Avoidance: What Does it Mean Exactly?

When my daughter was diagnosed with a food allergy, I did all I could to get a straight answer from the allergist about what foods exactly to avoid. Well, of course, we’d avoid the ones containing tree nuts (her allergy); I know I won’t serve her pecan pie, but what about the foods processed in plants that process nuts, or those that “may contain traces,” or what about restaurants that might have nuts on the menu? He just said stay away from anything that has nuts, has been processed with nuts, has a may contain traces label; anything that has bee near nuts or shad to do with nuts, stay away. I didn’t like his answer, but adhered to it anyway, at least for the first few months. But then I started making my own choices for my daughter and came to some of my own conclusions.

I realized the answer is different for everyone, so though allergists give you the easiest, safest answer, it’s not so personalized. It’s up to us, the parents to make the real decisions. After I ordered my first batch of nut-free chocolate for my daughter (www.nothinnutty.com), I began talking to other parents of allergic children. I encountered the gamut of what parents allowed, what they thought was safe.

Some go by the guideline of strict avoidance – very few, select restaurants, nothing processed in a plant that processes the allergen, nothing that may contain a trace, and nothing at all that is unknown. Then there are those that dine out feeling safe, but are still careful, allow food that may be processed in a plant that may contain their allergen, but avoid things that may contain traces. Some parents allow any foods as long as the allergen isn’t listed in the ingredients or visible.

It is a hard decision to make, after all you don’t want to give your child something that has the potential to cause a dangerous, sometimes life threatening reaction, but you also need to be practical. I remember hearing the story of a family with an allergic child who had letters written to allow them extra time before boarding rides at Disneyworld in order to wipe down each ride. To me that’s a bit excessive. There is a difference in being careful and cautious and taking things to such extreme measures that all aspects of your life are affected.

I do believe it is better to be safe than sorry, but try to use your own judgment. Just because someone else lets his kid eat everything regardless of ingredients, or another allows her child nothing out of her own kitchen, doesn’t mean you have to do either. If it helps, do talk to others and see what they do, research it, but ultimately make your own decisions on avoidance. By the way, my daughter now happily and safely munches on M&M’s as much as she wants.

– Heather Legg

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