Holidays: Dodging Dietary Dangers

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

With family gatherings, work parties, cookie exchanges and food gifts, the season can feel full of dietary hazards if you have food restrictions.

Whether it’s an intolerance or allergy, your dietary restrictions may not seem important to others. From a “forgotten” ingredient in a side dish or a relative who thinks it’s “all in your head,” here’s how you can dodge dietary dangers.

Tips from Ali Olsen, registered dietitian and bariatric dietitian with Center for Weight Loss and Surgery at Oswego Health:

• “Communicate! Contact party hosts as soon as your invitation arrives. Gently and nicely communicate by educating others. Remember, your host is probably hoping to have a safe holiday party as well. Discuss your concerns about food allergens, the possibility of cross-contact, and how you can best create a safe environment. By having a conversation about food allergies in general, you have an opportunity to educate without offending your host.

• “Ship ahead. If you’re flying to visit friends or family, and you can’t bring a dish, you may want to make some simple problem-free foods that travel well and ship them to your host ahead of time or research what grocery stores carry in the area that you might be able to use.

• “Make a list. Include an ingredient listing card with your dish to the party, perhaps you’ll inspire others to start doing the same. If you are hosting, keep all labels from the food you prepare in case one of your guests has a question about a product.

• “Keep an eye on young ones with allergies. Take turns supervising children with food allergies. Make a rule with the children before the party starts to check for permission before eating anything.

• “Be prepared. If you’re unsure, ask about ingredients, check labels when possible, and carry medications with you in case of a reaction. Remember to have dedicated serving dishes, serving utensils, and prep space for those special allergy free foods. If the situation can’t be controlled safely enough, you might need to eat before the party or sneak a small snack in your bag.

• “Plan some food-free activities. The holidays are about more than just the food. Skip the cookie swap and enjoy time with your friends and family by making crafts, wrapping presents, watching holiday movies, or playing games instead.”

Tips from Laurel Sterling, registered dietitian and nutritionist and educator for Carlson Laboratories:

• “Certain people have dietary restrictions like irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease or allergies. This can be difficult while traveling, at get-togethers and during holiday dinners. I had many clients with these health concerns, and they brought along a dish for themselves to enjoy.

• “They can also eat beforehand.

• “People can make specific dishes for the person with the dietary restriction.

• “Nowadays there are so many stores and restaurants that have foods which cater to many with dietary concerns.”

Tips from physician Az Tahir, High Point Wellness, Syracuse:

• “It can be a challenge, especially when traveling and at family functions, if you’re allergic to foods commonly used. Usually, you have fruits and vegetables. They’re usually safe and you can buy them anywhere.

• “Nuts can be a healthful food if you’re not allergic to them.

• “If you’re allergic to something, don’t just eat it because you’re afraid of offending other people.”