We are used to hearing about different diets: South Beach, Atkins, Low Carb and countless others come to mind. However, for the numerous Americans who suffer from food allergies, intolerances, and Celiac disease, a special diet is not a choice, but a necessity. Finding food suitable to their diet is quite a challenge, and eating outside the safety of the home is easier said than done. But some grocery stores and food chains are now making an effort to better accommodate this underdog population.
National restaurant chains such as P.F. Chang’s and Outback Steakhouse offer full gluten-free menus at all their locations. Many of the gluten-free items at P.F. Chang’s are dairy and soy-free as well, or can be made allergen free. Meals can also be altered to exclude other allergens, such as shellfish. P.F. Chang’s and Outback Steakhouse even offer gluten-free desserts. Both companies also offer their complete gluten-free menus online. Many other companies have gotten the message about special diets as well. McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, and Jack in the Box all have a complete listing of allergy information for every one of their menu items on their respective websites. Taco Bell also offers a list of suggestions in order to avoid cross-contamination for those sensitive to wheat and gluten. At Baskin Robbins, top allergens are listed in bold for all their individual flavors. Ben and Jerry’s and Cold Stone Creamery provide a list of ingredients for their current flavors on their company websites too.
Gone are the days of smoothies filled with dairy. Jamba Juice is a good place for people with lactose or gluten intolerance as well. They now offer all fruit smoothies made with nothing but fruit and fruit juices and carry a complete listing of ingredients for all their smoothies and boosts.
But these companies are not the only ones taking notice. Whole Foods Market, the grocery chain famous for its natural and organic products, has jumped on the band wagon as well, labeling their personal brands as gluten, dairy, or soy-free. Store brands also label their products that they are free of other allergens, additives, or additional ingredients of concern, such as genetically modified organisms (GMO’s).
According to the Mayo Clinic, 1 percent of children and 5 percent of adults have a diagnosed food allergy. That means that roughly 608,117 children and 11,881,625 adults are affected. Though the percentages are small, the actual numbers are not. More than 160 foods have been identified as causing allergic reactions, but 90 percent of all reactions are caused by milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat and soy. The only treatment for a food allergy is strict avoidance of the allergen. A condition, which is similar to an allergy, is a food intolerance. Food intolerances affect an even larger number of people and the most well-known of which is lactose intolerance. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse says that approximately 30 to 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant.
Like many diseases and conditions, it is more prevalent in certain ethnic groups. The NDDIC estimates that approximately 80 percent of African Americans are affected. 80-100 percent of American Indians are also said to have it, as well as 90-100 percent of Asian Americans.
Just like those with an allergy, people with Celiac Disease (CD) cannot eat anything containing gluten, even in small amounts. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, oats, and rye. Celiac Disease is a genetic autoimmune disease that affects the small intestine. Recent studies show approximately that one in 133 people have Celiac Disease. Though that percentage is high, only an estimated 3 percent are diagnosed. This means that roughly 2.1 million Americans are living with undiagnosed Celiac Disease.
Another reason for more detailed labeling is because of new laws. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) went into effect on January 1, 2006. The act states that foods containing milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, and soy must declare the food in simple terms in the ingredient list. The allergen must also be stated if it is in any colors, flavors, or spice blends. Instead of simply saying “nut” or “seafood,” the specific nut or seafood must be listed.
Though the law is now in effect, products made before that date are not labeled under the new regulations.