Food Allergies and Intolerances
Do you suspect that something you eat is caus- ing those unusual symptoms you get from time to time? Food allergies are relatively rare in adults. They most commonly occur in children, who usually outgrow them over time. Foods that most often cause a true allergic reaction in chil- dren include egg whites, shellﬁsh, nuts, and milk. Dairy products can produce stomach cramps, bloating, gas, and diarrhea in adults, but these symptoms most often indicate lactose intolerance, an inability to digest lactose, the sugar that is found in milk and other dairy products. Lactose intolerance is much more common than you may think. Most people (except those of northern European descent) develop lactose intolerance in adulthood because their bodies gradually stop pro-ducing lactase, an intestinal enzyme that helps to digest lactose. If you think you may have lactose intolerance, switch to the many low-lactose or lac- tose-free dairy products that are now available. Lactase also is available over the counter in pill form.
Some people are sensitive to certain foods but are not actually allergic to them because the food does not trigger an allergic reaction. Food preserv- atives called sulﬁtes and ﬂavor enhancers such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) can produce headaches and other symptoms. Some people get migraine headaches after consuming red wine, cheese, or chocolate. Talk to your doctor about any symptoms you may be experiencing that you think may be food-related.
Buying, Preparing, and Storing Food
When you go to the grocery store, keep a few tips in mind to help you make the healthiest food choices. First, remember the Food Guide Pyramid and buy your groceries accordingly. That means ﬁlling your shopping cart with a wide variety of grain foods (such as breads, pasta, rice, and cereals), vegetables, and fruits. Choose whole-grain varieties of breads and pastas more often than those con- taining reﬁned white ﬂour. Buy only lean meats. Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Limit foods containing high amounts of fats or sugar, such as dough- nuts, pastries, chips, and cookies.
Second, select mostly fresh foods; processed and prepared foods can contain high amounts of fat, sodium, and added preservatives. Choose the freshest foods possible. Check the expiration date on food packages, especially on perishable
foods such as milk and other dairy products, eggs, and frozen vegetables. Put perishable items in your cart last to help prevent them from spoiling by limiting the time they remain out of the refrigerator. Avoid buying food in cans with bulging tops or dents; they could cause food poisoning. When you get home, put your perishable groceries in the refrigerator or freezer right away so harmful bacteria cannot multiply.
Proper food storage can guarantee that your foods will stay fresher longer and will also minimize the chances of contamination with bacteria. The temperature inside your refrigerator should be below 40 degrees Fahrenheit at all times. Avoid opening the refrigerator door unnecessarily, and don’t leave the door open for long periods. Keeping fresh fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator will pro- long their shelf life (tomatoes and bananas should be stored outside of the refrig- erator, however). Bread will keep longer if you store it in the freezer, but don’t put it in the refrigerator or it will dry out.
You should use up milk within 1 week after opening it and keep eggs, stored in their carton, no longer than 3 weeks. Consume fresh fruit stored in the refrig- erator within 3 to 7 days, depending on the fruit. Keep uncooked meat, ﬁsh, and poultry in the refrigerator no longer than 2 days. Note that if you defrost meat, ﬁsh, or poultry, you cannot refreeze it. Bread, however, can be thawed and refrozen.
Canned foods can be stored for up to 2 years in a cool, dry place. It’s a good idea to keep a stock of food staples, such as canned and frozen vegetables and fruits, rice, and pasta, along with seasonings and condiments, so you can put together a quick meal in a hurry. For example, heating up a can of black beans mixed with a can of diced and seasoned tomatoes and a chopped onion, served over rice, can be an easy and nutritious meal to make after a long day at work.
Safe food handling is essential to prevent food contamination and food poi- soning. Always wash your hands thoroughly before you start preparing food. It is very easy to contaminate foods in your kitchen with other foods, such as raw meat, poultry, or eggs, that can have high bacterial counts. In particular, uncooked or undercooked poultry is a leading source of bacterial contamination. Always wash any knives, cutting boards, and countertops that have come into contact with raw poultry, meat, or eggs using hot, soapy water, and wash your hands again after handling them. Never put cooked food onto a plate that had raw food on it. And be sure to cook all meat, poultry, and eggs thoroughly (to 140 degrees Fahrenheit) to kill any bacteria.
Another common cause of food poisoning is food that has been left out at room temperature when it should have been refrigerated, especially in hot weather. It is best to thaw frozen food in the refrigerator or the microwave, not on the countertop. At a picnic or backyard barbeque, make sure that you keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. And be sure to refrigerate any leftover food promptly. As a general rule, do not keep leftovers for more than 3 days.