Monday, March 29, 2010

Lupin Allergy in Europe

by Kelley Lindberg

It’s that time of year when families everywhere start looking ahead to vacations. Daffodils are blooming, travel brochures are arriving in the mail, and wanderlust is itching at our toes. I’ve started planning a dream vacation – a European adventure! We’re going to spend a day and a half in Paris, then head to Italy for nearly two weeks.

While I’m looking at airline fares, train schedules, and websites full of scenic photos (I’m going to look just like that fabulously fashionable model sipping wine at that sidewalk cafĂ© in her size 0 sundress, honest!), I also have been thinking about my son’s food allergies.

Traveling with food allergies always involves a little more planning and preparation than the average traveler might realize. But we’ve been traveling since he was tiny, and we’ve gotten some good routines and tools that help get us through safely. But this will be my son’s first trip to Europe, and I’ve discovered something new that we’ll have to deal with: lupin.

Ever heard of lupin? Most of us in the USA haven’t, fortunately. It’s the bean of a few species of lupine flower (like those hundreds of species of beautiful flowered stalks that grow wild here in the States, including Texas blue bonnets), and it’s ground up to make flour. Although we don’t use it here in the USA (yet), it’s been approved for use in bread flour in Europe since 1997. It’s apparently used a lot in pasta, bread, and pastries, especially in countries near the Mediterranean, like Italy.

What’s the big deal with lupin?

Well, if you’re allergic to peanuts, you’ve got about a 50% chance of being allergic to lupin flour, too. In Europe, they’ve discovered that lupin is the cause of many of the anaphylactic reactions they’re seeing.

So as I’m researching all things Italian, I decided I’d better look into lupin. I’d rather know before our trip if my son is going to react to this stuff, rather than finding out the hard way, at a restaurant in some little village in Italy, far from an English-speaking doctor.

I called my son’s allergist, Dr. Jones, who couldn’t find any prepared lupin serum from any manufacturer in the United States to do allergy testing with. So he suggested a skin-prick test using actual food made with lupin flour. I spent days searching for lupin flour or something made with it. I called European delis and bakeries in Salt Lake City – they’d never heard of it. I tried gluten-free stores. Same response. I went online and Googled the heck out of “lupin flour” and couldn’t find anything. Finally, Jamie Stern from the online grocery store Allergies and Me located some imported Italian pasta made with lupin flour for me.

I cooked the pasta until most of the water was cooked away, blended it up into a fine paste, and took it to the doctor’s office. There, he did what’s called a “prick to prick” test, where they prick the needle directly into the pasta, then prick my son’s skin with it.

The results? Drum roll, please…. Positive.

Sigh. Yep, we’re headed to Italy, the land of pasta and bread, and my son’s allergic to the flour they may use in it.

Well, forewarned is forearmed, as they say, so I’m going to be prepared. I’ve looked up how to say “lupin flour” in both French (farine de lupin) and Italian (farina del lupino). I’ve ordered a new medical ID bracelet for my son that lists peanuts, tree nuts, and lupin. I’ve ordered nifty laminated translation cards from SelectWisely that will help me communicate the severity of his allergy in both languages. And I’ve explained to my son that we will have to be very careful about every baked good he wants to try while we’re there, and he understands and is okay with that.

I’m hoping the use of lupin flour won’t be as widespread as I fear. Perhaps it’s still fairly exotic, and we won’t encounter very much of it. But I have no way of knowing until we’re there.

Despite this new worry, we’re still excited about our trip. I only wish we were leaving NOW – I keep counting the weeks, and it’s still too far away! But when we do finally go, I’ll write about our experiences with lupin flour, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I plan to enjoy all these travel brochures that keep piling up. (Even if all the happy vacationing models in the photos are a size 0.)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Online Allergy-Friendly Restaurant Guides

by Kelley Lindberg

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a website that listed all your local restaurants and told you how they handle food-allergic customers and which allergies they accommodate?

I’ve found two websites that may help do that someday. But both sites will require help from all of us to fill in the information. is a website created by a father of two food-allergic boys who got tired of driving around looking for a safe restaurant. So he’s created this site. It’s a database of over 600,000 restaurants all over the country, and you can search the list by city, zip code, state, or restaurant name. Then it will display all the restaurants in your area, along with any ratings that other food-allergic people have entered.

I typed in Layton, and got a list of over a hundred restaurants within five miles of my zip code (who knew there were so many!). But the site is new enough that no one has rated any of the restaurants in my area yet. So I entered a rating for Red Robin based on my experience there back in the fall (I wrote a blog entry about that Red Robin experience.) Some cities, like Boston and Los Angeles, have quite a few restaurants that have been rated. Other cities have no ratings yet (but you can still use it to find a listing of almost all the restaurants in the area). If you’re traveling, check it out.

The other website,, also depends on ratings from customers, and so far there are no listings for Utah. It lists only restaurants that users have entered. But you can find a few restaurants in many other states and a few other countries, so again, if you’re traveling, it’s worth checking out. I entered the same Red Robin review there, so Utah should have at least one allergy restaurant review show up soon.

With every newly diagnosed person with food allergies, one of the first questions they ask is about safe restaurants. “Where can I eat now?” “Can my kid eat fast food anymore?” “I’m sick of cooking and I need a break, but where can we go?”

On the Utah Food Allergy Network (UFAN) email forum, members often post those questions and other members send emails with great suggestions. But only people on that forum can see the answers. These websites will make it easier to share that kind of information with people all over the state and the country, neighbors, tourists, relatives, and the newly diagnosed and desperate (we’ve all been there!).

It may take a year or two before enough people have found these websites and entered ratings before they really become useful, but it seems like a godsend for those of us who have to deal with food allergies on a daily basis.

So please, if you have favorite restaurants that have been really helpful with your food allergies (or restaurants that were terrible, and you want to post a warning), go onto both of these websites and record your experience. It only takes a minute, and it can help take the stress out of someone else’s dining experience.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Allergy-Friendly Easter Candy

by Kelley Lindberg

Easter is just around the corner, so that means it’s time for my annual Easter candy round-up!

If your kids are only allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, you can find plenty of safe Easter candy at grocery stores like Target or Smith’s (Walmart had very few choices this year, for some reason). Look for Hershey products – not all Hershey’s products are nut-free, but several are. At Target I found Hershey’s chocolate bunnies (a hollow gold-foil wrapped bunny and a solid Princess Bunny), Hershey’s foil-wrapped chocolate eggs, Hershey’s candy-coated chocolate eggs, a 6-pack of Hershey’s milk chocolate bunnies, and a 6-pack of Hershey’s marshmallow eggs. You can also find nut-free jelly beans, such as Starburst Jelly Beans, SweeTart Jelly Beans, and Nerds Bumpy Jelly Beans in the grocery stores.

However, if you need to avoid milk, eggs, corn, or gluten, it gets harder. I did find three different flavors of Enjoy Life Foods' Boom Choco Choco bars at Whole Foods on 400 South in Salt Lake City this weekend, however, and those are free of the top 8 allergens, plus corn. (They're expensive, but great for a chocolate treat in an Easter basket!)

Luckily, there are several really good manufacturers and grocers online who offer allergy-friendly chocolates and candies for every holiday. So check out these sites, but be sure to order this week. Most sites say they can only promise delivery in time for Easter if you order by March 21.

Allergies and Me: This is a great find for gluten-free candy! Lots of gluten-free and other allergen-free candies, like licorice vines (in several flavors), lollipops, and bubble gum. This site is also a great place to find all sorts of gluten-free and allergen-friendly groceries. Update: Jamie Stern, from Allergies and Me, commented about some new chocolate they've added: "We have added several chocolate bars from Yamate Chocolatier - many are egg, diary, lactose, yeast free in addition to being gluten free..and some are vegan. They are good for those with a diabetic diet as well." (I added her update here in case you miss it in the Comments. Thanks, Jamie!)

Vermont Nut Free: Their chocolates are peanut-free and nut-free, but they do have milk and egg warnings on them. But their selection of nut-free chocolates is great – chocolate pops on a stick, bunnies, truffles, gold-foil-wrapped coins, toffee crunch bark, cream-filled chocolate eggs, etc. Even complete Easter baskets!

Divvies: Nut-free, dairy-free, and egg-free chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, gummy stars, and chocolate chips! Oh my! This online grocer sells allergy-friendly foods from several vendors, but the best part is they sell Enjoy Life! Foods’ Boom Choco Boom chocolate bars in a variety pack of six bars. (Enjoy Life! Foods are free from the top 8 allergens.) They also sell some candy manufactured in Canada’s nut-free and peanut-free factories, so it’s worth checking out.

Amanda’s Own Confections: They offer a whole line of chocolate goodies for Easter and Passover, as well as jelly beans and other candies, all dairy-free, nut-free, egg-free, and gluten-free!

Chocolate Emporium: Read the ingredients carefully on this website, but they do offer a lot of kosher (parve) chocolate items for Passover, all of which are dairy-free, and most of which are gluten-free. Most of the Passover chocolates do, however, contain nut contamination, and some contain egg whites. The only Passover chocolate items that didn’t contain eggs, nuts, gluten, or dairy that I could find were the chocolate-covered raisins, chocolate-covered apricots, and chocolate chips. Their Easter chocolate list has a much larger number of items that are milk-free, nut-free, egg-free, and gluten-free, including bunnies, pops (chocolate shapes on a stick), foil-covered mini eggs, jelly beans, a bunny-shaped chocolate box filled with jelly beans, etc. Call before you order to ensure you get what you need. As an added bonus, all Easter items are kosher. Go figure.

Peanut Free Planet: This site sells candy from lots of different manufacturers, including Vermont Nut Free and Amanda’s Own. You’ll find chocolate, jelly beans, and all sorts of allergen-friendly groceries.

Yummy Earth: Yummy Earth candies (lollipops, gummy bears) are corn-free, as well as being free from the big 8, and they use natural colorings and flavorings. They’re available in health food stores, but the lollipops are cheaper on here: Yummy Earth Organic Lollipops; Yummy Earth Organic Gummy Bears.

Oriental Trading Co.: Remember, Easter eggs and Easter baskets don’t have to be filled with candy. Oriental Trading Company offers a bazillion (I counted them) little novelty toys that fit inside Easter eggs or into Easter baskets, and you can buy them by the dozen or more. (And their Easter sale is going on now – need 24 Easter finger puppets for $3.99? You’re in luck!) And for the ultimate in time-saving, you can even buy plastic eggs pre-filled with little toys (2 dozen for $7.99). Now THAT’s a helpful Easter Bunny.

Hoppy shopping!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Food Allergy Desensitization – Rushing Now Could Jeopardize Long-Term Success

by Kelley Lindberg

Two weeks ago, I wrote about a new British study being funded to research desensitization for food allergies on a larger scale than some previous studies (“New Desensitization Research Project in England”). Whenever I write about a new study like this, I worry that allergic individuals will try desensitizing themselves – or, more worrisome, their children – without benefit of the careful dosing and treatment regimen that the studies’ doctors provide.

I talked to Dr. Douglas Jones, a board-certified allergist in Layton (Rocky Mountain Allergy, Asthma, Immunology), last week about this very issue. He had just attended the February meeting of the Utah Society of Allergy and Asthma and the Annual meeting for the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. He asked me to share with everyone some highlights of those meetings regarding this topic of food desensitization.

There are some limited studies that show some promising results as far as patients being desensitized and even becoming tolerant to foods they are allergic to (peanut in particular). There is not a standardized protocol yet. This is something that is currently under investigation and of high interest to allergists across the country and here in Utah. When there is appropriate medical evidence and support, food desensitization is something that will likely be offered by Dr. Jones and some other board-certified allergists in their clinics and under their supervision sometime in the near future.

Given the risks associated with this and the limited data, it is important to proceed appropriately and safely. Please do NOT try things at home on your own. Dr. Jones understands the frustrations of patients, your anxiety, and your desire to have safer and more effective treatment. He is just as anxious to try to provide a safe and effective treatment for patients with food allergies. He just wants to emphasize that it is important to go about things the right way, however. That way, when we do start using them in a clinical environment, we’ll have the best information and protocols possible for success. A little caution now is the key to long-term success. And that long-term success – in the form of a food allergy cure – is what we all want for our children and for their children in the years to come. Stay tuned, this is a rapidly developing area!

Many thanks to Dr. Douglas Jones for allowing me to share this information with my readers.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Food Allergies in Novels

by Kelley Lindberg

I just finished reading Her Fearful Symmetry, the new novel from Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife.

In the course of the book, one of the sisters ends up having to go to the hospital. The admitting nurse asks the healthy sister the usual admitting questions about her sick sister, including: “Allergies?”

The healthy sister answers, “Tetracycline, mould, soy.”

Now I realize 92% of the people who read that line won’t even give it a moment’s consideration. But when I read it, guess what I thought to myself?

I thought, “Soy? She’s allergic to soy? Why that’s in everything. Why hasn’t she had to deal with this allergy in this story? She’s just moved to London from the United States, so she’s faced with finding new grocery stores, new restaurants, new products that will be safe for her…This is HUGE!”

Yeah, I got a little sidetracked from the story. I love that the author threw in a food allergy, making her character topical and typical, since food allergies affect so many people now. But of all the food allergies she could have chosen, it seems to me that only wheat/gluten would have been harder to deal with on a day-to-day basis than soy, since soy products appear to be in even more products than milk.

To those of us who deal with food allergies, a food allergy to soy (or milk or wheat or nuts or anything else) becomes a rather significant part of our grocery shopping, dining out, and cooking. So to see it treated so casually by fictional characters is a little jarring. It’s as if the character said, “And oh, by the way, she’s missing a leg or two.” What? Missing a leg? Well then how does she get up and down all those stairs to her flat in London? Does she have a prosthetic? Crutches? A wheelchair? How does she hop on the Tube and get lost in the crowd so quickly? Does her new boyfriend have a problem with this? And what about….

Yep, you’re right. I’m over-reacting again. Normal people would have just read that line and moved on, enjoying the story. And I have to remind myself that the longer we live with our food allergies, the easier it gets, and the less we let it affect our lives.

So apparently the soy-allergic sister just went through all of the adjustments of dealing with food allergies in a new country off the pages, and she quickly became familiar with her new routines, and I don’t need to worry about her.

But I still wanted to tell her new boyfriend to check the ingredients label on the bread when he made her toast. You can never be too careful, you know, even if you’re fictional.