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Allergy Today My Story: Shopping with food allergies made easier

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Being a mother with two children with multiple food allergies led dietitian Lisa Hassan to develop the Allergy Well website with its Food Finder tool, which identifies foods that are safe – and those that aren't.

It was a passion for helping people with food allergies that led Lisa Hassan to develop a free online tool to make grocery shopping with food allergies easier.

As a mother of two children with multiple food allergies, and a New Zealand Registered Dietitian, Lisa put her nutrition knowledge and personal experience together to come up with the Allergy Well concept.

Her website provides a well of allergy information, including the Food Finder which allows you to select your food allergies, choose a food product category and instantly see which supermarket foods meet your needs. It is designed to save time at the supermarket and also introduce you to products you wouldn’t have known were suitable otherwise.

A personal prompt

Lisa Hassan-700-90-90Lisa’s allergy journey started when her eight-month-old daughter had an anaphylactic reaction to cow’s milk. 

“Having a child go limp in your arms is the most frightening experience any parent could face,” she says.

Follow-up testing showed that eggs and peanuts were also out. Having a combination of food allergies made grocery shopping an overwhelming experience, and even with all her nutrition knowledge she felt completely lost. 

After her second child developed an allergy to dairy, egg and a variety of tree nuts, and spending hours at the supermarket searching for foods that her family could safely eat, she thought there must be an easier way. And from there Allergy Well was born. 

Simplifying the allergy minefield

The development of the Food Finder has taken Lisa on quite a journey. From the original concept to the end product, she has learnt so much along the way.

“It has amazed me the foods that have allergens hidden in them.” 

Lisa has discovered egg in canned soup, cow’s milk in jelly and wheat in tinned tuna!

“It really is a minefield for people trying to find foods that are safe to eat.”

At the same time the process has meant Lisa’s family has discovered a whole host of foods that they had never really considered would be safe.

“I really hope the Food Finder will help others as much as it has helped me,” she says.

Allergy Well’s Food Finder contains over 6,000 commonly found foods from the major supermarkets in New Zealand, so is designed specifically for Kiwis living with food allergies and intolerances.

The database is regularly updated and new products added. Foods are classified by allergens, using their ingredients list, according to the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code and advice from Allergy NZ and the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA).

Risks without a proper diagnosis

Lisa advises anyone with suspected food allergies or intolerances to see their GP and then seek specialist dietitian advice rather than embarking on a process of self-diagnosis and management. Many medical conditions mimic the symptoms of food allergy and intolerance so getting the correct diagnosis means any required medical treatment is not delayed.

Attempting to determine which foods you may be allergic or intolerant to yourself can leave you following an overly restrictive diet and one that is not nutritionally complete. Dietitians see so many people who start by removing one group of foods, then another, then another and before they know it their food intake is so limited that their overall health and wellbeing is at risk.

For example, studies have shown that people who follow a gluten-free diet can have multiple nutritional deficits if the nutrients found in gluten-containing grains are not appropriately replaced.

Working with a New Zealand Registered Dietitian takes the confusion out of the process by ensuring only the culprit foods are avoided and any nutrients lost are appropriately replaced.

Allergy Well Founder and NZ Registered Dietitian Lisa Hassan

June 2019