The Big 8 Food Allergens

Today I talk about food allergies, and the ones that most people have.

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Continuing with my theme of food safety as I wrap up my first rotation as an intern, today I am talking about food allergens, and where to find them.

Food allergens are ingredients in food that trigger allergies.  Allergies (at least in terms of food) themselves are an over-reaction to something, usually a protein, in the food.  Symptoms can vary from person to person.  Less severe ones include hives and an odd taste in the mouth.  More severe symptoms include choking, changes in pulse, and a difficulty in breathing or swallowing.

So how can you determine if you have an allergy?  Usually, a doctor will do a skin prick test, or blood test to see if you have a reaction.  Other times, you are less fortunate, and eating the food is what tells you that you have an allergy.

You can treat minor allergies with topical skin cream and allergy medications.  Other times, avoidance is the best way to deal with allergies (especially if you are allergic to gluten, like in Celiac disease).  Other times, an epinephrine shot or hospital stay is the best treatment.

That said, I would like to go over what the Big 8 Allergies are, and where they’re found.  The Big 8 are responsible for 90% of allergies in the United States, and is required to be put on food labels, so they are a pretty big deal.

Wheat:  Wheat is that thing you can find pretty much every where.  It’s in bread, pasta, cereal, and most other grain products you can find.  The way you can avoid this is to read food labels if you are not sure if a product is wheat free.  It will also tell you if the food was made in places that handle wheat.

Soy:  Soy is found in a lot of meat substitutes, bean sprouts, and other types of products.  Again, reading the label is beneficial.  If you are planning on becoming vegetarian or vegan and have a soy allergy, I would suggest finding alternatives that do not use soy, such as seitan.  However, do not eat seitan if you have Celiac, since it is made from gluten, the same protein responsible for wheat allergies.

Fish:  This is that animal that swims in the water.  This is found usually in a whole or portioned out form.  Common ones include tuna, salmon, cod, and anything with fins and swims.  This one is somewhat easy to avoid:  just don’t eat fish.  Often, if you are unaware of the presence of an allergen, its because wherever you went had issues with cross contamination.

Shellfish:  Similar to fish, this one is also somewhat easy to avoid.  Just don’t eat things like shrimp, crab, or lobster.  Shellfish are sea creatures that have hard shells, called exoskeletons.  Again, often if this is in something you weren’t aware of in the food, it was due to cross contamination.  Be warned though, because there are chitin supplements available, and those might use shellfish shells.  Read labels to make sure its right for you.

Milk:  This is a sneaky one.  Milk can be avoided in whole foods, like fresh milk, cheese, or yogurt.  However, milk can be added to a variety of baked goods.  Again, reading labels can save you here because you can see if milk is added to something.  Also:  milk allergies are different from an intolerance.   An allergy is a response to the protein casein, which has symptoms like hives, swelling, and trouble breathing, and happens within moments of exposure.  An intolerance is a response to lactose, which is a sugar that might not be broken down in some people.  This is usually evident in about half an hour after consumption, and has symptoms like gas and diarrhea.

Eggs:  Again, this is another sneaky ingredient.  While eating a whole egg can trigger an allergy, this is also present in a variety of baked goods as well.  Eggs are also present in some vaccines, such as the flu shot.  The good news is that there are shots available for those older than 18, so you can get all the benefit from the vaccine without triggering an allergy.

Peanut:  This is a mix between sneaky and evident.  It’s in foods like peanut butter, snacks, and other products like that.  However, it can also be sneaky.  If you read the labels for the allergens (which you should do if you or someone you care about has an allergy), sometimes it will say something about being processed in a facility with peanuts.  This means that because of some equipment or environmental contamination, there might be some particles in the food.

Tree nuts:  This is similar to peanuts.  However, this is a broad set of nuts, which includes almonds, walnuts, cashews, and hazelnut/filberts.  These are in a variety of foods as well, including trail mix, candy, and sandwich spreads. This will often appear on a label as well, often it will say that the facility processed other allergens.

When you have an allergy, food can be scary.  Thanks to improved label design, knowledge about ingredients is more transparent between food service, manufacturing, and the consumers.  The take away message I want with this blog post is to empower consumers, and encourage you all to read the labels.

What is your experience with food allergies?  Any comments, questions, or discussion on this topic is welcome!

Sick of You: Norovirus

It’s almost the peak season of norovirus. Wondering how you can keep yourself and others safe?

Food service is not all fun and games, and dietetics is not all about telling people to eat  more fruits and vegetables.  A large part of dietetics is actually managing food service.  This takes place in hospitals, restaurants, and anywhere else food is served to people.  My first rotation for my dietetic internship is food service management in a hospital kitchen. I had to do a presentation on sanitation, which lead me down the rabbit hole of research showing food service professionals don’t know enough about food borne illness.  That said, I am going to (hopefully) start a series where I talk about different illnesses, and how to prevent them in your own kitchen.

If you couldn’t read the title, today I am discussing norovirus.  Chances are you have gotten norovirus.  It’s that bug that makes you puke your guts out, or shit your guts out, or both.  You probably call it something like “stomach flu,” or “gastroenteritis” or “fuckmepleaseendmysuffering.”  Fortunately, it only lasts a couple days before you are better.  The biggest concern is dehydration, which can definitely impact children under five, or the elderly.  Symptoms of this include faintness, rapid pulse, and exhaustion.

Norovirus can be spread easily, which is why it seems like when one person gets sick, everyone else follows suit.  It can be spread by having contact with poo particles and puke particles.  It can even become airborne if these particles float up in the air.

To prevent it from spreading, make sure to clean and sanitize food surfaces.  This means clearing the mess, and using some sort of chemical (like bleach) to kill the germs.  Cleaning the surface of the mess does not mean it’s free from germs.  Using sanitizer on an area without cleaning it means some germs can be trapped under the mess.

If you are sick, stay home from work.  Do this until two days have passed since you stopped having symptoms. Since norovirus is easy to spread, any fecal or vomit particles you might have on you will get into the air, potentially making others sick.  Hell, you might even reinfect yourself, and I highly doubt you want that.

Norovirus, being a virus, cannot be killed with an antibiotic.  Trying to use an antibiotic to stop it is problematic for a multitude of reasons.  One, you should take your whole prescription and not leaving pills behind because it ensures you won’t leave behind any of the bacteria you were infected with.  Reason two is that prescriptions like that get less potent, meaning they get less effective.  Reason three is that you kill the good bacteria in your gut, which can allow other germs to grow, or promote the growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria.  Which is bad.  You cannot get vaccinated against norovirus, because it mutates frequently, and there are multiple versions of it.  Think of norovirus like a cold in your intestines, as disgusting as that sounds.

My role right now in the hospital is to make sure that food safety protocols are followed, and directing the actions of some staff.  Norovirus outbreaks are bad in restaurants, and even worse in hospitals.  Restaurants can get shut down for outbreaks, just look at Chipotle when e coli got several people sick.  Hospitals also have to content with the fact that critically ill people are there, which can include young children and the elderly.  Exposure to other germs can get them very sick.

Norovirus is a shitty illness to get–literally.  Chances are though, it won’t kill you.  If you do get sick, take some time off, and drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

What did you all think about this post?  Is food borne illness something you want to learn more about in the future?  Any feedback will help me!

 

Weird Science: Can Lab-Grown Meat Be Considered Vegetarian/Vegan?

This is my first blog post while on my internship in Idaho! I am going to examine in vitro meat, and discuss with consumers if it’s something they are interested in, and if it can be considered vegan or vegetarian.

Hello from Pocatello, Idaho!  I am finally on my internship, meaning my route to becoming a Registered Dietitian is super close!

Anyway, in food, there are a lot of oddities that arise when science gets thrown in.  For example, the botanists told the food people that strawberries are NOT a berry, but bananas are (it has to do with where the seeds of each plant are located, and skin thickness).  One such example of something new is in vitro meat, or more commonly referred to as lab grown meat, or cultured meat.

Cultured meat is essentially meat cells are added to a solution, and that allows them to grow free of the animal.  This can reduce concerns about ethical treatment of animals, can reduce the carbon foot print of meat production, and can make meat much more affordable.  However, the invention of in vitro meat brings about other questions, such as can cultured meat be considered vegetarian/vegan, and how will consumers perceive it?

Lab-grown meat is made when muscle stem cells are added to a collagen “goo,” and allowed to grow with other regenerative solutions.  This essentially allows meat to be made without killing an animal.  However, it has not been perfected yet, and still lacks some components of what makes meat desirable, such as marbling.

My stance is that cultured meat is not going to be considered vegetarian or vegan for the large population.  While an animal is not directly involved in the process of making the meat, it is still made from animal cells.  For me, vegetarian is not eating meat, aside from animal products (such as eggs, cheese, and milk), whereas vegan is NO animal products whatsoever.  Lab-grown meat does not fit in with either of these definitions, as it is still made from animal muscle, even if it’s grown in a pitri dish.

As a fun thing I asked a few people I knew what their opinion on the topic was.  Sara Kerr, a fellow nutrition student, had this to say: “I would think by definition it may be able to be considered vegan, but I wouldn’t think all vegans would be interested in eating it since people choose to be vegan for a spectrum of reasons, be it moral, health, social, cultural, or economic. I could see there being some variation on vegetarianism that this would fall under, similar to lacto-ovo vegetarian. Maybe synth-meat vegetarians or a trendier moniker that rolls off the tongue a little nicer.”

Another person said “Yuck. I won’t eat it. I support sustainable and humane animal raising. How are we to know is this “meat” is animal, vegetable or even human. No Petri dish sirloin for me! Soylent green next?”  To answer the question, it has to do with where the stem cells come from, so for example, while plants can move, they do not have muscle.  There are standards for food in place that would prevent humans from being eaten… for now.  Someone else was in agreement with the previous statement saying ” I don’t think I could handle it. Gross!”

However, not all people are opposed to the idea.  One person said “ Lab grown meat sounds amazing,”  with another saying ” If they can make it work and make it affordable I’d be down. My only wonder is whether or not this meat would be all lean or if they could also grow marbled meats.”  Right now, it sounds like it’s only lean meats are being grown, but I would think marbling would be possible.

So what do you all think?  How does lab-grown meat sound to you?  Do you think it could be considered vegan or vegetarian?  Comment your opinions below!

I’d like to give special thanks to Sara Kerr.  You can find her website here, and her Instagram here.  Go ahead and check out her work, she has some fantastic photos and artwork.

Drink with the Living: How to Transform Your Water

Fast Facts and Opinions on different ways to drink water during the heat of summer.

Right now, Oregon is having a brief cool period before the heat comes back.  When it’s hot outside, people should be drinking more fluids.  To clarify, I mean things like water, and not beer.  While drinking a cold beer on a warm day is nice, it will not hydrate you as much as a glass of water.  Alcohol is a diuretic, which means you can lose more water (via pee) than you consume.  Not to mention there are several other negative health effects that alcohol has, but that’s not the main focus of today’s post.

What I am going to be talking about is ways to drink more water during the summer.  Now, my suggestions assume that you have access to safe and clean water, ingredients to add to the water, and any other things you might need, so this is not a one-size-fits-all kind of deal.

Plain water:  This is the classic version.  This kind of water has the benefit of being calorie free, sugar free, caffeine free, and mostly anything else that could possibly negatively impact your health.  However, this version is also highly subject to other conditions such as water additives, pipe conditions, if it’s stored in the fridge (any other fragrant foods, such as garlic, can impact the taste), or anything else that can make the water taste off.  You can try to use a water filter, but this can be costly, and can take up valuable refrigerator space when compared to drinking straight from the tap.

Bottled water is available, but can also take up space, depending on how many you buy at a time.  I personally just use tap water, let it run until it’s cold, then add ice.

Flavored water:  I count this as something different than infused water (which I will talk about below) or sodas.  These are waters that usually have flavoring agents added, be they natural or artificial.  I haven’t seen anything really for or against using flavored water in place of plain water.  Check the label of these water flavoring agents, as they might have salt (aka sodium), artificial sweeteners (there’s not been much conclusive evidence for or against these from my research), or any other additive that you as the consumer might be against.

Infused water:  This is a category of water that uses fresh or frozen fruits, vegetables, and/or herbs to flavor the water.  What’s nice about infused water is that it is very customize-able, and there are plenty of recipes out there, especially on Pinterest.  The issues are that this takes space and time in the refrigerator to allow the ingredients to infuse into the water.  Another possible setback is the quality of the product if you are unsure of how to prepare it, or are unsure of the proportions.  There is also food waste if you chose not to eat what you put into the water.

Coffee/Tea:  Wait, doesn’t caffeine dehydrate you?  Well, yes and no.  Yes, caffeine can cause several issues, such as anxiety and cardiovascular issues, and can be a diuretic.  However, when consumed normally, your body compensates for this, and it is not as affected.  My preference is to coffee black, and tea without cream and sugar.  This reduces the Calories down significantly, but can have an off-putting taste for some.

How do you beat the heat during the summer?  Do you drink anything special to help cool down?  Feel free to comment below.

Running Down a Dream: Running a Restaurant for a Day

This is one of my last projects as an undergrad at Oregon State University.

First, let’s give a big shout out to managers, food production staff, etc. that help restaurant operations run smoothly, because holy shit do you all have a tough job.

As part of my requirements for my degree, nutrition students have to run an on-campus restaurant for one day.  This includes everything, from setting up a theme, to the marketing, and even designing the menu.  Fortunately, I wasn’t alone.  I had a group of very talented people to work with.

Our theme was Thai food (with more of a focus on the Americanized versions, since that is what we were familiar with).  We focused on foods that were simple, quick to make, and we were sure were going to sell.  Some of our highlights include pork meatballs, spicy chicken wings, and pad Thai.  No, our focus wasn’t on making healthy food.

I was in charge of the design elements of the event, seeing as how I had the most technical know-how out of my group.  I we came up with the name “Tongue Thai’d” for our theme name.  As such, I pulled a classic move and modified the Rolling Stones logo for two reasons:  I didn’t want our group to use the raw logo like what was proposed and I liked influencing the event with my rock/metal roots anyway.  I modified the logo by putting a twist on it, as in I made the tongue look like it was knotted or twisted.

Sooner than any of us wanted, we were freaking the fuck out ready for the event.  I was on running duty, meaning I was basically a combination of a bus boy and waiter.  We hit a few snags initially, such as our tea being salty (someone mistook salt for sugar), so we had to prepare new batches and replace and serve them.  We also wound up selling out of a couple of our items, which is a good and bad thing.  Good, because that meant we had a lot of sales, but bad because we potentially lost sales, too.

This is one of those experiences I won’t forget.  The months of planning, tasting recipes and making adjustments, the mistakes and successes made along the way.  All of it is valuable in dietetics practice.  Food service is a very important part, since people like to eat.  People eat in places other than home (such as an on-campus restaurant).  Having a dietician on hand helps with food decisions, such as:  balancing meals, ingredient substitutions, or possibly legislation.

Shout out to the talented people I got to work with on this project.  You all helped to make this project as smooth as possible.  Congratulations on graduating, and may you all do great things in your field!

More Food Poetry

I wanted to write some more food poetry to get more diverse styles on here.

It’s been a while since I’ve written a bunch of poems based on food, so I thought why not?  It’s been a while since I have flexed my more creative side on this site.

 

Quinoa
Is it keen-wah, kwin-o-wah?
Who the Hell know-wah?
An ancient grain, whole grain.
Tiny circle pellets, don’t drain.

Lemon
Yellow sour citrus fruit
Makes salmon better to boot
We all know that vitamin C
Is really good for me

On Learning Metabolic Pathways
AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH
AHHHHHHHHHHH
AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH
AHHHHHHHHHHH

Bananas
Coming in a yellow bunch
Go ahead and pack in a lunch
High in potassium
Makes you say “yum.”

 

Blueberries
Small, blue and round.
Spring through summer can be found.
Eat them raw, in a salad or pie.
Vitamin C to help you not die.

 

Salad
Can be filled with a bunch of green
Can be filled with a bunch of fruit
Try and make sure the calories are lean
Tasty dish, and nutrient dense to boot

 

Lunch
Middle meal of the day
Can be large or small
or even not at all
I like to eat it anyway

 

The Internet Itself
A lot of garbage floating in the void
Who can you trust for info?
I am incredibly annoyed
My side, your side, their side, we don’t know

Success

Some college senior talks about things that helped him be successful.

Matching for the Dietetic Internships (DI) is wrapped up.  For many juniors in the program, this is a scary time.  There might be a lot of time now, but it will go by fast.  For sophomores and freshmen (maybe even the juniors or seniors too) in nutrition programs, you have a bit more time.  I have some words of encouragement for you.

  1. Find something that scares the shit out of you and do it.  You can talk about this during the DI application, how you started off scared of something (e.g. public speaking), and how you improved.
  2. Be bold.  You really want to stand out in some way.  There are a lot of ways you can do this.  Oftentimes, hobbies or lifestyle choices can benefit you if you spin it in a certain way.  For example, playing on a sports team shows dedication and the ability to be part of a team.  Being involved in student organizations shows potential leadership experience.  Hell, if you really want to, starting a blog is pretty easy.  I mean, lookit this guy.
  3. Be good at what you do.  One piece of advice I got from a professor was to pick a couple things you are good at, and flaunt them to whoever will want to see them.  For me, I tried to stay active on Twitter, WordPress, Facebook and others.  Eventually due to burnout, I stopped being so active on Twitter, and keep my Facebook for friends and family only.   I found it difficult to keep up with everything, and this was only a small smattering of social media.  However, I have also started to take up fiction writing.  It can be intimidating trying to get everything done that dietetics classes recommend, so I will be the contrarian.  Find some hobbies you like, and do them well.
  4. Be yourself.  One would think that being a potty-mouthed metal-head shows me as less professional than many of the other students in the program.  However, when I have tried to “fit-in” with the crowd, I felt very artificial.  I despised giving more professional presentations too.  However, I have found ways to maintain my sense of self, while being appropriate for work, and maintaining a professional demeanor.  I still go into class with band-tee shirts, but when the time comes I try and put on professional face, while still maintaining the quirkiness I try and provide.
  5. Have fun.  I wish this was as easy as it sounds.  Studying can be a big pain, even if it’s something you’re interested in.  Sometimes you need a break to figure out what you need.  Sometimes having fun is doing something else, like watching a movie, playing video games, or even spending time with friends and family.  I am wrapping up my fifth year of college.  If it wasn’t for my hobbies, or friends and family I would have lost my sanity a long time ago.  Or at least, the last remaining bits of my sanity.

Success can be seen in many more ways than I listed.  Success is also loosely defined.  You can do all of these things, yet fail at what you do.  Just remember, that is not the end.  Not everyone’s path is the same, and it is up to you to determine if you succeeded or not.