In recent surveys, many people reported they suffer from some form of food allergy.
In reality, the actual percentage of true food allergic individuals is much lower than people perceive -- perhaps 2% of the population.
Following are several facts about food allergies in general and peanut allergies in particular.
General Peanut Consumption
What is a peanut?
Peanuts come from a plant (Arachis hypogea) whose fruit seed is a pod containing the "peanut" which grows underground.
Strictly speaking a peanut is actually a legume, like beans and peas.
Where are peanuts produced?
In addition to the United States, other countries which produce peanuts include Argentina, China, India, Indonesia, Nicaragua, Senegal, South Africa and Vietnam.
How many peanuts are consumed in Europe?
Over 450,000 tonnes of peanuts are imported into Europe every year, over half of which is processed and packed as consumer snack products.
About 25% is . used primarily in the production of peanut butter and confectionery products.
The balance is used for a variety of purposes, including cereals and bakery items.
Do peanuts have real nutritional value?
Peanuts are sources of protein' and fibre, and provide many of the essential vitamins and minerals for a healthy diet, including Vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and iron, zinc, potassium, calcium and magnesium.
Peanuts are naturally cholesterol free, an added value for health conscious consumers.
What are the main causes of allergic reactions?
According to the British Allergy Foundation, the most common allergy in the UK is hay fever which currently affects about 20% of all allergy sufferers.
Another common allergy is to insect stings.
The main foods which are associated with food allergy are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, nuts, wheat and soy.
Exactly what is a food allergy?
A food allergy is any reaction to an otherwise harmless food or food component that involves the body's immune system.
A reaction occurs when the body's immune system responds abnormally to the protein or proteins in that particular food.
The body reacts by flooding the system with histamine and other chemicals to fight off what is perceived as an invader in the body.
Reactions to food or food ingredients that do not involve the immune system are called a food intolerance or sensitivity.
Is peanut allergy dangerous?
Although an allergic reaction is nearly twice as likely to occur from milk and eggs than from peanuts, allergic reactions to nuts and peanuts can be severe.
In a small number of individuals, peanut and nut allergies are potentially life-threatening.
How many peanuts are needed to cause a reaction?
Recent evidence indicates that even trace amounts of peanuts can be enough to cause a major reaction in those very few individuals who are severely allergic.
Do allergies run in the family?
Recent surveys indicate an increased likelihood of children being allergic if there is a family history of allergies or atopic disorders. There is no evidence that becoming sensitised to foods such as peanuts alone specifically runs in families.
How will I know if I am allergic?
Allergic reactions may be progressive in severity, therefore a first reaction can be quite mild.
In general, early symptoms to observe are a tingly sensation, itching or a metallic taste in the mouth, followed by a sensation of warmth and a swelling of the mouth which may be followed by swelling of the throat and difficulty in breathing.
What should I do if I think I am allergic?
You should first consult your GP who will assess the situation. Ask for a referral to an allergy specialist for testing.
Can I test myself for the allergy?
The safest and wisest way to be tested for allergies is by a specialist in a properly controlled medical environment.
Should peanuts be consumed during pregnancy and breast-feeding?
Studies are inconclusive about the effects of diet during pregnancy on the development of food allergies.
As a precautionary measure, the Department of Health issued advice on 17 June 1998, that "pregnant or breast-feeding women who suffer from diagnosed allergic conditions, or where the father or a sibling of the child has a clinical history of such conditions, may wish to avoid eating peanuts and food containing peanut products."
The DOH further stated that there is no reason for pregnant or nursing mothers who do not fall into this category to avoid eating peanuts.
Should peanuts be given to infants and children?
If an infant or child has other food allergies or has a family history of food or other allergies, withholding introduction of peanuts until after three years of age has been recommended.
Children under five years of age should not be given any type of whole nut due to the risk of choking.
Should peanut oil be avoided?
The process of refining oil removes peanut protein, which is responsible for triggering an allergic reaction.
Peanut oil (sometimes labelled as Arachis or Groundnut oil) is commonly used as a component in vegetable oil, as a carrier in processeq foods or as an emulsifier/lubricant in cosmetics.
Recent studies in the UK have shown no detectable protein in refined peanut oil, and no reaction among peanut allergy suffers to the refmed oil.
However, oils which are cold pressed to retain their flavour or oil that has been used to cook peanuts do contain protein and therefore should be avoided.
Is there a cure?
There is no cure for food allergy.
Avoidance continues to be the only certain treatment although medical research is constantly searching for treatments and solutions.
What types of allergy research activities are underway?
Research is underway to develop treatments to prevent or decrease the symptoms of serious food allergies.
US efforts to develop a vaccine have focused on identifying and isolating the specific peanut proteins that are responsible for triggering an allergic response.
Considerable progress has been made, but it is likely to take several years before human trials may begin.
Until a vaccine or other medical treatment is available avoidance is the best prevention for food allergies.
Are there any medicines which can be used?
If you are a known sufferer, products such as inhalers (to help with breathing) and automatic injector syringes of adrenaline ( epinephrine) for more severe reactions should be ,carried at all times.
Speak with your OP to determine your best course of treatment.
Sufferers should also consider wearing an identity bracelet or medallion to alert others if they have a problem.
What is the peanut industry doing to address food allergies?
The peanut industry is working closely with government and consumer organisations, monitoring allergy issues and research findings as they are published.
Industry associations are disseminating information to their members, to ensure the industry as a whole is aware of current developments.
Where appropriate, many manufacturers have modified their own operations, voluntarily incorporating a number of new processing procedures to ensure that all products which contain peanuts are clearly labelled, and that any traces of peanuts are not transferred into other food items.
Can I trust what is written on the label?
Most UK manufacturers and retailers have voluntarily implemented full disclosure of potential food allergens.
European regulations permit exclusion of labelling for ingredients which constitute less than 25% compound ingredients (eg, ingredients in a cake filling are not required to be individually listed if the filling constitutes less than 25% of the cake).
Discussions are underway within Europe and internationally to reduce the compound ingredient exclusion, as well as to develop a list of potential food allergens which must always be identified.
What about when there is no label?
This is the most difficult area to control, since restaurant, catering and oth~r non-packaged food is not labelled for the consumer.
In these situations, consumers should always ask if there are peanuts or peanut products in the recipe when ordering.
If any doubt remains, that food or location should be avoided.
Should foods which potedtially cause allergic reactions be banned?
There are differing opinion~ on this approach.
Measures to exclude foods, such as school bans, may in fact result in a false sense of security for the child and may be a divisive force when what is needed is co-operation.
For the majority of the population, these foods contribute significantly to nutrition and quality of life.
Researchers and consumer organisations are largely in agreement that it is no more appropriate to remove peanuts from the diet of the general population than any of the other foods which are associated with allergies such as milk, eggs, nuts or shellfish.
Education is the key to successfully managing and living with peanut or other food allergies.
Those are the FACTS ...
This information has been prepared in co-operation with the British Peanut Council and the organisations listed below.
If you would like more information about food allergy, please contact:
The Anaphylaxis Campaign
No 2 Clockhouse Road
General Enquires: (01252) 542 029
British Allergy Foundation
30 Bellegrove Road
Welling, Kent DA163BY
General Enquiries: (0208) 303 8525
Fax: (0208) 303 8792
Help line: (0208) 303 8583
UK: (0891) 516 500
For nutritional information about peanuts
American Peanut Information Office
59 Russell Square
Telephone: (0207) 631 3434
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