By Deborah Cassell
Executive Editor,
Candy Industry

There are few people whose lives haven’t been touched by food allergies or intolerances, either personally or through family members.

Executive Editor Deborah Cassell is food allergy-free ... and wishes her nephew Christian was, too.

By Deborah Cassell

Christian (8) can’t eat peanuts. Jake (17) has a gluten intolerance. Cullen (2) doesn’t digest dairy. And Rachael (3) is allergic not only to dairy, but eggs and sesame.

Truth is, there are few people whose lives haven’t been touched by food allergies or intolerances, either personally or through family members. Most often it’s the parents of young children, for whom food allergies are increasingly common, who have to tackle said diagnoses. And doing isn’t so easy, as they’ll attest.

A food allergy, by definition, is an adverse immune response to a food protein. A food intolerance is a digestive system response or inability to properly break down the food. Both can have serious affects on the body (and mind). The most common offenders: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish.

A nationwide survey found that more than half (54.6%) of all U.S. citizens tested positive to one or more allergens, more than 50% of homes have at least six detectable allergens present, and allergic diseases affect as many as 40 to 50 million Americans, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. When it comes to food allergies:

• In 2007, approximately 3 million children under the age of 18 were reported to have a food or digestive allergy in the previous 12 months.

• The prevalence of food allergy among children under the age of 18 increased 18% from 1997 to 2007.

• Kids with a food allergy are two to four times more likely to have conditions such as asthma and other allergies.

• Food allergies affect about 6% of children under the age of three.

• More than 3 million people in the United States report being allergic to peanuts, tree nuts or both.
The good news: An increasing number of products address said dietary restrictions, including those sold by There, consumers nationwide can treat themselves (and their children) to sweets free from artificial everything. It also carries items for those who subscribe to the Feingold Diet.
According to the Feingold Association of the United States, “Many learning and behavior problems begin in your grocery cart!” The organization of families and professionals, founded in 1976, “is dedicated to helping help children and adults apply proven dietary techniques for better behavior, learning and health, and to generating public awareness of the potential role of foods and synthetic additives in behavior, learning and health problems.”

As explained at, “Numerous studies show that certain synthetic food additives can have serious learning, behavior and/or health effects for sensitive people.” The Feingold Diet determines if certain foods or additives are triggering particular symptoms. If followed, it eliminates artificial (synthetic) coloring, artificial (synthetic) flavoring, aspartame and the artificial (synthetic) preservatives BHA, BHT and TBHQ.

Feingold has been used to treat, ear infections, asthma, ADD/ADHD, autism/PPD/Aspergers, bedwetting, depression, dyslexia/dysgraphia/learning disabilities, eczema/hives, eye muscle disorders, headaches/migraines, OCD, seizures, sleep disorders, speech difficulties and Tourette Syndrome.
My friend Angelique, who was raised on Feingold, now takes measures to treat her son for his dairy allergy. Cullen lives on a blend of rice and soy milk.

And my nephew Christian can munch on toast topped with soy butter.

Meanwhile, Jake has grown 4 in. since switching to a gluten-free diet, fed partly by snacks from yours truly (such as the Glutino chocolate-covered pretzels I sampled at the 2010 Sweets & Snacks Expo).

As for Rachael, whose dairy allergy is so severe she gets hives if milk even touches her skin, soy milk and avocados are essential forms of fat intake.

“Read labels carefully,” warns her mother, Marci, who has learned that many items labeled “nondairy,” such as soy cheese pizza and soy yogurt, contain milk protein. She relies on Earth Balance soy butter, Tofutti Cuties (soy ice cream sandwiches) and Soy Delicious brand treats as alternatives to off-limits offerings; plain popcorn and potato chips, Fritos, Dum Dums, gummy bears and jelly beans are always dairy-free, she adds.

Rachael’s mom gets around her little girl’s egg allergy with vegan recipes and an egg substitute (Ener-G Egg Replacer).

Then there’s sesame, which Rachael’s doctor calls “‘the new peanut,’ so I guess we are just on the cutting edge,” Marci jokes. The FDA doesn’t require manufacturers to label sesame as an allergen, but Trader Joe’s does, she’s learned.

“It is tough to figure it all out when your child is first diagnosed for a food allergy, but after a few years of changing your habits and educating yourself, it becomes much easier to navigate,” Marci concludes.
Luckily, I’ve escaped this epidemic (unless you count the unexplained, adverse reaction my gums have to fresh pineapple or the brief coughing fit I have after eating ice cream - tolerable responses given my affinity for both). Wish I could say the same for friends and relatives. But if The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network is correct, most should outgrow these dietary disruptions by age 10.
Here’s hoping.