Great for you unless it's not.

Doesn’t it seem like food allergies are way more common these days? When I was a kid, nobody worried about serving peanut butter at school, and everybody lined up for milk. Now many schools are peanut free, and everybody knows someone who can’t tolerate dairy.

A new study confirms my impressions.

7.5 million people, or almost three in 100 people in the U.S., have a serious, life-threatening allergy to peanuts, dairy, eggs or shellfish. Children, men and African-Americans, have higher rates, according to a study done at the Johns Hopkins University and sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

In the study, the most common allergy was to peanuts, with about 1.5 percent of people testing highly positive for the peanut antibodies, tiny proteins made by the body when exposed to the allergens. About 1 percent were allergic to shrimp, 0.4 percent were allergic to eggs and 0.2 percent were allergic to milk. About 1.3 percent were allergic to more than one food.

The study only looked at people with severe allergies to those four foods-so there are millions more who are suffering from less severe allergies and intolerances.

Researchers found that childhood food allergies are related to asthma, eczema and hay fever. They also found that children often outgrow dairy and egg allergies, but not peanut and shellfish allergies.

If you suspect that you are allergic or intolerant to something in your diet, go see an allergist for a test. This may show true allergies, but not many of the intolerances. If you are not found to be overtly allergic to any foods at an allergist, you may still suffer from food intolerances.

Intolerance is a blanket term for all the irritating, to figure out problems that can come from foods that just don’t agree with you. Some food intolerances are bafflingly delayed or masked, making it very difficult to pinpoint what is causing the problem. Skin, digestion, joints and even your mood can be improved by figuring out that a food is not tolerated by your particular system.

A tried and true method for finding out is a rotation or elimination diet. There are a number of books and websites dedicated to this diet. Finding a supportive doctor to guide you is best, but if you can’t afford it, you can try it on your own. Don’t embark on any new diet restrictions without a doctor’s supervision if you are ill, pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you know that you have serious allergies.

Basically, you start the diet by eliminating all commonly allergenic foods for 4-6 weeks. Keep a journal every day to record what you eat and how you feel. Then you can carefully rotate in the suspect foods every four days, and watch carefully for signs of any reaction. This is called a challenge.

Vegetarians can do this, and just eliminate dairy, eggs, peanuts, soy and gluten in the first stage, then rotate them in, if desired. Just disregard all the stuff about eating lamb and beef, and sub beans and non-gluten grains, non-dairy milks and lots of veggies.  Vegans are already avoiding many of the common allergens, but may find that soy, nuts, or wheat are bothering them.

As a private chef, I have cooked for people doing these rotations, and in a completely unscientific observation, it seemed to help, or at least clarify some things.

Hopefully, carefully eliminating and reintroducing common allergens will answer some questions for you.

Gluten Free Buckwheat Pancakes