might include cramps, gas and bloating. Unlike with food allergies, you might be able to eat small amounts of problem foods.

But don't torture yourself. Instead, try some of these lower-risk alternatives to the most common food allergies, including milk, eggs, peanuts and soy.

Apples and applesauce

In addition to vitamin C, pectin (a soluble fiber), potassium and important phytochemicals, apples contain high amounts of quercetin, which can help reduce allergy symptoms, according to a study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. German researchers recently showed organically produced apples have a 15 percent higher antioxidant capacity than conventionally produced apples.

Try this: Lightly saute slices from one apple with one diced potato and onion.

Cruciferous vegetables

Some people with allergies have trouble removing toxins through the liver and kidneys, nutrition expert Bonnie Minsky says. If the toxins back up into the body, it increases the chances of inflammation, which leaves an allergic person even more sensitive. Vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and cabbage greatly assist the process, she says.

Try this: Eat broccoli steamed and mixed with fresh garlic and olive oil.

Quinoa

Probably the least allergenic of the grains, quinoa's high protein content (12 percent to 18 percent) and balanced set of essential amino acids make it a complete source of protein, according to chef Lisa Williams (lisacooksallergenfree.com), who has allergies to wheat and dairy and sensitivities to sugar and gluten. Quinoa is a good source of dietary fiber, phosphorus, magnesium and iron.

Try this: Because breakfast often is problematic for people with allergies, try quinoa in the morning; add nuts and fruit if you can.

Lentils

Food can be expensive when you're on a specialized diet, which makes relatively cheap lentils a superfood on all fronts. Lentils are loaded with iron, protein and folic acid. One cup has 16 grams of fiber -- six times as much as a serving of Metamucil, Doherty says. They're also versatile and easy to store.

If you're allergic to peanuts, you have a 5 percent chance of having an allergic reaction to other legumes such as lentils, says allergy expert Dr. Lee Freund, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Food Allergies."

Try this: Combine two cups of cooked lentils with two oranges cut into cubes and two chopped sweet peppers, naturopathic doctor Michael Murray suggests in "The Condensed Encyclopedia of Healing Food." Season with salt and your favorite herbs and spices.

Rice milk

Rice is a standard hypoallergenic food. Although rice milk is low in protein, it's a popular alternative for those who avoid cow's milk because they are lactose intolerant.

Try this: Make a smoothie with two cups of plain rice milk, a cup of juice, a few chucks of frozen fruit and a shot of omega 3 fish oil (unless you have seafood allergies), as suggested by Robyn O'Brien, founder of AllergyKids and author of the book "The Unhealthy Truth."

Figs

Packed with potassium and containing more calcium than orange juice, sweet figs beat candy for an instant sugar fix, says Doherty, who compiles the Top 10 Superfood List for Living Without magazine. Figs are high in soluble fiber, which can relieve constipation. Dark figs have a stronger taste. Eat them fresh, if you can.

Try this: "Use a fig puree as a sweetener," nutrition expert Jonny Bowden says. Combine 8 ounces of figs with a quarter-cup to a third of a cup of water in a blender. Pureed figs also can be used as a sandwich filler.

Dulse

A red seaweed that is salty when it's dry and slippery when you start to chew, it's high in iodine, which is good for the thyroid, Doherty says. It also has calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron and other vitamins and minerals.

Try this: Use it like a condiment; sprinkle the powder on broccoli or potatoes, or add to salad dressings. Add big leaves to soup.

Avocado

Avocados can be an ideal source for healthful fat. It's also a natural anti-inflammatory because it has a high amount of vitamin B-6 and magnesium, Minsky says. "Avocado is also a blood-sugar stabilizer and liver cleanser, which further lowers the risk of allergic inflammation," she says.

If you have a latex sensitivity or are allergic to melons, you may have a reaction to avocados.

Try this: Mix a cup of corn, a cup of tomatillo salsa and one diced avocado. Top with cilantro.

Sweet potato

Nutritious and rich in complex carbohydrates and fiber, sweet potatoes are a member of the morning glory family. They are brimming with carotenoids, vitamin C, potassium, fiber and vitamin B-6, which all contribute to reduced inflammation, Minsky says.

Try this: Make sweet-potato fries by slicing and lightly coating with olive oil and your favorite spices. Bake until crispy (for about 20 minutes) at 300 degrees.

Salba seeds

A light-colored version of chia seeds, salba seeds can be found as a whole grain, in ground powder or in some snack products. Unlike flax seeds, they are digestible in whole seed form, Doherty says. They're rich in omega 3 fatty acids, dietary fiber, antioxidants, magnesium, folate, calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C.

Try this: Sprinkle the seeds in smoothies, cereal, yogurt or casseroles. Doherty mixes equal parts rice bran, salba and flax meal and puts it on oatmeal or gluten-free macaroni and cheese.

Additional Information:

Food allergies

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