Lactase for Lactose

*For my Writing for Interactive Media Class I picked Food Allergies as my topic. I’ll be re-posting my assignments here for your enjoyment. I’m not an expert, this is just me trying to learn more and share what I learn. Here’s some info on Lactose Intolerance*

Do you know someone who is lactose intolerant, but used to be just fine with dairy products? It’s seems weird that they suddenly can’t have dairy anymore, right? This has happened to a lot of people that I know. Some can get by with taking a lactaid pill before enjoying cheesy meals, some just suffer for a bit in pursuit of pizza, and some have to avoid it all together.

The symptoms are not fun, but rarely are they dire. Usually people feel bloated, have gas, get cramps, and experience nausea. Is it worth it for a little bit of ice cream? Depends on the ice cream!

There has to be a reason why this happens. This is different from a milk allergy since lactose is a type of sugar in milk, rather than the protein. Our intestines produce an enzyme called lactase to help us digest lactose. When there isn’t enough lactase being produced, people develop lactose intolerance.

There is a theory behind why adults stop producing lactase. As babies, we need lactase to digest milk. In the past, people would stop drinking as much milk as they grew up. In today’s American society, we are obsessed with dairy products. Cheese, milk, butter, ice cream, yogurt, and more are daily staples in an American diet. But our bodies didn’t evolve to process this much dairy, and sometimes that’s why so many people start losing the ability to easily digest lactose.

Babies are very rarely born with lactose intolerance because of the evolutionary need to survive on their mother’s milk. The age in which lactose intolerance starts can vary depending on race and circumstance. Caucasians tend to start developing the intolerance after age 5, whereas African Americans start as young as 2. Severe sicknesses can also cause lactose intolerance to develop earlier.

So how do you know if you’re lactose intolerant? Well, if your symptoms are severe then I hope you already know. If not, go eat a big bowl of ice cream and see how you feel after. It’s for science.

MSG: Evil or Delicious?

*For my Writing for Interactive Media Class I picked Food Allergies as my topic. I’ll be re-posting my assignments here for your enjoyment. I’m not an expert, this is just me trying to learn more and share what I learn. Here’s why MSG is delicious*

One of my favorite condiments is Japanese Mayonnaise, or as I like to call it Japannaise. Many of my friends don’t understand why I like it so much compared to American mayonnaise. I try to explain that the MSG in it makes it much more delicious, but a lot of people don’t think that MSG is something to enjoy in food, but rather something to avoid.

Why would anyone want to avoid something that’s so tasty? Just like with other foods, some people have reactions to it. MSG stands for Monosodium Glutamate, and is a naturally occurring non-essential amino acid used as a flavor enhancer. It was officially discovered in 1908 by Professor Kikunae Ikeda, who isolated the compound from seaweed. The next year, Ajinomoto created a crystallized powder form of MSG and patented it.

It is now found in many of the foods we eat, even if it’s under a slightly different name such as hydrolyzed soy protein. You probably already know that it’s commonly found in Chinese restaurants, but it is also in canned broth, powdered cheese, and other foods. Because it can go by several different names a lot of people aren’t even aware of how much they might be eating.

Here’s the thing though, MSG isn’t evil. I know we were taught to avoid it, and to only go to No MSG Added restaurants. When I was little I couldn’t ever get anyone to tell me what MSG is, or why it’s so bad. As an adult I did my study abroad in Japan, bought what I thought was salt but turned out to be MSG (they look similar, it’s an honest mistake), and decided to research it.

Some of the symptoms people experience when they eat MSG are: headache, flushing, sweating, chest pain, weakness, and several others. This is known as the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. There have been many tests since people started blaming MSG for these symptoms. However, there has been no conclusive evidence that MSG in particular is at fault. Since I was already addicted to Japannaise (you should try it, it can be found in most Asian markets), I knew I couldn’t have MSG sensitivity.

Like most ingredients, unless you have an intolerance to it, moderation is key. MSG is used to enhance flavors, not supply a flavor of it’s own, so not much is needed. It tends to help create a more savory taste, which led to Americans adopting the Japanese word Umami to mean savory. Umami translates to delicious taste, which is an appropriate name.

Topical Food Allergies

*For my Writing for Interactive Media Class I picked Food Allergies as my topic. I’ll be re-posting my assignments here for your enjoyment. I’m not an expert, this is just me trying to learn more and share what I learn. Here’s a different way to experience food allergies*


It’s bad enough having food allergies and worrying about what you eat, but what do you do when those food allergies are a part of your beauty products too? A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook about using a lotion on her hands, only to find out after allergy symptoms appeared that the lotion contains almond oil. It caused her hands to itch, her body to feel shaky, and made her have difficulty breathing. Luckily she didn’t go into anaphylactic shock, but it’s still an experience she tries to always avoid.

My mom almost caused a similar situation one year at Christmas. No one in my immediate family has a food allergy, so it’s something we tend to forget about. For a stocking stuffer she gave me and my sister-in-law chapstick (among other things). She neglected to check the ingredients, but my sister-in-law (let’s just call her Karen from now on) is ever vigilant and looked to find that the chapstick contained mango. She didn’t need to try it out and experience a sense of impending doom, she just gave the chapstick to me (bonus present!).

Where else can common food allergens be found?

Soaps and hand sanitizers frequently are made with soy, milk, and various nut oils. Shampoos are similarly suspect, being made with wheat, almond, soy, and nut oils. Also watch out for makeup (wheat and sesame oil), body lotions (as mentioned earlier), and even sunblock can contain trace amounts of peanut oil.

So is the world a giant conspiracy against people with food allergies? Of course not. Maybe. They just need to be like Karen and remain vigilant at all times. When Karen visits other countries, she is very careful about avoiding mango. By the end of her trip to Costa Rica, the waiter handed her a cup of coffee, looked her straight in the eyes and said, “Here’s your coffee. There is no mango in it.” That’s the way it should be for her, even if we all laugh at her about it sometimes.

Along with reading ingredients on everything, also try checking online for recent food allergy alerts on reputable sites like FARE. Many companies are switching their products to be be more allergy friendly, or offering separate lines of products that are food allergen free.  Do a little research and you should be able to find fantastic lotions, makeup, and shampoo without needing any almond oil.

An Impending Sense of Doom

*For my Writing for Interactive Media Class I picked Food Allergies as my topic. I’ll be re-posting my assignments here for your enjoyment. I’m not an expert, this is just me trying to learn more and share what I learn. Here’s an interesting symptom*

When I decided to use food allergies as my topic for this course I did a lot of initial research to make sure I would have enough to write about. One of the websites had a list of symptoms, and I forwarded it on to my sister-in-law because there is a part about oral allergy symptoms that I thought might be relevant to her. She’s allergic to mango so I wanted to know her take on it. The part that stood out the most for her was one of the symptoms:

A sense of impending doom

She emailed me back and said that she thought it was interesting to see that listed, as it’s something she experiences and always thought she was just being paranoid. I had never heard of it as a symptom before either, and set out to learn more.

It wasn’t just the one website that mentioned it as a symptom. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America also lists a sense of impending doom as a symptom of anaphylaxis. After a Google search, I found it listed on many other food allergy websites.

Sense of impending doom refers to an intense, and sudden, feeling of fear and apprehension much like anxiety. The way my sister-in-law explained it was that the few times she’s unknowingly eaten something with mango in it she almost immediately felt something was wrong, even before other symptoms started showing up. This is caused by her nervous system having a reaction to the food. It isn’t just paranoia, it’s physical.

There have been several studies on this symptom, and they have had interesting results. People who experience gluten intolerance, for example, have been shown to have blood flow issues to their brains, which cause them to experience anxiety. I hope to find more studies on this topic, as it seems like a good way for people to predict if they’re going to experience more severe symptoms.

If you have food allergies, and suddenly experience a sense of impending doom after eating something, it might be a good idea to reach for your EpiPen or medication, in case you’re not being paranoid.

Restaurant Tips For People With Food Allergies

*For my Writing for Interactive Media Class I picked Food Allergies as my topic. I’ll be re-posting my assignments here for your enjoyment. I’m not an expert, this is just me trying to learn more and share what I learn. Here are some tips*

If you have any type of allergy then you know that there are steps you must take in order to be prepared for an allergic attack. I am allergic to trees, dust, and mold so I know to always have a packet of Kleenex and some allergy pills in all of my pocketbooks. This way I am prepared for occasions such as entering a dusty home surrounded by a moldy forest.

Carrying some Kleenex and living in a city with few trees is how I cope. What if you have a food allergy? Food is unavoidable, and you probably enjoy eating out sometimes. There are some steps to take to help ensure you have a pleasant dining experience.

Avoid certain restaurants

Right off the bat you can eliminate some hazardous choices. If you are allergic to shellfish, please don’t go to a seafood restaurant. With peanut or tree nut allergies you might have to avoid Asian restaurants, since many dishes feature peanut oil, peanuts, and other nuts.

Know what’s in common ingredients

Cinnamon, a common and versatile spice, is not always gluten free. When it is packaged ground instead of whole, there is a chance that flour was added to prevent it from caking. For people with mild gluten intolerance this won’t be an issue, however if it’s severe – such as with celiac disease – then you need to be more careful.

Don’t be afraid to be obnoxious

I have a tendency to be very quiet, and I dislike telling chefs or waiters what to do. If I had a severe food allergy though, I would be the bossiest, most obnoxious person you’ve ever met. Do not be embarrassed to tell your waiter that you have a food allergy, and make sure you make a point to ask questions about the food and how it’s prepared. You can also call ahead and talk with a manager about the menu choices and make them aware of your allergy.

Bring a chef card

Type in the ingredients you need to avoid, print it out, bring it with you, and give it to the manager or chef. Since it’s something you can print out at home, you don’t need to worry about not getting it back.

Have your epinephrine on you

If you were prescribed epinephrine, then you should have it on you at all times, especially if you’re going out to a restaurant. It would also help if you know how to use it.

Be logical

When you find yourself asking a plethora of questions, you might want to just order something else. Pick a simpler dish that doesn’t have as many ingredients. Maybe the Spicy Thai Green Curry Ramen isn’t for you. Try the Garlic Ramen instead.

Be a regular customer

If you have found a restaurant that is accommodating to your needs, has good food, and is a place where you have never had any allergic reactions, congratulations! You can now be a regular, and always have a go-to restaurant when you don’t want to deal with all the fuss of calling ahead and asking about ingredients.

Just Cook It

*For my Writing for Interactive Media Class I picked Food Allergies as my topic. I’ll be re-posting my assignments here for your enjoyment. I’m not an expert, this is just me trying to learn more and share what I learn. Here’s a fun syndrome*

A few weeks ago two of my friends came over to my place. We were in for a weekend of movies, cooking, and hanging out. When I broke out the hummus and carrots, one of my friends asked if she could use the microwave. Of course I said that she could (I’m not evil!) but I did ask why.

Her reasoning? She has an allergic reaction to certain foods, like carrots, when they’re raw. However if she cooks them a little bit she’s fine.

My response: You’re kidding, right? That can’t be real.

She shrugged and said that it works for her.

I couldn’t just let something like that go. After they left I decided to look into it. Would you believe that she was right?

It’s known as Oral Allergy Syndrome. This isn’t necessarily a food allergy, but more of a pollen allergy. With this type of allergy people tend to experience itching, irritation, swelling, and other less-than-fun symptoms. This happens after eating certain types of raw fruits and vegetables. Fortunately these symptoms tend to disappear rather quickly after the person stops eating them, with only a low percentage of people experiencing more serious problems.

How can people who experience Oral Allergy Syndrome avoid unpleasantness? Well, it’s just like my friend told me. Cook the food. That might be all you need to do.

Also, check out her blog, Davinmade, about knitting, cooking, reading, movies, and fun stuff.

A Bit About Peanut Allergies

*For my Writing for Interactive Media Class I picked Food Allergies as my topic. I’ll be re-posting my assignments here for your enjoyment. I’m not an expert, this is just me trying to learn more and share what I learn. Here’s a bit about peanut allergies*

Do you ever wonder why someone who is allergic to peanuts might be totally fine with eating other nuts, such as walnuts? You might have noticed that some people are allergic to tree nuts, but not peanuts. They’re both nuts, right? Wrong. Peanuts are actually legumes, like beans and lentils. They grow underground, and all you see while they’re developing are their pretty leafy greens and flowers. This is why hazelnuts are still the most delicious nut (personal opinion), while peanut butter is my favorite thing in the whole world.

It’s completely reasonable to confuse tree nut allergies and peanut allergies (I get tripped up by it all the time). They’re the two most common types of food allergies, and according to about a third of the people who are allergic to tree nuts are also allergic to peanuts, and vice versa.

How does a peanut allergy develop? Doctors aren’t 100% sure. They still flip-flop over whether eating peanuts while pregnant can be a factor, or what age is OK to start introducing kids to peanut butter, and many other aspects of the allergy. They do know that the allergic reactions are tied to the proteins in the peanut, since all real food allergies are based on proteins. This might explain why someone with a peanut allergy might not be allergic to peanut oil depending on how it’s produced.

So what can you do if you think you might be developing an allergy to peanuts? First: stop eating peanuts. Second: go talk to your doctor or allergist.

There is some hope for people with a peanut allergy. There have been studies and trials about desensitizing patients to peanuts by having them ingest increasing amounts of peanut flour in a very controlled environment. The goal is not to cure the patients (although that would be fantastic) but instead to make their allergy not quite so dire.

It would be great if this turns out to be a viable treatment. I can’t even imagine how stressful it must be to worry about if my meal was cooked near peanuts, if there are peanut shells in my landscaping products, wondering about seemingly innocent products such as cake icing and soups, and many other concerns.

If you’re curious about other types of trials and treatments, check out how many trials the Children’s Hospital of Chicago is currently running.

Oven-Baked Butternut Squash Risotto

The weather is turning colder. The leaves are changing color. Earth-tone colored clothes are in the stores. Finally! At last! Autumn! It’s so close. Just a few more days and it’s officially time. Time for stews, and squash, and apple cider donuts. The best flavors of the year start soon. To celebrate my favorite season, I made my Autumn season opener: risotto. Every year I like to make Butternut Squash Risotto at least once. It’s the tastiest. This year, I had fancy new Williams-Sonoma Calphalon pans that I wanted to use in my first ever attempt to make Baked Risotto. I love that whole stove to oven to stove dance that I can do with these.


So I wanted to do that dance a lot. I started off roasting the squash and mushrooms with a little bit of thyme. The pans are non-stick, so I just used a tiny bit of olive oil spray. It worked like a charm! I like my butternut squash with a little bite left to it, but if you don’t, then go ahead and let it roast longer. And make sure your pan is oven-safe!

Roasted Butternut Squash and Mushrooms

I’m not going to lie to you right now – I was nervous. I’m so used to stirring my risotto and being able to check it (taste-test!) frequently. So this was a little weird. But you know what? It worked! When it was done in the oven, I just finished it with my secret weapon – coconut milk – and it was all set! The coconut milk adds a lot more creaminess to the risotto than butter, plus a little bit more flavor as well. It’s my sneaky way of making the risotto slightly more decadent.

Just a quick note: Wrapping the handles in aluminum foil is a good visual reminder that the handles are HOT when they come out of the oven.

Baked Butternut Squash Risotto

Baked Butternut Squash Risotto
Recipe type: Dinner
Cuisine: Italian
Roasted squash and mushrooms, mixed with creamy baked risotto.
  • 2 cups (10oz) butternut squash, ½ inch cubes
  • 2 cups (5.5oz) mushrooms, halved or quartered - depending on size
  • 4-5 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 small shallot, diced
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 2-3 cups broth, chicken or vegetable - divided
  • ¾ cup white wine
  • ¼ cup coconut milk
  • Pecorino Romano cheese - topping
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat oven to 375.
  2. Lightly use cooking spray on a large, oven-safe pan. Wrap the handle in aluminum foil. Add butternut squash, mushrooms, and thyme, and toss lightly to coat in oil. Bake about 15 mins, or until squash is fork tender. Remove from oven, and transfer contents to a bowl, and set aside.
  3. Return the pan to the stove. Turn up oven temperature to 425. Lightly spray again, and saute the shallot about 1-2 minutes. Add rice, and stir until it's coated in the oil. Add the wine, and stir continuously until it is absorbed. Add 1½ cups of the broth, salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Cover, and bake in the oven 20 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed.
  4. Transfer from the oven to the stove. Stir in ½-1 cup of broth as needed. Finish with coconut milk, salt and pepper. Add the squash and mushrooms, stir to heat it up. Serve with cheese.



Food Allergy Basics

*For my Writing for Interactive Media Class I picked Food Allergies as my topic. I’ll be re-posting my assignments here for your enjoyment. I’m not an expert, this is just me trying to learn more and share what I learn. Here’s the basics*

I recently attended a Food Bloggers Conference called Eat Write Retreat. This conference was full of fun sessions on topics such as: writing a sponsored post, food photography, SEO optimization, and more. I also made new friends, contacts, and memories.

While talking with the other bloggers I was shocked at how many had food allergies, or  have family members with food allergies. I would never have thought that people with severe food allergies would be so into food blogging. It’s so widespread, however, that there are apparently online communities for food bloggers with specific allergies. There are gluten-free, peanut-free, tree-nut free, dairy-free, and other allergy related communities that bring people with common issues together to share experiences and recipes.

One blogger, Heather, told me about how she’s highly allergic to tree nuts (this does not include peanuts). Growing up tree nuts were never really an issue for her, but over time she noticed a slight tingling sensation on her tongue when she ate walnuts. She didn’t think much of it until one day after a nap her one year old daughter woke up with swollen joints. She brought her daughter to the doctor and allergist, who explained that it must be a tree nut allergy. She asked about her own symptoms and was told that she’s definitely allergic too and should stop eating walnuts immediately.

Another woman at the event, Atoosa, is worried that she’s developing an allergy to walnuts and pineapple since she’s been feeling the strange tingling/itching feeling when she eats them. I’ve been emailing with her since the conference ended, and she recently said she had walnuts in a salad for the first time in weeks, and then immediately got strep throat. It might not be related to potentially having a tree nut allergy, but she is concerned.

How can people be fine one day, and allergic to deliciousness the next? Apparently it’s very common, and is referred to as sudden-onset symptoms.

The term Food Allergy refers to your immune system having an abnormal reaction to the proteins in a food. There can be many types of symptoms, because our immune systems like to mess with us, so it can be hard to figure out what’s going wrong at first.

What actually triggers an allergic reaction? I think I’ll let the doctors answer this one:

In people with “classic” food allergies, allergic antibodies, called IgE, develop in response to proteins in certain foods. When the person is exposed to that protein at a later time (eg, by eating peanuts), binding of the food protein to IgE triggers a release of chemicals, which cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction. This typically occurs quickly, within minutes to two hours after eating.  – Wesley Burks, MD, University of Carolina 5/24/2013

To put it simply – you know how the immune system likes to attack and destroy the bad things that enter our systems? In this instance our immune systems get all confused and attack harmless proteins from food, which causes allergic reactions. It’s not cool, not fun, but it’s our body’s way of trying to be helpful. It seems to me like good intentions gone wrong.

Food Allergies Make Me Sad

*For my Writing for Interactive Media Class I picked Food Allergies as my topic. I’ll be reposting my assignments here for your enjoyment. Here’s my intro*


I love food. It’s the best. So when I find out that someone is restricted in what they can and can’t eat, I get sad.

You’re lactose intolerant? That’s the worst.

You can’t have peanuts? My soul weeps for you.

No grains? I can’t even begin to imagine.

There are very few foods that I have an allergic reaction to. Some are easy to explain. I can’t eat blue cheese because it’s moldy and I’m allergic to mold. No big deal.

Some are harder to explain. I can’t drink red wine anymore. Because…my body hates me? It’s so inconvenient.

Why does food sometimes hate us? Why do people develop allergies to foods (and wines) that they previously enjoyed? Is it the same aspect that makes it so that people experience significant health benefits when they cut certain types of food from their diets?

So many questions! Let’s explore some food science to find the answers.