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  • How Food Allergies Are Changing What Foods We Eat, Including Those Who Don't Even Have Food Allergies

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    As we mentioned in a previous post, 3.6% of Americans have food allergens and the eight most common allergens are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish. A recent article from the Chicago Tribune discussed the effects food allergies have on what foods we eat and how it has begun to change, with certain food staples starting to disappear from restaurant menus and instead being replaced by more allergy-free foods. It further talks about how the restaurant business is taking more cautionary steps in how their food is prepared and what ingredients go into each dish.

    One reason restaurants are doing this is so that they can properly comply with certain eating restrictions people with allergies or diet preferences have. For example, the article mentions a restaurant in Stapleton, Colorado called Next Door that puts acronyms on their menu to note that things are “GF” (gluten-friendly), “DF” (dairy-free), “V+” (vegan) and “GFO” (gluten-friendly optional). Additionally, the Chicago Tribune reported that according to Dataessential, nearly 26 percent of U.S. restaurant menus now have a “gluten-free” call-out.

    Another reason why restaurants are making changes to what ingredients are in their food as well as adjustments to their food-handling practices is so that they make people with food allergens feel more comfortable dining at their establishment. For example, at Next Door they top salads with sunflower seeds instead of nuts, fry calamari or pickles in cornstarch or polenta instead of wheat flour and use quinoa as the base in their veggie bowl because it doesn’t contain gluten. To further ensure that they are allergy-friendly, Next Door also doesn’t allow peanuts or soy on the premises. By doing this, Next Door’s chef, Merlin Verrier, stated that parents with children who have peanut allergies can feel safe bringing them to their restaurant to enjoy a meal with no risk of allergy-related cross-contamination. Another example of a food chain accommodating food allergies is Chipotle and how they don’t use five of the top eight food allergens in their food–egg, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish or fish.

    And so, with more and more places making changes to the ingredients in the foods they serve and omitting certain allergy-prone foods that used to be staples in their kitchens, those of us that don’t have food allergies are still having what we eat become altered as well. Many people and restaurant owners feel it is for the better because more people can have the peace of mind in knowing that what they are putting into their bodies is good for them and free from any food allergens they may have. However, others like Ruchi Gupta, a food-allergy researcher and pediatrician at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Northwestern Medicine, are concerned that phasing out foods like peanuts, tree nuts and gluten products entirely from menus might make people even more sensitive to them due to lack of exposure and cause a lack of nutrition.

    Ultimately, the future of dining appears to be going the way of accommodating those who have food allergies and particular dietary restrictions which can definitely be a positive step in the right direction and help create awareness of food allergies in general. Also, be sure to check out our FoodFacts app, which allows you to see if any foods you scan contains a food allergen(s) you or anyone in your family may have. Through our app, you can look up food products sold at supermarkets as well as an array of menu items sold at restaurants and fast food chains.