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Shopping with Food Sensitivities: Fill Your Cart The Right Way

Photo by Alex S. Bayley. Used under a Creative Commons attribution license.

Do you have a food sensitivity or allergy? Contact one of WFCC’s registered nutritionists to help you figure out where your problems may lie – and how eating properly and exercising might help.

Food allergies and sensitivities in Canada are on the rise. With increasing awareness of these issues, each year more people become diagnosed. According to Health Canada, 7% of the nation’s population self-report some kind of food sensitivity.

Some common food allergens include: peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, dairy, eggs, gluten (found in wheat, barley, rye and some other grains), soy, nightshades (tomato, eggplant, peppers, potatoes), tapioca, and sulphites (a preservative). There is a sharp division within the medical community about the true prevalence of food allergies. All too often, unless a severe, life-threatening reaction occurs as they often do with peanut and tree nut allergies, symptoms can go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for long periods of time.

The possible severity of food allergies can differ greatly from person to person. Reactions can range from life-threatening anaphylactic shock (common with nut allergies) to a mild intolerance that causes temporary discomfort or chronic, difficult to diagnose symptoms.

Pinning down milder intolerances can be even harder still, as there is disagreement in the about diagnostic criteria for these types of reactions. Some alternative and complementary healthcare practitioners (as well as some MDs) advocate food sensitivity testing. But the broader medical community has questioned the validity of the results. T

However, many patients who don’t have a formal diagnosis of an allergy still have evidence of adverse reactions to food from their very own experience. And with so many of these allergens, such as gluten, lurking in tons of different supermarket foods – particularly processed ones – it can be difficult to figure out what’s safe and what isn’t.

If you are living with a food allergy or sensitivity, we’ve compiled some tips to make your grocery shopping experience easier:

Read every label thoroughly.

Aside from not being able to enjoy certain foods, this is probably the most annoying part of living with a food sensitivity! Make sure to thoroughly read the ingredients list on every packaged food you buy. On the plus side, however, it does make you more conscious of the nutritional value of the foods you eat.

Once you’ve been on an allergen-free diet for a while, you’ll come to know what foods and brands are “safe”, but this is going to take some practice and adjustment. In the beginning, you may want to carry a list with all ingredients that you have to look out for, because sometimes foods are called by different names on labels.

On some food packaging, you will also find helpful symbols that denote being free-from some common allergens. But remember: if you are in doubt about an ingredient, it’s always better not to purchase that food.

Plan your meals ahead of time, and go to the grocery store with a list in hand.

When you plan out your meals ahead of time, it will make your grocery shopping much easier.

Create a schedule of your week and the meals you will be making. That way you can go to the grocery store with a complete list of necessary ingredients. (Don’t forget to check to see what you already have on hand first.)

When you take some time to plan out your meals ahead of time, you’ll feel less stressed about looking for things you can eat. It will probably also save money, because you’ll be less likely to make impulse buys.

Buy staples from your normal grocer and make special trips when necessary.

Having a dietary restriction can easily get expensive, especially if you buy all of your groceries from a specialty store.

Even if you have a serious food allergy, there are still lots of foods you can buy from a normal grocery store. Farmer’s markets are also a great place to get fresh, locally produced fruit and vegetables.

Focus on buying fresh produce and pantry staples from your normal grocer. Prepared allergen-free foods (gluten free breads, for example) tend to be more quite a bit more expensive than conventional foods. Save those trips to the health food store for seeking out foods and special ingredients that you can’t find elsewhere.

Ask for recommendations.

Your food sensitivity may be challenging to deal with, but know that you’re not alone. Share recipes and ask for advice from with your family, friends and in online communities. If you know anyone else with the same sensitivity, ask him or her for their favourite brands of foods and also for restaurant recommendations.

With a bit of proper Googling, you can also find great reviews of almost any food products online. An increasing number of recipe websites allow to you search by dietary restrictions – take advantage of this.

Before embarking on any new diet it’s also a good idea to speak with you doctor, who can provide you with resources and suggestions. It’s also a great idea to meet with a registered nutritionist, who can help pick the best foods and recipes customized to your needs. Remember, here at WFCC, we have registered nutritionists on staff who can help you figure out how to eat properly – and shop properly – while keeping your sensitivities in mind. Request a consultation today