Category Archives: Eating and Drinking with Allergies

Skating with Allergies

Here in Ottawa, one of our favourite winter sports is ice skating. With the world’s largest skating rink, it’s no wonder! Folks come from all over the world to skate on the 7.8km long rink (Rideau Canal) and enjoy the classic “BeaverTail” pastry. My mother quickly learned to bribe me out onto the canal with those sweet treats as a kid… but then I developed food allergies.

Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy skating the Canal for exercise, but I’m still grieving the loss of eating those BeaverTail treats afterwards. Last year I made my own top-allergen free adaptation (https://epiadventure.wordpress.com/2018/01/26/beavers-tails/) but this year I’ve been too busy skating!

After getting a job as a first aider, I’ve now skated over 200 km on the Rideau Canal Skateway this year reaction free! Here are my best allergy-conscious skating tips:

  1. Dress warmly! Layers are really important (with the right materials). If you’re contact allergic to wool, you can try adding it as a middle layer, or find a sweat-wicking alternative like Polartec. Fun fact: I over-layered on my first shift and the sweat condensed and froze onto my hard-shell jacket!
  2. Bring your own equipment or call ahead to ask about cleaning! I definitely spilled my allergen-safe hot chocolate all over my skates this year, and I wasn’t able to get them totally clean. I don’t share my skates, but it’s something to consider if you plan on renting. Helmets are a fantastic idea on the canal as well, so I bought my own to avoid any lice, allergens, or scented cleaning sprays.
  3. Bring allergen-safe snacks with you! The food huts aren’t always open, and they’re so small that cross-contamination is a huge risk. For example, the Beavertails’ website lists tree nuts, wheat, dairy, soy, barley, tropical oils, and sulphites as being present in their huts. Instead, I like to bring bananas, golden kiwi, pumpkin seeds, rice crackers, and safe chocolate chips.
  4. Bring something warm to drink! I often forget to bring my thermos and regret it since it’s so easy to warm up with a hot drink. Recently I’ve taken to making safe hot chocolate by pouring 3Tbsp of chocolate chips into my insulated mug, then filling it 2/3 with boiling water. I close it up & shake until the chocolate is mostly dissolved then add my safe milk. This leaves me with a perfect temperature drink that is a bit less lumpy than other methods I’ve tried.
  5. Bring wipes! There are often people eating inside the warm changing huts, and this is the easiest way to make sure your hands are clean before you eat.
  6. Keep your auto-injector on you and keep it warm but accessible. When emergency (911) is called for an incident on the Rideau Canal, the first aiders like me on Skate Patrol are dispatched as well, because there are a lot of people and the ice ambulance is only available during the day on Winterlude weekends. We then transfer to the land ambulances as soon as possible. Fun fact: I wear my auto-injector on the side of my leg so that I can kneel on the ice while helping people. Surprisingly, no one ever notices it so I point it out to my partner and supervisor before every shift.

See you on the ice!

– Janice H.

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Spreading Awareness about “Hidden” Ingredients

As those living with food allergies, many of us have spent years becoming expert-level ingredient checkers. We know our ‘allergen-safe’ brands, what to avoid, and have grown to incorporate our ingredient checking into every grocery shopping trip. I try to follow the general rule of checking three times: once at the store, once when I unpack the groceries at home, and finally, when I am about to cook with the item. The large majority of the time I catch any issues at the store, but there have been several times where I have caught something last minute – often when a brand I have used before has changed their ingredient list or added a ‘may contain’ statement. A couple of my last-minute catches include plain white rice with a ‘may contain peanuts’ label and sausages that were labelled ‘may contain tree nuts’.

Our experience and awareness of hidden ingredients in food, make us the most effective people to help teach those around us what to look for when preparing food that we can safely eat. If someone is inviting me over for a meal, they want to ensure it is a safe experience. I have found that I can often play an active role in that process.

I typically try to stick with meals consisting of mostly fresh food with few ingredients, as this reduces the risk of cross-contamination. For example, unseasoned meat and vegetables is a reliable go-to meal for me.  Pre-seasoned or packaged versions can sometimes have ingredients that you wouldn’t expect. When someone is making me a meal, I also find it helpful to give the person cooking some examples of where hidden ingredients or issues can be. For example, flour has many ingredients, and there are different varieties such as almond flour which would obviously be an issue for people allergic to tree nuts. I also remind everyone that I won’t eat ingredients bought in bulk since the risk of cross-contamination at the store is typically high. I find that people have a tendency to buy rarely-used spices or baking ingredients at bulk stores since they don’t need large quantities. Other items that non-allergic people may use without considering checking ingredient labels are condiments and sauces. As we know, even these can have unexpected ingredients. Finally, I also mention to a host that multi-use kitchen tools, such as cutting boards have the potential risk of cross-contamination if not properly cleaned.

Using my years of experience and first-hand knowledge to help others become aware of the different areas of risk that I face is important. The more they are aware, the more they will understand my processes and how they can help make sure the food is safe.

– Alison M.

Winter Day Trips with a Food Allergy

Every Christmas, my parents give the gift of a family day trip to me, my brother, my sister, and our significant others. In the past, we have gone snowshoeing, cross country skiing, hiking, stayed for a weekend in a cozy Bed and Breakfast cottage, and this year we went snow-tubing. It’s always nice to have everyone together for a fun day of activity!

With 8 of us all focused on the excitement of our full day activity, you may be thinking how we prepare food for these excursions. That’s a good question, especially when you consider all our food restrictions:

  1. My brother and I are allergic to peanuts and tree nuts.
  2. My sister is allergic to almonds.
  3. My sister-in-law is allergic to multiple raw fruit.
  4. Oh, and my sister and her fiancé are also vegan, so we have to factor that into the equation!

Since dining out can sometimes get chaotic with our family, we tend to prepare and bring our own food for the day, then head back to my parents’ house for dinner. The process begins, as always, with preparation! My mom always plans the day’s menu well in advance and sends an email out to all of us asking for food preferences based on her planned menu. For example, she may ask what we would specifically like on a sandwich, or what kind of snacks we would prefer, by providing options that we can select. This not only makes her life easier when heading to the grocery store, but it also helps all of us feel more confident in what we will eat during our outing.

Once the menu is finalized, everything else just falls into place. My mom typically buys all the food and everyone else pitches in to help with preparation when needed. Coolers will keep our food in ready condition to eat, but with winter being so cold, we also opt for keeping the food in bags and let the cool air do the rest. Now we can focus on having a blast, knowing that allergen-safe food is waiting for us whenever we need it.

If you plan on doing some winter excursions this year, make sure you prepare food ahead of time, determine what precautions you need to take to remain safe with your food allergy, then ensure you stick with all your safe practices that you use in everyday living. Winter is a great time for all kinds of activities – try not to let your food allergy prevent you from experiencing them! Have fun and stay safe.

– Dylan B.

For more information on skiing with allergies, check out our blog post by clicking here! 

Or, if you’re looking for tips on travelling during the winter with food allergies, check out this post. 

Tradition for the Holidays

Everyone’s family is its own special kind of eccentric; and nothing brings it out more than the holidays. Family, friends, dinners, presents, decorating, cooking, the list of traditions goes on and on, unique to us and our loved ones. In my life, I’ve created some very special customs.

Some date back to when I was young that were indoctrinated in me by my parents, and others I’ve created with friends to ensure we all get the most joy and love from the holidays.

Having an allergy around this time of year can be a big burden, especially when so many events center around food. Well allow me to kindly disagree. Although it can seem overwhelming at times, let me share with you some of my favorite traditions, made better and more special by my food allergies.

Potlucks: Every year my friends and I get together to celebrate the holidays. Over the years, traditions have developed amongst ourselves ranging from ugly sweaters to Secret Santa gift exchanges. The biggest tradition we have is sitting around a table or hanging out in the kitchen while sharing delicious foods with each other. Potlucks can be a stressful event if you have a food allergy. We always have to be mindful of ingredients and cross-contamination because every platter or covered serving dish holds a certain level of uncertainty and concern. It can make a holiday party less enjoyable and stressful. A tradition we’ve created to combat a mystery plate is to list the ingredients of your dish. Whether it be in an email, a fancy place card accompanying your dish or giving out the actual recipe, we let everyone know what the dish is and what’s in it. You never want to be speculating or guessing what’s on your plate. Everyone likes surprises during the holidays but not like this. Even though we may want to keep our prized recipes secret, we choose to take surprise out of that tuna surprise casserole and promise not to tell anyone the secret ingredient.

Getting into the spirit might mean partaking in one or two spirits. If there are mixed punches or festive beverages being shared, ask for the ingredients. Different alcohols can have different ingredients and they are not always labelled. It’s important to do some research into the different breweries, wineries, etc. to ensure your allergens aren’t present. An important rule and one we should all follow regardless of an allergy, is don’t share your drink, or leave it unattended. Use red “solo” cups with your name written on it or wine glass identifiers to better distinguish your wine or eggnog glass when you put it down to unwrap a gift or hug an old friend.

Boxes are made for sharing:  One beautiful tradition my family has come to cherish is ordering, sharing and enjoying Vermont Nut Free Chocolates together. When we discovered this company, it was incredible. Growing up we didn’t have the opportunity to eat many treats that weren’t made by my mom or grandma. Since then, we’ve discovered several safe places to buy and eat from but the tradition of reading the brochure and choosing our favorites chocolate (mine is the maple creams) remains. Come Christmas morning/afternoon after all the presents are unwrapped we’d each open our box of chocolate, mixing and matching with each other while we showed off our gifts and shared the moment together.

It’s easy to let our food allergies consume us with stress and anger around this time of year. We may think it’s better to shut ourselves off from others to avoid friends and parties with food because we’re worried or scared. Whether it’s with our immediate family or the friends we choose to call so, the holidays are time best spent with the people we love. We should never let our food allergies get in the way of the people we cherish or look forward to seeing each year. Tradition can come in many forms during the holidays making them much more meaningful and special. So, raise a glass, eat a cookie and hug your friends because you’d be surprised what can eventually become a tradition.

  • Arianne K.

Food Allergy Guidelines: Holiday Edition

The holiday season is now upon us!  Along with shopping for gifts and pulling out your ski gear, this means holiday gatherings throughout the upcoming month and seeing family and friends.  So often these events revolve around food which can be stressful for those of us living with food allergies. Here are some of the guidelines I’ve put in place for myself to help ease any uncertainty I may have in these environments and allow me to enjoy the event:

  1. Find out what type of event it is in advance.  I find cocktail parties much easier to navigate as there is less focus on the food and whether or not you are eating.  I try to speak to the organizer in advance and, if the event is at a restaurant, I will often contact the restaurant directly.  I often end up not eating at all at these events, but it’s helpful to know if any of my most severe allergens are being passed around.
  2. Offer to host a dinner yourself!  While this can be a lot of work, it will ensure that you know exactly what is being served and what you can eat safely.
  3. Get involved with the planning.  For work parties, I have often been on the organizing committee and involved in the venue and menu selection.  The ability to influence the decision on where the event is held and what will be served is key and you can also be an advocate for other people with dietary restrictions to ensure others are comfortable asking questions about the menu.
  4. Bring your own meal.  If it is a gathering revolving around a meal (ie. a sit-down lunch or dinner), speak to the host/hostess about bringing your own food.  I typically try to match my food to follow the same theme as what they are planning to serve and bring it in my own container that I can easily heat up.
  5. Eat first!  If you are going to an event where food will be passed around, be sure to eat beforehand so that you don’t end up hungry by the end of the night.
  6. Be first in line.  While it may appear rude to some, I have always felt more comfortable dishing my food early in the serving process when the serving utensils are not being passed between dishes and there is a smaller chance of cross-contamination.
  7. If you are attending a lunch or dinner, offer to bring a dish that is substantial enough that you can just eat that, if necessary.  Also bring along a set of dedicated serving utensils to ensure that they are clean and not being passed between dishes.

If you feel unsure about something, don’t feel the need to eat or drink it.  Those of us who are hyper aware of cross-contamination will know that guests or servers often pass around different food trays, mix & match serving utensils and even touch drink glasses without thinking about what they’ve previously touched or eaten.

The holidays and all the events associated with them can be a real time of stress and anxiety for those of us with food allergies, but if you can plan ahead, communicate well, and are comfortable with the fact that not all gatherings will revolve around the food, then you can enjoy them safely!

– Alison M.

Eat, Drink and Be Scary: Allergen-Friendly Halloweens

As hinges creek from an unknown breeze, a door closes when no one was around, and the sound of footsteps follow you up the stairs. When spooky things are in the air and the sky goes dark…you know that Halloween is here! Happy haunts lurk behind every corner and pumpkins decorate porches as ghost’s float in nearby trees. As you can probably tell, I love this time of year for so many reasons, but Halloween is by far the biggest reason. What’s not to love about this wickedly ghoulish time of year? Well, for some of us there is a different chill in the air that has nothing to do with ghosts and goblins, and everything to do with treat bags and what tricks might be in them. Living with a food allergy during this time of year can be hard to navigate, so it’s important to be aware and look out for our allergens. From parties with friends, to having “trick or treaters” at your door, allergens can be anywhere and or hidden in so many unsuspecting things.

For those of us who are younger and out trick or treating, there are ways to stay safe and avoid your allergen(s). One example is waiting to eat until you get home as this will give you more time to read all food ingredient labels. If you’re handing out goodies, make sure you look for the speciality bags or badges that some children may have to indicate that they have allergies. If you plan to accommodate by handing out allergen-friendly goodies, consider putting a teal pumpkin out to show your support of food allergies, or a teal light in support of Food Allergy Canada’s new “Shine a Light” campaign. This also acts as an indicator to parents and kids that you have safe or non-food related treats. A small gesture goes a long way for kids who are out trick or treating and being conscious of allergens can make their night!

Dressing up is one of the best parts of Halloween. Each year my partner and I bet ourselves that we can out do our costumes from the previous year. Some years involve little to prepare while others take a good hour to create and paint. One important thing I’ve learned while living with food allergies at this time of year is to read everything, and I don’t just mean snacks. Make-up, fake blood, and other things that add a touch of flare to a costume may contain your allergens. Whether you’re applying zombie make-up or making sure your vampire comes equipped with blood fangs, make sure your allergens aren’t present in the product before application. I have found that anything from latex, or nut oils, to sulphites can be found in various makeups. Find something allergen-friendly and do a mark/spot test at least 24 hours before you plan to dress up in order to make your ghoulish appearance one to remember.

As you get older, Halloween becomes less about trick or treating and more about parties, scary movie marathons and other activities with our friends. But, much like going out and getting candy, our allergens can still be found at all of these events. One thing to keep in mind whether you’re binging your favourite horror movie series or at a party with friends is that it’s important to follow the same rules you normally follow in your everyday life. Read ingredient labels even if you’ve had that type of candy before. Some candy or chocolate bars could contain slightly different ingredients or have different labelling for Halloween since these smaller products may be processed in different facilities. If there are homemade goods, check with the chef/baker before eating. Ask about allergens, the risk of cross-contamination, etc., and only eat the foods that you’re 100% comfortable eating. A good alternative is to get your cauldron brewing and make your own treats to share with everyone so that you’re positive it’s allergen-friendly. You could also consider buying candy chocolates you’ve researched yourself and feel confident are  allergen-friendly.

As an adult at a Halloween party, you’re sure to run into some boos, wait no I mean booze. Pumpkin flavoured beers and other holiday treats are staples at most adult Halloween parties. Much like any other food, we need to make sure what we’re eating and drinking is allergen-friendly. If it’s a punch bowl, ask what fruits, flavours, and alcohols are involved. If it’s a shared/serve yourself bowl, make sure there is no risk of cross-contamination or see if you can get first dibs or a special cup/bowl just to be sure it’s allergen-friendly with no risk of cross-contamination. Allergen labelling on specialty beers and wines can be tricky, but I always try to call or email the company if I’m unsure of all the ingredients. A good trick for any party is to bring your own drinks, something you know is allergen-friendly and never leave your glass or drink unattended.

As we grow older it’s easy to lose the spirit of Halloween, dismissing it as a childish tradition. I think we need to get back to our childhood roots, tell each other ghost stories, eat candy together and dress up as our favorite characters and people. This year put out a teal pumpkin or light, have some allergen-friendly or non-food treats ready, grab a scary movie or have a party to get into the spooky spirit. Happy Halloween!

– Arianne K.

Cycling Preparations with Food Allergies

Why I’m biking from Toronto to Ottawa:

Last fall, I realized I had spent yet another summer with a pretty new bike and not a lot of biking. I decided that I needed motivation to get on my bike, and the joy of commuting in the rain just wasn’t enough.

I wanted to finally plan a big bike trip. I spoke with my allergist about it who recommended that I plan a route that considers a 30-minute ambulance response time. I’m allergic to a variety of fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, black pepper, and sulphites, so that’s a pretty reasonable request. After meeting with my allergist, I then talked to a paramedic friend of mine, to see where I could bike while staying in range of hospitals and ambulances. “Why not just come on the Paramedic Ride?” he joked. But then we both realized that it was actually a pretty good idea! I’m happy to raise awareness and funds for a Paramedic Memorial, and I get a very safe bike trip in the deal! Plus, I figured that meeting more paramedic friends is not a bad idea!

How I got ready:

This trip was mostly complicated by how to transport my bicycle, and how to manage my food allergies. I started getting ready last fall, by borrowing a winter trainer. I didn’t get it set up until Christmas, but then I got into a rhythm of biking in the garage while watching Netflix. The sawdust in my garage was mildly itchy at times and going outside in the winter after training hard involved quite a brief cold spurt (if I had more space I’d definitely consider bringing the trainer indoors).

I quickly discovered that learning to bike long distances with allergies also involves learning to make sport snacks and foods. I read A LOT in an attempt to figure out how to make an electrolyte drink, and when I realized I was tired from lacking them, I started adding a little more salt and a lot more protein to my biking snacks. I would highly recommend The Feed Zone Portables cookbook for a variety of “from-scratch” sport food ideas.

In the end, I settled for mostly eating bananas, making cookies, and occasionally making granola bars. I gave up on the granola bars half way through the summer when my jaw started hurting because they were too chewy (oops) but I will definitely keep trying recipes. On the electrolyte front, there are a bunch of great DIY recipes, but most involve a few ingredients I am not yet allowed to consume. So I talked to my mom, a nurse in the remote town of Angola, and she explained that for a better-than-nothing solution she usually puts a spoon of sugar, two pinches of salt, and a bit of flavouring into a litre of water. I’ve translated that into 1 scant teaspoon of salt, 1 heaping teaspoon of sugar, and a good splash of homemade ginger syrup into 1.5 litres of water. It’s not perfect or ideal, but I reserve its use for days when it’s really hot or when I’m doing a long bike workout (30-km or more).

With all the food and snacks prepared, I have managed 2500-km of biking so far in 2018, with my longest ride being a 115-km trip around the small town of Carp, Ontario. I might have had a little too much fun in my last week of training, biking around the city on specific streets to “write” out the fundraising website!

 

What I brought with me:

Most importantly, I packed a couple epinephrine auto-injectors. I’d usually bring more for a big trip, but the Canada-wide Epi-Pen® shortage makes my pharmacy reluctant to pass out more than absolutely needed. That being said, I’m not concerned since we’re getting an ambulance escort for the event.

Because I didn’t want to give the ride organizers the extra hassle of arranging safe food for me, I decided I’d pack my own food. Bananas and oranges are pretty much guaranteed to be supplied at biking events, and if not, I can definitely stock up on them in any little grocery store I encounter along the way. I have a few simple snack foods like Nori (seaweed), rice crackers, chocolate chips, and homemade cookies.

That left me with the meal food left to plan, as well as figuring out how to cook it. I didn’t want to just eat sandwiches, and since this ride has the luxury of ambulance support vehicles, I planned a few frozen meals and a number of homemade dehydrated ones as well. To cook these, I brought a one-burner electric stove, a frying pan for at the hotel, and a Hot Logic Mini (basically a plug-in lunchbox which heats meals and keeps them warm; it’s going to be my secret to instant hot meals whenever I stop). The frying pan is for boiling water for breakfast and will act as a general backup for cooking. I know hotels have microwaves sometimes, but they can be a pain to clean up, and they heat things less evenly. Plus, I hear we’re often stopping for lunch in parks for this event.

Lastly, I also made sure to think through my drink situation. At home I drink tap water, because some water filters contain trace amounts of sulphites (including some bottled waters), which give me predictable hives. I know the ride provides bottled water, so I’m just going to fill up each day with the water that I feel most safe drinking.

So now I have allergen-safe food and water, my bicycle, the hotel is booked, and I’ve been biking A LOT all summer. I feel ready, I’ve landed in Toronto… here I go!

– Janice H.