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Friday, April 30, 2010

Food Diary 101

Sometimes food allergies present themselves in less-than-clear ways. Not everyone experiences immediate, life-threatening reactions. Some individuals experience swelling of the throat, an itchy mouth, redness around the mouth, or trouble breathing. When that happens, it tends to be almost instantly after consuming the allergen trigger, making the allergen almost obvious.

However, for individuals who experience headaches, eczema, or hives, those symptoms may not appear right away. In fact, some food allergies will not appear in a reaction until up to two days after consuming the food.  

Food allergy testing is recommended, but the recommendation comes with also using a food diary. Why? Allergy testing is not 100% reliable. There are false positives, as well as false negatives. Some doctors claim skin testing is more reliable, others claim blood testing is the way to go.

What can you do? You can do both. Follow your doctor’s advice to get the appropriate testing, but start using a food diary right away.

Food Diary Step #1 – Journal for Analysis


The trick with using a food diary, is to use it as though someone else will be reading and interpreting the results. When you need to look back at entries that are two months old, your details will not only be helpful, they’ll be crucial. If you note you had a veggie sandwich with water for lunch, that raises more questions than it provides answers. Which veggies? Which bread, what brand? What condiments were consumed? Start thinking like a detective.

Food Diary Step #2 – Consume Fewer Ingredients


In my pre-allergy days, I would say I likely consumed more than 200 ingredients in any given day – easily. That number sounds shocking, until you start reading labels.

Here is an example of a typical lunch for me, in my pre-allergy days:
  • MorningStar Farms Mushroom Lover’s Burger
  • On Nature’s Own Honey Wheat Bread
  • with Provolone Cheese
  • with Mustard
  • with water to drink
Sounds simple, right? Let’s take a peak at the ingredients…

MorningStar Farms Mushroom Lover’s Burger Ingredients: MorningStar Farms Mushroom Lovers

TEXTURED VEGETABLE PROTEIN (SOY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, WHEAT GLUTEN, WATER FOR HYDRATION), BUTTON MUSHROOMS, ONION, PORTABELLA MUSHROOMS, CORN OIL, EGG WHITES, SWEET RED PEPPER, GARLIC PUREE (GARLIC, WATER, NATURAL FLAVOR, CITRIC ACID), CONTAINS TWO PERCENT OR LESS OF BALSAMIC VINEGAR, SPICES, SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE, MODIFIED TAPIOCA STARCH, METHYLCELLULOSE, SALT, MALTODEXTRIN, MUSHROOM POWDER, HYDROLYZED VEGETABLE PROTEIN (CORN GLUTEN, SOY PROTEIN, WHEAT GLUTEN), CARAMEL COLOR, DRIED YEAST, NATURAL FLAVORS FROM NON-MEAT SOURCES, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, CORN SYRUP SOLIDS, DISODIUM INOSINATE, DISODIUM GUANYLATE, NONFAT DRY MILK, GUM ARABIC, CITRIC ACID.

Nature’s Own Honey Wheat Bread Ingredients:
Nature's Own Honey Wheat
UNBLEACHED ENRICHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, MALTED BARLEY FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMIN MONONITRATE, RIBOFLAVIN, FOLIC ACID), WATER, HONEY, SUGAR, WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR, RYE FLOUR, WHEAT BRAN, YEAST, CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF EACH OF THE FOLLOWING: WHEAT GLUTEN, SALT, SOYBEAN OIL, VINEGAR, CULTURED WHEAT FLOUR, DOUGH CONDITIONERS (CONTAINS ONE OR MORE OF THE FOLLOWING: SODIUM STEAROYL LACTYLATE, CALCIUM STEAROYL-2-LACTYLATE, MONOGLYCERIDES AND/OR DIGLYCERIDES, CALCIUM PEROXIDE, CALCIUM IODATE, DATEM, ETHOXYLATED MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES, AZODICARBONAMIDE), YEAST FOOD (AMMONIUM SULFATE) , MONOCALCIUM PHOSPHATE, CALCIUM SULFATE, ENZYMES, SOY FLOUR, SOY LECITHIN.

I could go on with the cheese and the mustard ingredients from this example, but I think I made my point (hint: there is more in cheese than just “cheese”). Add in two more meals, side dishes, and what do you have? You have a nightmare! Eating organic is not just a fad, it can also dramatically reduce the number of ingredients you consume.

Food Diary Step #3 – Track Your Symptoms


Along with noting what you eat, you need to note how you feel. That can be tough if you have vague feelings of being unwell, but you can simplify this by even noting days you feel okay, better than okay, or less than okay. Time will help you sort out the details, but you DO need those details! Of course, if you have more specific things that occur such as hives, if you can note the time you began to react, that will be very helpful information.

Where and how you create your food diary is up to you. I would recommend that if you use pen and paper, you later input the information into a computerized format. It’s too difficult to search through paper, but on the computer you can use “find” functions to look for specific items. I tried many different food allergy tracking tools, but I ended up using an application called HandBase for the iPhone ($9.99). Once a week I then exported the database to Microsoft Excel so I could view, analyze, and theorize. It wasn’t a perfect solution but it worked for me.

What about you? Do you have Food Dairy tips to share?

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