Food For Thought: Allergies, Intolerances, and the Holidays

· by delijan · Read in about 6 min · (1249 words) ·

It’s the time of year referred to by most Americans as the “Holiday Season.” Parties at work abound, friends and relatives gather to celebrate together and schools have special events. Most of these revolve around food, special treats like pumpkin pie, eggnog, fresh baked cookies, turkey and secret recipe stuffing, for example. It’s a wonderful, fun, happy and carefree time for most people.

Unless you have allergies!

Allergy Statistics

  • Allergy is the 5th leading chronic disease in the U.S. among all ages.
  • An estimated 50 million Americans suffer from all types of allergies (1 in 5 Americans).
  • 15 million people (of all ages) in the U.S. have food allergies. Nine million adults have food allergies (4%).
  • About 1 in 133 people have celiac disease.
  • Every 3 minutes a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency department– that is about 200,000 emergency department visits per year, and every 6 minutes the reaction is one of anaphylaxis.

An allergic reaction to food may begin with a tingling sensation, itching, or a metallic taste in the mouth. Other symptoms can include hives, a sensation of warmth, wheezing or other difficulty breathing, coughing, swelling of the mouth and throat area, vomiting, diarrhea, cramping, a drop in blood pressure, and loss of consciousness. These symptoms may begin anywhere from several minutes to two hours after eating an offending food, but life-threatening reactions may get worse over a period of several hours.

There is no cure for food allergies. Strict avoidance of food allergens and early recognition and management of allergic reactions to food are important measures to prevent serious health consequences. Even trace amounts can cause a reaction in someone who is allergic. The allergen doesn’t even have to be ingested to cause a reaction; skin contact or inhalation of protein (e.g., steam from cooking an allergen) can sometimes trigger it.


While there is a difference between allergies and intolerance (a true food allergy requires the presence of Immunoglobin E (IgE) antibodies against the food, and a food intolerance does not,) both are treated the same way: avoiding the problem food. Another difference is that an allergic reaction can be immediately life threatening whereas an intolerance isn’t in the short term. They just make life miserable because the symptoms can be long-lasting and lead to other diseases such as migraine headaches, excessive tiredness, mental fog, immune system disorders and digestive conditions.

Intolerances can not safely be ignored. Intolerances can turn into allergies. Someone whose reactions have been mild in the past may suddenly start reacting more severely. For example, a FAAN (Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network) review of food allergy fatalities found that most of the people had never had a severe allergic reaction until the one that caused their death. Thus, all food reactions must be taken seriously.

  • It’s estimated that up to 45% of adults have some kind of food intolerance.
  • An estimated 30 to 50 million American adults are lactose intolerant.
  • 18 million people follow a gluten free diet.

Holiday Parties and the Work Place

Party Planners:

If you are planning a party for co-workers, or your company, please keep in mind that the larger your company is, the more likely you will have potential guests with food allergies.

If you are hiring a catering company, please try to choose one that is “allergy aware”, and will make dishes from scratch (not using pre-prepared food products).

If you are choosing a restaurant, please try to choose one that can accommodate all dietary types. Again, one that is “allergy aware”, that is not a chain (that is shipped pre-prepared foods from a master warehouse) and that cooks food from scratch is usually a better choice.

Please be mindful of your employees and their families. You will have happier, healthier, more productive employees as a result. It will also lower your overall company expenses, when there are fewer sick days taken!


Let the planners know that you (or someone coming with you has dietary restrictions.) Be specific, and ask that their needs be taken into consideration.

Ask what will be served, who is providing it. Get as much information ahead of time as possible.

Eat a light meal before leaving home. There is no guarantee you will be able to eat a balanced meal at the function.

Take a small snack with you, especially if it is a long event.

Note: There are laws in many locations which make it illegal for restaurants to allow “outside food” to be brought into their establishments. While they are there to protect other diners and the establishment, it means you can’t consume a snack there.

If your allergies are severe, make sure you have identification, your allergy restriction card, and your EPI pen with you. Don’t leave any of that in the car in the parking lot!

Holidays with Friends and Relatives

If you are the person with allergies:

Let your host know, as far in advance as possible, about your allergy or intolerance

Ask what will be on the menu, ask about ingredients, and make sure there is a good line of communication between you and the host

If it’s an informal gathering, volunteer to bring a couple of safe dishes

When you arrive, ask the host to give you a tour of the food being served to identify the ones you can’t eat

If you’re the host:

Make sure you ask your guests about any allergies or intolerances they may have

Use different, clean utensils for serving each dish to avoid cross contamination

Let your guests know what the ingredients in the dishes are

Serve sauces and dressings on the side, so that more foods can be enjoyed by a wider variety of guests

Serve baked potatoes in jackets instead of in a casserole! It’s easier and your guests can add whatever toppings they like.

Include a large, tossed salad with whatever dressings you like in a pretty container on the side.

Steam green beans with herbs instead of the traditional baked version with mushroom soup.


The reason I’m posting this is because I am a person with allergies and intolerances. I am also a vegan (I don’t eat meat, dairy, eggs, cheese, etc.) For the first time in my life, I’m not really looking forward to the holidays.

The company DH works for is going to have a Holiday party. It will probably be at a “chain” restaurant, one that specializes in meat, no doubt. I probably won’t even go. That’s sad, because DH will want to go, but will most likely not go either, because there will be nothing on the menu I can eat.

Where MIL lives, they have holiday buffets. I attended one a while back. There was very little that I could eat. I’m not going to try another one. So that means that MIL will be torn between spending her special day meals with her friends, or coming to our house. That’s hard on her.

It has been a past tradition to take DD2 and her family, and MIL to Golden Corral for Thanksgiving dinner. While it wasn’t the best of choices even for those on the S.A.D. diet, it meant that nobody had to cook! And all of us could have fun together. One of her children is lactose intolerant. Another one seems to be having unspecified food allergies. So it’s not just me. This year, I don’t know what we’ll do.

I think, maybe, I’ll just go into hibernation until spring!