If you live with a food intolerance, a food allergy or must follow a special diet every day, you know how important it is to maintain your consistency, discipline and routine when you are traveling. And what a challenge this can be! You certainly can’t bring large amounts of food with you on the road, so how do you ensure that you don’t run the risk of a bad, food-related incident while traveling?
An estimated 15 million people suffer from some form of food allergy in the U.S. Food allergies are your immune system reacting to specific allergens, specifically, the presence of proteins in foods you consume or come into contact with. Symptoms of food allergies typically appear from within a few minutes to two hours after you’ve eaten the food to which you are allergic. Many food intolerances are often mistaken for food allergies. Food intolerances, however, unlike food allergies, never involve the immune system and while they can severely impact your quality of life, they are never life threatening.
Eight foods account for 90% of food allergies: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish/shellfish, soy, and wheat. While traveling, you certainly want to avoid becoming uncomfortable and you may not have ready access to health facilities or be in transit so it’s important to take precautions to manage your dietary health and well-being.
Here are some helpful tips for all adventure women with some of the more common forms of food intolerances and allergies:
WHEAT ALLERGIES AND CELIAC DISEASE
A wheat allergy is not the same as having celiac disease. If you’re allergic to wheat, you suffer from an immune response to a protein in wheat and wheat alone. This is more common in children. Celiacs, on the other hand, react to gluten, which can be found in rye, barley, and some oats, in addition to wheat.
- If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease (or a wheat allergy), just let us know at AdventureWomen. We can alert our team in the field so that we’ve got your dietary needs covered. Your Adventure Ambassador can also be of great assistance here. We’ve got your back!
- For those with celiac disease, you might wish to bring some snacks with you including naturally gluten-free foods such as whole fruits and chopped veggies, as well as jerky, cheese, beans, nuts, and seeds.
- Check with your airline about gluten free and order your special meal in advance or bring your own food with you.
- Ditto if you know which hotels you’ll be staying at (check their menus online or call to check on your options).
- Ask questions when you are dining while on the road:
- Can substitutions be made in the published menu (e.g. corn tortillas in place of flour tortillas or gluten-free tamari in place of soy sauce)?
- Breads: Are separate cutting boards, utensils, fryers, and toasters used in order to avoid cross-contamination?
- Salads: Does the salad have croutons? And does the salad dressing contain any gluten?
MILK ALLERGIES AND LACTOSE INTOLERANCE
Many milk allergies, an overreaction of the immune system in response to the presence of protein, are associated with childhood and 90% of children grow out of these by age 3. Lactose intolerant is different. Lactose intolerance means that a person has a hard time digesting the sugar that’s in milk (lactose). Lactose intolerance happens when the body does not make enough of the enzyme (lactase) necessary to digest lactose.
If you are lactose intolerant:
- Do some research about the cuisine in your destination before you leave on your trip. Some countries have a highly milk-based diet (much of Western Europe, for example), but other countries use very little lactose in their cuisine (most Asian countries).
- Learn the lingo. Learn how to say ‘lactose intolerant’, ‘no dairy’, ‘no cheese’ and ‘no milk’ in the local language.
- Bring lactase pills with you on your trip.
- Consider de-sensitizing yourself (building your immunity) to lactose before embarking. Drinking a small amount of milk on a daily basis prior to departure can help to adjust your body to having lactose in your system (as may well happen on your trip, when you have less control over what you eat). To help increase your tolerance, start by drinking about ¼ to ½ cup of milk with meals two to three times a day for three to four weeks before departure.
- On your trip, try to avoid all food made with milk or milk powder, cream or ice cream or those containing cheese, butter, margarine or yogurt. Ask questions of your servers about soups, salad dressings and desserts!
NUT ALLERGIES: TREE NUTS AND PEANUTS
Peanut allergies usually last a lifetime and people with them are often also allergic to tree nuts. Because the two tend to come into contact during manufacturing and serving, people with peanut allergies are advised to steer clear of tree nuts as well. Examples of tree nuts include walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios, and Brazil nuts.
- Check the ingredients on packaging of any snacks you suspect might contain nuts.
- Ask questions before ordering food about food preparation and ingredients.
SHELLFISH AND FISH ALLERGIES
Salmon, tuna, and halibut are the most common fish to which people are allergic. More than 50 percent of people who are allergic to one type of fish are also allergic to others, so people with fish allergies are generally advised to avoid all fish and products like fish oil completely. Like allergies to peanuts and tree nuts, a fish allergy can develop at any age and is usually lifelong. Shellfish is another allergy that can develop in adulthood and is unlikely to go away. Approximately 60 percent of people with shellfish allergy don’t experience their first allergic reaction until adulthood. People who are allergic to shellfish are likely to react to both crustacea (like lobsters, crabs, shrimp) and mollusks (like clams, mussels, oysters, and scallops).
- Avoid all fish-related menu items.
- Ask questions before ordering food to ensure that fish oils were not used in any menu item for example in a soup.
Finally, in rare cases, following ingestion of a food allergen(s), a person with food allergies can experience a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. This condition can cause constricted airways in the lungs, severe lowering of blood pressure and shock (“anaphylactic shock”) or even suffocation by swelling of the throat.
A final tip: prompt administration of epinephrine by an auto-injector (e.g., Epi-pen) during early symptoms of anaphylaxis may help prevent serious consequences. Bring one on your trip to be on the safe side.
Here’s what one of our recent guests with a gluten intolerance had to say about her experience traveling with us:
“It was fabulous. Everyone was so accommodating, being gluten free was very easy. However, the choices were so plentiful, I’d have had no problem if I’d not specified no gluten. It would have been a similar experience choosing vegetarian options, because there were always choices that could be made on the spot.” – Carole T.