An interview with Jodi Shroba, APRN
“In food allergy, when we talk about ‘food is medicine,’ we are talking about providing foods that are safe to eat as an alternative to foods they are no longer eating.”
The only known way to treat food allergies is to avoid the food that is causing the allergic reaction. For the majority of food-allergic individuals, these allergens include foods such as peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, dairy, fish, shellfish, soy, sesame, and wheat. However, allergic reactions have been reported to over 150 different types of food. The more allergens you add into the mix, the more expensive it is to avoid them. But choosing to not-avoid allergens is not really an option.
“If you are truly allergic to a food, you will [have a reaction] every time you eat the food.” These reactions can range from mild to fatal, and knowing that is hard to live with. “The mental toll of food allergy is just as great as the physical. The fear of eating something I wasn’t supposed to; the anxiety of what is going to happen because I just ate something I wasn’t supposed to; the oh my god am I going to get to the hospital fast enough or to my epi-device fast enough; is benadryl enough or do I need my epinephrine? A lot of people with food allergies have anxiety because they are always wondering if what they are eating is safe.”
On the flipside, “if you are eating food that is safe, you should never have a reaction.” Of course you have to consider cross-contact and mislabeling, but, more often than not, you should be safe and healthy. The more you eat food that you know is safe for you, the less reactions will occur. Consequently, the anxiety of having a severe reaction will significantly lessen.
In oral immunotherapy, food is easily medicine. For her peanut immunotherapy patients, she uses peanut M&Ms as a daily dose of medicine, saying “how many of your healthcare providers tell you to eat candy as your medicine?” But for those who do not undergo this treatment, the idea that food is medicine is a little bit harder to grasp.
In food allergies, we are often taught that food is the enemy, that allergens must be avoided at all costs. But what the Food is Medicine movement is trying to do is take back that narrative. Food isn’t the enemy. In food allergy, we sometimes forget to think of food in a positive sense; that food can actually make you feel better, it just has to be the right food.
How FEI Helps
She hasn’t used “food is medicine” in so many words with her mainstream patients, but she does work with the concept that there are resources out there to help subsidize that medicine. “FEI can provide food alternatives that you may not be able to get otherwise; either they are not in the grocery store or are a financial burden. [With FEI], we can really improve your diet.”
The ‘food is medicine’ concept has taken hold in other diseases, like heart disease, diabetes, epilepsy, and hypertension. Jodi Shroba says “the movement is out there, that food is a vital element to a treatment plan. It is about time to get the food allergy community on board.”