Book Food Allergies A Complete Guide for Eating When Your Life Depends on It by Dr. Scott H. Sicherer

Book Review: Food Allergies: A Complete Guide When Your Life Depends on It

Living with a food allergy can be overwhelming, especially when your first diagnosed. One of the best comprehensive books on food allergies I have ever read is  Food Allergies: A Complete Guide When Your Life Depends  on It by Dr. Scott H. Sicherer. The book provides a conversational overview of various food allergies by answering commonly asked questions.

Discussing the US recognized top 8 allergens, Dr. Sicherer goes further writing on allergies to spices, fruit, alcohol, preservatives, sulfates, MSG and even a paragraph on nickel. He mentions that over 170 different foods “have been known to cause a reaction” (15). His book provides tips on communicating and preparing questions when meeting with your physician; information on the different types of allergy testing and signs to identifying anaphylaxis. In addition he discusses the various chronic conditions food allergies can cause. He provides answers on how to prevent allergic reactions in social situations, such as eating out, gatherings, dating and beyond. He answers questions we probably all ask, such as whether our food allergy will ever go away or if there was anything we could have done to prevent being allergic to certain foods. 

When I was first diagnosed and handed a list of foods I to avoid, I wondered about the negative nutritional health affects this could cause. Dr. Sicherer’s book also includes a section on balancing food allergies with nutrition and healthy living. 

Below are some valuable insights from the book I found informative and thought might potentially peak your interest in the book: 

Dr. Sicherer writes how “The part of the immune system that is activated against proteins in foods is the same part that fights parasite, or worm, infections” (14). 

In responding to the question:  ”Does cooking a food make it less allergic?” Dr. Sicherer states:

 “The answer depends on the food. Some foods appear to become more likely to trigger an allergic reaction (increased allergenicity) when heated….heating fruits and vegetables usually makes them less allergic for people with protein-induced food allergies. How the proteins in foods behave when heated can also vary by how the food is heated, the temperature, and the associated ingredients” (16). 

I often get asked about whether coconut is high in nickel? Personally I avoid eating coconut in all forms. Dr. Sicherer’s explanation on coconut provides clarity when he writes “The FDA considers [coconut] a nut, but there is controversy. Most people see coconut as a fruit (a fibrous, one-seeded drupe.” He continues to write “Some coconut proteins are similar to those in walnuts, hazelnuts, lentils and other foods” (26).

Seeds tend to be higher in nickel. Before reading this book I was unaware that tahini is “a paste that is primarily sesame protein” (p. 29). Tahini can often be included in some Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Asian cuisines.

Another interesting fact I learned while reading this book is that “Canned fish might be tolerated by a person who reacts to less heated forms because the canning process destroys some proteins” (p. 37). I personally avoid most canned foods; however I have found that I can tolerate both canned tuna and canned salmon without a reaction. Perhaps the canning process destroying certain proteins is the reason why! 

In his description of “unusual food reactions” Dr. Sicherer writes about nickel allergies, describing the allergy causing “Body rashes from chemicals or metals in food (the medical term is ‘systemic contact dermatitis). Some people who develop itchy rashes when chemicals or metals are in direct contact with the skin may then develop widespread itchy rashes when they eat foods with the same substance” (p. 48-49). 

My physical reaction when I eat something high in nickel is atopic dermatitis, a severe type of eczema. Dr. Sicherer writes about the two reasons why it is “difficult to determine which foods contribute to atopic dermatitis” saying

 “atopic dermatitis has a naturally waxing and waning course, which can be misleading when trying to make casual connections to foods. To make matters worse, some studies suggest that the symptoms can arise in the day or two after the food is eaten. This means if you add a food, any flaring of the eczema in the next day or two could be attributed to the food when in reality the rash might have naturally flared…Trials of adding foods to the diet should be undertaken during consistent treatment and when the skin is in good repair” (p. 126-127). 

Even though the book discusses various food allergies, I found it useful in further understanding my own nickel food allergy. I’d love to hear if you’ve read the book or know of other resources you’ve appreciated reading.