Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Surviving the Holidays with a Coconut Allergy

Time to be festive and eat lots of yummy things you wouldn't normally eat, right? Let's be careful and keep our epi-pens and benadryl handy just in case. Remember to read all ingredients!

Here is a summary of things to AVOID during the holiday season:

WHIPPY things- Cool whip means coconut oil. Some people make whole pies by simply mixing cool whip with other ingredients, so if you're at a pot luck, and you see a cream pie, beware unless it comes from a package and you can read the ingredients. We recently even saw some Jell-O brand mousse in a little cardboard packet that had coconut oil in it.

CHOCOLATES- Oh how I love to munch on sees candies and oh how very sick I can get even if a particular piece doesn't contain coconut. There is cross contamination aplenty in any brand of assorted chocolates. Don't play chocolate roulette.

ICE CREAM- Unless that Ben and Jerry's scoop shop that you are tempted to hit at the airport or Baskin Robbins at the mall has an allergy brochure handy, or you have the flavor ingredients memorized AND you ask them to wash the scoop before dipping yours AND scoop in a fresh spot that hasn't been touched, you may soon feel your throat closing up. . . just a reminder to not be crazy and try new flavors while on the road.

GOODIES you receive as gifts.- YES, I feel like a complete DORK when people bake for me and I have to ask them for all the ingredients to their goodies. But, no one has ever been offended. If they are gifting me something that I am allergic to, I just tell them how much my husband and kids will love them because they never get to have anything with coconut in it and it's a special treat for them.

RESTAURANT FOOD- when choosing a restaurant to visit while traveling or with friends and family, I avoid THAI food altogether because of my coconut allergy. There is coconut milk and coconut oil, etc. in practically everything there. Also, INDIAN food restaurants sometimes use coconut milk in their curries, so that can be really tricky to figure out. At other restaurants, before ordering anything fried, I like to scan the menu for things like coconut shrimp that might be fried in the same oil. It's highly unlikely that you would end up with even trace amounts of coconut in your fried food, but use good judgement if you have ever had an anaphylactic reaction to coconut. Desserts can be crazy at restaurants because they may cut you a piece of chocolate cake right after coconut cake, etc., so I am not shy about making it clear to our server that I have food allergies without making it into a hassle for anyone. Whenever I get a server who has no clue what ingredients are in anything and is reluctant to go find out, I just ask for a manager. That's what managers are for. If the manager doesn't know, well, that is a good sign that they don't make their food fresh in-house and that I am probably eating more MSG than nutrients. For great tips on eating out without feeling totally terrified and oppressed with food allergies (and for a lot of moral support) I loved reading Sloane Miller's book, Allergic Girl.

POPCORN- You know you'll pass your vacation time going to at least one movie! Movie theater popcorn contains coconut oil most of the time. Not just the extra butter you put on it. It makes my mouth develop what I call "blisters of pain and fire" within an hour of eating it and makes me feel very, very sick to my stomach. I just enjoy the smell. . . .mmmmm. . . and sneak in my own gourmet chocolate bar to eat instead. I let my husband and kids eat popcorn, and make sure I get lots of napkins and tell them "no touching mommy until you wash your hands."

COSMETICS- Oh, various types of chap stick stuff, why must you have coconut oil in you? Also, for the last few years it seems like soaps and lotions from Bath and Body works have been the go-to small gift of choice. I like to put these in my guest bathroom or just re-gift them. No big deal. As a reminder, here is a link to my (by no means complete) list of coconut-derived ingredients.

HOT COCOA MIXES- yikes. Many have coconut oil in them!

Did I leave anything out?

You may want to share Healthline's Interactive Guide on Anaphylaxis with your friends and family with whom you will be eating during the holidays.