Food allergies have become omnipresent for Americans; in fact, food allergies among children have grown at an epidemic rate, increasing about 50%, between 1997 and 2011, according to a study recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unfortunately, these food allergies are life-threatening for many. Someone goes to an emergency room every 3 minutes from a food allergy, and there is no clear, single answer as to why food allergies have become such a menace to modern life.
Common sense and research does suggest 10 reasons why we are suffering from food allergies when our grandparents did not.
#1: Our Grandparents Ate Local & Seasonal Food
The majority of our grandparents’ food came directly from farms and small markets. Food did not travel across the world from an unknown source; they often knew exactly from where the food came. For example, our grandparents typically knew the farmer who provided the cow for their beef, as well as the butcher who processed the meat. Since none of the food was not chemically treated and rarely preserved, it was at its peak of freshness and nutritionally-dense, serving as healthy fuel for their bodies.
#2: They Didn’t Eat Processed Food
Our grandparents did not eat processed or pre-prepared foods, and eating in restaurants was a true luxury. They prepared their meals at home from scratch with traditional cooking methods, so no fast food, no chemicals, and no microwaves, all modern “conveniences” that compromise the nutritional quality of our food.
#3: They Didn’t Use Chemicals to Clean their Food
Our grandparents used water, baking soda, and vinegar as cleaning products, not the chemical concoctions that lurk under our sinks today. They washed their food; they did not douse it with chemicals.
#4: Our Grandparents Were Not Hyper Vigilant About Germs in General
Recent studies suggest that our modern fight against dirt and germs is actually harming us well beyond the use of chemicals, a theory referred to as the Hygiene Hypothesis. When children in rural, farming communities are exposed to dirt, germs, and infections, their immune systems learn to fight off these invaders. In urban and suburban communities where kids’ exposures are limited by antibiotics and cleaner lifestyles, children’s immune systems may actually be looking for enemies to fight in the absence of true invaders, leading to an increase in allergies, including food allergies.
#5: They Didn’t Have Overdose of Medical Information
Media, including the Internet, have become medical goldmines for the average user. Modern eaters are now much more aware of potential symptoms and side effects of foods, and many may be misdiagnosing their reactions. In essence, people now may be mistaking a food sensitivity or intolerance for a food allergy. When our grandparents would have simply avoided a food that didn’t quite agree with them, we now rush to the doctor.
#6: Our Grandparents Didn’t Delay Introduction of Certain Foods to Young Children
Modern Western medicine has a rigid timeline for the introduction of certain foods to children, especially those foods with higher incidences of allergic reactions. Some studies suggest that withholding these foods may actually contribute to food sensitivities. In fact, several studies of cultures with peanut-based diets show lower incidences of peanut allergies, one of the most common food allergies in the United States, because they introduce peanut-based foods to children with their first solid foods.
Most importantly, infants were almost exclusively breastfed before the introduction of solid foods, and therefore children were not exposed to processed formulas.
#7: The Ways We Prepare Foods Today May Be Contributing to a Higher Rate of Food Allergies
Some research suggests that the ways we prepare a number of foods today may be contributing to the increase in food allergies. For example, our grandparents were more likely to eat boiled rather than roasted peanuts, and roasted peanuts are more likely to evoke an allergic reaction. Likewise, the dairy products and eggs that our grandparents ate in baked goods are less likely to cause an allergic reaction than those same food stuffs that we prepare in isolation or eat raw now.
#8: More Modern Babies Are Born Via C-Section
A recent study that evaluated children at 1 month, 2 months, 1 year, and 2 years found a significant correlation between allergies and children born by Caesarean section. Evidence suggests that C-section babies have different immune systems, and since the number of C-sections performed in the U.S. is on the rise, the number of allergies may be rising accordingly.
#9: Our Grandparents’ Diet Didn’t Include GMOs
Allergic reactions are our bodies’ overreaction to foreign and dangerous foods. The number of genetically-modified ingredients in our foods continues to grow exponentially each day, and there is currently no labeling system for GMOs in our foods. Since the body’s reaction to these GMOs is still under investigation, it is safe to postulate that GMOs could be considered foreign and dangerous by our bodies, prompting an increase in allergies.
#10: They Didn’t DietOur grandparents did not restrict their caloric intake or rush out to the gym to lose weight. They did not change their eating habits based upon the latest fad diet, instead they ate what was fresh and available when their bodies were hungry. They spent more time outside, and their lifestyles were much more physically-demanding, allowing them to have more efficient metabolisms.
So many factors of modern life affect our responses to food. If we are to combat the recent rise in food allergies, we must look closely at our food systems and our individual food choices.