How to manage food allergies when eating out

Food allergies suck.

You not only have to often give what may otherwise be a mind-blowing dish a miss but also be that person who has a laundry list of things you can't eat.

Plus, they're incurable, so they can inconvenience you for the rest of your life like a bad mother-in-law.

Not sure why they happen?

It's when your immune system has abnormal immune responses to particular foods.

And according to Daphne Loh, a dietitian and Gleneagles Hospital, there can be all sorts of symptoms when you have these allergies. They include tingling or itching in the mouth; a hives or eczema breakout; abdominal pain, diarrhoea, nausea or vomiting; and swelling of the lips, face, tongue or throat.

The most severe reaction you can have is anaphylaxis - a potentially life-threatening reaction that can cause impaired breathing, a drop in blood pressure and a weak pulse. Basically, it's all real scary stuff, and it's of utmost importance that you learn to manage any food allergies you may have.

Not sure how you can do that when eating out? Check out Daphne's six tips.

1. Choose your restaurant carefully

There's a higher chance of cross-contamination and accidental overexposure at buffets and bakeries, which usually makes items with common allergens such as wheat, eggs and milk.

Also, it might a good idea to avoid places that make a lot of their food with a certain allergen. For example, peanuts are frequently used in Thai and Chinese cooking, so if you're allergic, it'll be wise to avoid those types of restaurants.

2. Go at the right time

You should try to eat when the restaurant's kitchen is not as busy.

The first hour of service is usually when the staff are more alert and attentive, and the kitchen, much cleaner, which lessens the odds of cross-contamination.

3. Ask about the ingredients

Check with the staff about the ingredients used and alert them to the potential severity of your food allergies so they'll know what to look out for.

4. Keep it simple

Stick to simple, whole foods such as vegetables and meats that haven't been processed, coated or mixed.

Avoid sauces, dips, casseroles, desserts and marinated items unless you know what's in them.

5. Bring along 'safe' snacks

It's a Plan B. In the event that you can't eat anything, you can eat those snacks and not have to go hungry.

6. Read labels

Read food labels carefully as the ingredients and manufacturing processes can change without warning.

Also, it might be handy to learn about the other names of the allergens you need to avoid. For example, if you're allergic to wheat, you should also stay away from wheat germ, semolina, wheat starch and flour.

This article was first published on CLEO Singapore.