Have you ever met anyone who's never eaten pizza, tried ice cream, or even eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?
For many Top of Utah teens, one or more of the above food items can make them extremely sick.
Teens who have food allergies or food intolerances find keeping track of everything they eat is a way of life. Most of them are used to intensely searching for the nutrition facts on a candy bar, asking for the ingredients of the dessert at birthday parties, or just plain bringing their own special food to events.
When I was 1 year old, the doctors found out I was allergic to milk, eggs, wheat, peanuts, and all tree nuts. After years of avoiding these foods, it has become something I'm used to. Over time, my body outgrew some of the allergies, but the rest I'm stuck with. It can be tough avoiding these foods, but with help, it can be done.
What's an allergy?
Food allergies occur when a person's immune system reacts negatively to the proteins in a food. The reaction can range from mild to extremely severe and possibly life-threatening.
The top eight allergies are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat, according to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.
Food intolerances can make people extremely sick or uncomfortable when they eat something that their body does not have the enzymes to digest, or that their body can't process. Lactose intolerance limits a person's ability to have dairy products, and Celiac disease means grains like wheat, barley and rye can be harmful to your body. The diet for those with Celiac disease, called gluten-free, excludes anything from pizza to doughnuts to all types of breads.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has documented an 18 percent growth rate of food allergies in children between 1997 and 2007, although scientists still cannot explain why.
In some cases, if you strictly avoid what you're allergic to when you're young, your body can outgrow the allergies. If not, then they become permanent allergies. Lactose intolerance and Celiac disease never go away.
Away from home?
So with no real medical cures or treatments, how do teens deal with these problems?
"I have to eat gluten-free, so I have to be very careful about what and where I eat," says McKenzie Carter, a senior at Bountiful High with Celiac disease.
Watching what you can and cannot eat may be manageable at your house, but eating away from home can be a bit more tricky.
At the school cafeteria it can be hard to avoid certain foods, but Jordan Berger, a junior at Clearfield High, recounts how she got help at the school cafeteria with her lactose intolerance.
"I had to go through a really long process of filling out forms. You're required to get milk with school lunch, so I had to fill out forms so I could get juice instead," Berger says. "Now I just have to ask the lunch ladies for juice, but it took a long time for the forms to go through."
Birthday parties can be awkward or uncomfortable for people who can't eat any of the cake, ice cream or other treats.
"Celebrations are particularly bothersome because they always have ice cream and frosting and other things that I can't eat," Berger explains.
What are reactions?
Another tough part of being allergic or intolerant to the food at the party is that the person serving it sometimes feels bad about it.
"When people try to be nice and make everyone treats, I tell them I can't have it, and they feel all bad," says Mindy DeWaal, a senior at Syracuse High.
Also, the person with the allergy or intolerance might feel bad as well, or feel embarrassed about drawing attention to their special diet.
Syracuse sophomore Nate Allen says that eating at restaurants can be difficult with his fish, nut and egg allergies.
"If I ever eat at a sit-down restaurant," he says, "we have to be extremely careful. We ask if they prepared the food on the same grill as the fish or anything."
Sometimes those with food allergies must learn to expect the unexpected, as DeWaal, who has a severe allergy to peanuts, discovered.
"One time when I was eating free samples of ice cream, I accidentally swallowed a whole peanut. They had to take me to the hospital; it was terrible," she says.
In case of a severe reaction, many teens keep Epi-Pen autoinjector shots in a backpack or purse in case of an emergency.
You can't eat THAT?
Some foods you absolutely love can be another person's worst nightmare. That doesn't mean, however, that the person doesn't wish they could have that food.
"Scrambled eggs smell so good to me, but I can't have them!" says Allen.
DeWaal says, "Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches make me so jealous!!"
Tristen Adams, 15 and a ninth-grader at Syracuse Junior High, says, "People always get really surprised when they find out I'm allergic to chicken. I can't have chicken nuggets or things like that."
Sometimes there are alternatives for off-limits foods. "Soy butter," for example, has the taste of peanut butter without using any peanuts -- it's made of soybeans.
Gluten- and lactose-free and allergy-safe stores, restaurants and factories are starting to appear because of the dramatic increase of food allergies in America.
"My family still purchases milk, ice cream and other things I can't eat," says Berger, who is lactose intolerant, "but we buy coconut milk ice cream with our regular ice cream."
How to help?
Friends, family or even neighbors often adjust to those with special diets.
Carter, who has Celiac disease, says, "My family has had to adapt to a gluten-free diet, and my friends and family have learned to ask LOTS of questions about what I can and can't eat. They have all been really awesome and supportive about it."
Life may be strange when having a milkshake can make you sick, a piece of pizza can make you feel itchy, or eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich can send you to the hospital, but at the end of the day, life isn't that much different for teens with allergies than it is for other teens.
TX. correspondents Kalli Damschen, Clearfield High, and Zoe Fetters, Bonneville High, contributed to this story.
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Nathan Beeston is a sophomore at Syracuse High School. Contact him at email@example.com.