Monday, February 23, 2009

The Joy of Cooking???

Believe it or not, I’ve discovered an up-side to the bad economy: I’m cooking more.

It’s not like I didn’t cook before. But we did go out to dinner at least once a week, and I found myself relying on pre-packaged foods for fast dinners on the nights when we were home.

But lately, I’ve been making myself think about dinner more than five minutes ahead of time. It’s making a difference in how we’ve been eating, and I think it’s a good thing.

I’m not one of those people who love to cook. I love to eat, but cooking… not so much. Frankly, I’d rather scrub grout. So it’s always a surprise to me when dinnertime rolls around and I have to – wait for it – dream up a new meal. Hey, didn’t I just do this last night? Why is everyone hungry again? They’ve got a lot of nerve!

But with the economy falling down around our feet, I’ve realized that it’s cheaper to cook than eat out (duh), so I’ve begun looking through my recipe box. For some reason, I cut out recipes from newspapers and magazines all the time. It’s like I think I’ll actually make them sometime. It’s funny and pathetic at the same time. I’m such an optimist. A delusional optimist. I’d like to think it’s one of my cuter characteristics, but I have my suspicions it’s not. Whatever.

So I’m looking through my recipe box and finding things like meatloaf. Hey, I think, I haven’t made meatloaf in years. I wonder if my son the carnivore would like it. I make it, and holy cow! He ate two slices!

It’s not like meatloaf requires a Cordon Bleu education to make. So why did it take me so long to think about preparing it for my family? Oh yeah. I recall the reason now: I have to remember to thaw the hamburger meat in time, and then cook it in the oven for 45 minutes. That means it never fit into my schedule of starting dinner a maximum of 8 minutes before my family all faints from hunger.

My crockpot has been getting a workout lately, too. Gotta love that thing – throw some meat and veggies and a little broth into it in the morning, come home at night and voila! Everything’s done. Whoever invented the crockpot gets my vote for genius of the century (um, the last century, that it).

It hasn’t been easy retraining myself. I don’t plan ahead well. But since I’ve been trying for several weeks, I’ve discovered that it’s getting a little easier. I guess I’m building a new routine, and the results are working pretty well.

The best part about my new cooking routine is that we’re finally eating healthier. Less fat, more fruits and veggies, and fewer chemically-named ingredients. And, of course, less chance of food allergy cross-contamination. I know exactly how each dish was prepared! I know nobody picked the walnuts off the top of the salad before serving it to me because they forgot I said “no nuts, please.” I know the rice doesn’t have almond slivers in it. I know the breading on the chicken is safe.

And the kitchen smells good, too.

If I’m not careful, I might actually start enjoying this cooking thing. (Do flying pigs have enough meat on their wings to make buffalo wings? Hmm…)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Good News from the Medical World

With all the stress, confusion, and uncertainty that comes with food allergies, wouldn’t it be great to get a little bit of good news for a change? How’s this:

Trials in mice of a Chinese herbal treatment called FAHF-2 protected peanut-allergic mice from anaphylaxis for more than eight months after the treatment stopped.

Really. Perhaps a type of vaccine is finally on the distant horizon!

Di. Xiu-Min Li, an associate professor of pediatrics and the director of the Center for Chinese Herbal Therapy for Allergy and Asthma at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and her colleagues published their findings in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology this month. Their findings reinforce previous studies showing promise for this particular drug, which has already received investigational new drug approval from the FDA. Read an article about this latest study on the Medical News Today website here.

Of course, this is great news for mice everywhere. But what’s even better is they’re conducting human trials right now at Mount Sinai to study the safety and effectiveness of FAHF-2 on even more food allergies, like tree nuts, fish, and shellfish, in addition to peanuts.

Ordinarily, it takes years and years for a new drug to go through all the testing, research, modifications, and approval process before the FDA will finally allow that new drug to become commercially available. So for most of us, even if this drug really works the way we hope it will in humans, it will be years before we will be able to take advantage of it. But even so, this news gives all of us hope for the future of food allergy treatment and prevention.

I can’t imagine how wonderful it will feel to have a medicine like this available for allergic people. Even if it meant the allergic person had a shot every month, it would be worth the peace of mind knowing that an innocent looking cookie would never again betray someone you love.

I am so grateful that there are brilliant minds out there working on this for us. As I sit here on this overcast, cold February day, it gives me a warm feeling of hope, like spring truly is on the way.

Monday, February 9, 2009

To Kiss or Not to Kiss...

Valentine’s Day is almost here. Yes, it’s that time of year again… the time for love, romance, special dates – and kissing.


Just what we food-allergy sufferers need. Something else to worry about.

For young people, kissing is complicated enough. Think what kisses can lead to – brain malfunctions, ruined reputations, marriage proposals, bad dates, broken friendships, unreasonable expectations, dizziness, pregnancy, forgetfulness, poor fashion choices, high credit card bills, lousy steak dinners… and that’s all in a good weekend.

Now, throw in the fact that food allergens can stay in a person’s mouth for hours after they eat, and suddenly you’ve added “scary trips to the ER” to the list.

My son is only ten. He’s still in the “Oh gross, they’re kissing!” stage. Every time he sees someone kissing on TV, he slaps his forehead as if to say, “What are they THINKING?” I’m encouraging this attitude. As far as I’m concerned, he can think kissing is gross until he’s 35. Or 40. Really.

But sadly, I figure I’ve only got another few years (okay, I admit it, I’m optimistic) before the hormones suddenly turn from “eww” to “oooh.” And then I’ll be staying up late, worrying about all the usual things parents of teens worry about, plus that other one: “Did the girl he’s kissing eat peanuts today?”

Food allergies bring a whole new aspect – a really ugly one – to the already dangerous minefield of kissing.

In 2003, the Journal of Investigational Allergology and Clinical Immunology published a paper from Swedish doctors who studied how many allergic people had a reaction after kissing someone who’d eaten the offending food. Their study showed 12% of survey participants had an allergic reaction after kissing. (When they eliminated respondents who “didn’t know” if a reaction was caused by a kiss, the numbers rose to 16%.) That’s not comforting.

As an interesting side note, the doctors surveyed both Russian and Swedish participants. Of those, 12% of the Swedish survey participants reported a reaction, and only 5% of the Russian participants did. I can think of all sorts of jokes here about who you would rather kiss – a member of the Swedish Bikini Team or the Russian Swimming Team, but that would be rude and stereotypical. So I’ll let you come up with your own jokes.

The Mayo Clinic Proceedings website outlines a 2003 case report (apparently 2003 was an extraordinarily bad year for kissing) of a seafood-allergic woman kissing her boyfriend after he’d just eaten shrimp, and then suffering from an anaphylactic reaction and having to go to the hospital.

This case report was only one of many that have been showing up with alarming frequency in the literature, so some doctors in New York decided to study how long peanut residue could stay active in the saliva of people who’ve eaten peanut butter, and whether or not brushing teeth or other “interventions” would help get rid of the allergens. They published their results in 2006. They studied 38 people. Immediately after eating 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, the subjects’ amount of allergens in their mouth varied “considerably,” but many had levels of peanut proteins high enough to cause reactions. They tested again one hour after eating; at that point, 87% had undetectable levels. Unfortunately, that means 13% still had detectable levels of peanut in their mouth.

When they used interventions to cleanse the mouth immediately after eating peanut butter, such as rinsing or brushing their teeth, the allergens were reduced, but still remained in approximately 40% of the samples. Their conclusion: “Patients with peanut allergy require counseling regarding the risks of kissing or sharing utensils, even if their partners have brushed their teeth or chewed gum. Advice to reduce risks, although not as ideal as total avoidance, includes waiting a few hours plus eating a peanut-free meal.”

Another comment in the study added: “Teenagers with peanut and other food allergies need to be reminded that to stay safe, restraint and patience are necessary even in the most intimate situations.”

Yeah, good luck with that. Parents have been trying to remind teenagers to use restraint and patience to stay safe since they were running around poking spears into angry wooly mammoths.

So what’s a teen to do? Well, here’s what the experts recommend:

1. Tell your date what you’re allergic to, and explain how serious it is.
2. Ask your date to refrain from eating those foods on the day of your date.
3. Ask your date to brush their teeth and wash hands if they have eaten something you’re allergic to, and wait AT LEAST one hour before kissing.
4. Keep your EpiPens with you at all times.
5. Wear a medical ID bracelet, so if you end up unconscious, the EMTs will know what to do with you. A bracelet also is a good way to "break the news" to people -- when they ask what the bracelet is for, it's easy to explain food allergies without sounding like you're fishing for a kiss.

As for us parents, here’s what we can do:

1. Worry.
2. Pray.
3. Trust that we’ve taught them well.
4. Love them.
5. Breathe a sigh of relief when they come home safe with that silly look on their face. Despite the silly look.
6. Keep on the lookout for other teens who also have food allergies, and try fruitlessly to arrange accidental meetings between your child and those other teens.

Personally, I’m going to be creating a “dating application” for my son. All of his prospective dates will have to complete the application, submit to a lie detector test, and provide a $100 deposit for ambulance transportation fees before the date commences.

I can hear my son slapping his forehead now.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Peanut Butter Recall

Q: When is being allergic to food a good thing?

A: When that food is involved in a nationwide recall because it’s contaminated with salmonella.

Two years ago, in February of 2007, peanut butter made in the ConAgra Foods Inc. plant in Georgia was found to be contaminated with salmonella, and hundreds of people fell ill from it. Now, here it is February again, two years later, and another bout of peanut butter salmonella has cropped up, this time from peanut butter and peanut paste processed by Peanut Corp. of America in Georgia. Again, hundreds of people are falling ill – as of January 28, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s web site, 529 people from 43 states and one person in Canada have been reported infected, and “the infection might have contributed to eight deaths.”

Originally, the FDA thought the salmonella was only in peanut butter sold to institutions such as hospitals or nursing homes. But now they’ve realized it could be in any number of products that use peanut paste, from cooking sauces to baked goods, and even pet foods. The list of recalled products is up to 180 products now. (Click here for the CDC’s recall list.)

Silver linings are great, aren’t they? There isn’t often a silver lining to having a food allergy. But right now, there are probably about a million American families that are breathing a collective sigh of relief because this is one food problem they DON’T have to worry about. What a nice change of pace!

We’re always told to count our blessings. But sometimes we forget that blessings come in many disguises, and from the least likely of sources. But right now, I’m counting my son’s peanut allergy as a blessing. I didn’t have to worry about the food I put in his school lunch this morning. I don’t have to worry that my family will become deathly ill from a contaminated box of rocky road ice cream tonight. And I don’t have to spend this afternoon scouring my pantry shelves for the 180 products that have been recalled. I got rid of everything peanut-related 9 years ago. That means I can spend today doing something else, like taxes.

Um…Wait, did I say that was a blessing?