Children are more likely to develop food allergies now than ever before. This statistic is seen all over the world but especially in the West, with food allergy rates climbing amongst adults as well as newborns. From peanut allergies to dairy and sesame seeds, even traces of trigger foods can result in life threatening reactions for food allergy sufferers. What is the reason for this increase in food allergies, and how can you prevent them from developing?
The Rise of Food Allergies
Only decades ago, food allergies were extremely rare. Today, they are a common experience that is increasing year by year. According to the *Centre of Disease Control and Prevention, the number of children with food allergies increased by 18% between 1997 and 2007. In the decade after that, insurance claim data found that severe reactions to foods like peanuts or sesame **increased almost five times.
Australia has the highest rate of food allergies in the world, ***with 9% of babies showing allergies to eggs. And it’s not only children who are showing more signs of food allergies, either – around half of Americans with food allergies developed them after the age of 18. It’s clear that food allergies are on the rise all across the UK, Europe, Australia, and the USA, but the question is – why?
Why Are Food Allergies Increasing?
Some people think the increase in food allergies is due to better diagnosis and more awareness however, most researches point their fingers at environmental and lifestyle changes in the West over the last few decades. One of the reasons is that food allergies exist at much lower rates in developing countries, with the highest concentrations being in the more developed urban areas. It is believed that a combination of factors like pollution, modern day diets, and less exposure to microbes in the environment all affect the immune system, resulting in allergies.
Are Modern Diets Causing Food Allergies?
Stephen Till, allergy professor and consultant allergist in London, pushes the theory that modern Western diets are to blame for food allergies. “It’s my own observation that the types of food we eat has changed quite a lot in recent decades as a result of changes in the food industry and supply chain”. Many of us are now eating foods, including peanuts and shellfish, that wouldn’t have been available in such high supply in the past.
The modern diet is also high in sugar, unhealthy fats, and carbohydrates. Most of the fruit and vegetables found in supermarkets is genetically modified and sprayed with pesticides and herbicides. The meat we buy is from farms where animals are pumped with antibiotics and hormones. All of these factors in our modern day diet play a part in changing our microbiome, the ecosystem that lives in our gut and is the foundation of our health and immunity. Having a less rich microbiome, one that has more ‘bad’ bacteria than ‘good bacteria’ sets the perfect scene for food allergies to develop.
Are Food Allergies Due to Excess Hygiene?
The other popular theory behind increasing food allergies blames the increased hygiene and cleanliness in Western society. It sounds counter intuitive, but living in an ultra clean environment can actually make your immune system less healthy over time. This hygiene hypothesis was put forward by epidemiologist David Strachan in the 1980s, who believed that we need exposure to dirty or harmful substances early on in life (e.g. allergens, bacteria, parasites, viruses) to help strengthen our immune system.
According to Strachan, being regularly exposed to bad pathogens helps to slowly strengthen our immune system over time. Over the years, these small exposures let our immune system build a tolerance to microorganisms that it initially found triggering. As a result, the body stops reacting to these substances as severely. In modern Western society, our advances in sanitation and disease control mean that we are less exposed to the myriad forms of bacteria in the environment. With nothing to fight, our immune system starts to overreact to otherwise harmless substances.
How to Prevent Food Allergies
- Eat a healthy diet – Most researchers agree that a major factor in food allergies is a modern Western diet that’s filled with unhealthy fats, sugars, and processed foods. To avoid food allergies, try to focus your diet on gut-friendly foods that are high in fibre and anti-inflammatory. Make fruits, vegetables, and non-animal proteins the centre of your diet and avoid foods that will be bad for your gut.
- Check the labels on food you eat – Many ‘healthy’ foods found in the supermarket can be heavily processed and laden with chemicals and undesirable ingredients. Show a commitment to what you’re putting in your body and ****check the labels on the food you eat to avoid buying products that are rich in fats and sugars, or have too many ingredients.
- Don’t be afraid to get dirty – These days more than ever, hygiene plays an important role in keeping our society healthy. But when you’re at home, don’t be afraid to get dirty from time to time. That doesn’t mean you should become a slob – just try not to spray the sanitiser everytime you touch a doorknob, for example. Start small.
Do you or anyone you know suffer from food allergies? How has your experience been, and have you found any helpful tips you’d like to share?
About The Author
Alex Rutkowska is a pharmacy assistant and dietitian and loves nature and healthy foods – After suffering from health problems related to my stomach and intestines as a teenager, my doctor advised me to watch my diet and eat unprocessed foods as often as possible.
At the time, I used to think that every kind of food was the same. Bread was just bread and peanut butter was made from 100% peanuts (more or less). Boy oh boy, was I disappointed when I started reading the labels and finding out the truth…
Checking food labels has become my obsession since then. I could spend every free hour of my day reading about monosodium glutamate, or different types of sugars, or why the most expensive product doesn’t always mean the best quality.
After I learned the difference between processed ‘healthy’ foods and actual healthy products, my stomach problems were gone. Since then, I’ve also spread the word and helped many other friends or family members learn how to identify good quality foods from processed ones.
To find out more visit: https://checklabels.com.au/