Beware of Hidden Allergens

Remember Snackwells?  The near-miracle treat that contains no fat?  Back when we were told that fat, any fat, in our diets would surely lead to our artery-clogging demise, these cookies were a godsend to those of us with a raging sweet tooth.  And I remember my indulgence, eating almost a whole box of the devil’s food variety, proudly avoiding an eminent heart attack by eating dessert so wisely.

But now, times have changed and the “devil” in the name of those (let’s face it) tasteless, half-dessicated cookies has an updated meaning.  Most of the calories come from sugar (satanic carbs!) and protein is next to nil.

One thing is for certain:  any food that eliminates something…fat, sugar, gluten…has to replace it with something else, an ingredient that is likely bad for our health.

Or could even be an allergen.

One of my son’s buddies has an allergy to cashews.  Before one particular visit I did a mental checklist…nope, no cashews in the house, and nope, no cashews in anything on the (not fat-free) dinner menu of pizza, pizza, and more pizza.  Then, while at the store, my son found some fruit tarts…blueberry, and gluten-free.  The later wasn’t a requirement, but I think as many other friends adhere to a gluten-free diet, he was curious about the treats.  Plus they were “mini,” and he loves tiny finger foods.

Ok.  Fun, we’ll try something new.

Ok, not so fun, as we later found out.

The day “Jason” and his sister came over was a blast.  The kids were having a great time.  Their mom and I were sitting on the couch, catching up.  Then “Jason” started sneezing, over and over again.  He didn’t seem to think anything of it, and neither did his mom or me.  Until he just couldn’t stop.  His sneezing continued and reminded me of my dad on the windy days of spring and grass-cutting days of July…his allergic, bellowing ah-choos shook our airtight, air conditioned-cooled house.

Hold.  On.

The kids, not a half hour earlier, had dug in to the luscious-looking blueberry tarts.  They had deemed them disgusting and made a huge show of depositing what they sampled into the kitchen sink.  (Boys just love to spit stuff out.)  Still, I ran into the kitchen and pulled out the packaging from the trash and read the ingredient label.

It couldn’t have been rice flour.

It couldn’t have been almond flour.

It just had to be crushed cashews.

Oh, damn.

Thankfully Mom was there, and had the EpiPen in her truck.  Thankfully we had an antihistamine in our medicine cabinet and that Jason was not only ok with swallowing pills, but that his throat had not swelled so that he couldn’t in the first place.  Thankfully, Jason did not stop breathing.  Thankfully he got to the bathroom in time to vomit and purge his system of the small, yet dangerous amount of cashew in his system.

And luckily, all Jason needed was epinephrine, his parents, and time.  No frantic trip to the emergency room.

He had not had an exposure to cashews since he was a toddler.  How guilty I felt at allowing this scary incident to happen under our roof.  We are so careful when it comes to guests’ allergies and food restrictions but this time I messed up and it could have been really bad.

One person’s restricted diet is not necessarily good for another.  What’s healthy for one may be lethal to another.  A packaged food labelled (something)-free likely substitutes something else that’s not so good for us:  sugar, salt, artificial sweeteners.  Cashews.

A couple months later Jason’s mom and I were talking about what happened that evening.  She is one cool lady, let me tell you.  Instead of being upset about my serious oversight, she was relieved that two medical people had been there.  Plus she told me that Jason had had another exposure to cashews a few days before, from something they had at home.

Allergens can be hidden.  Some packages will clearly state contains nuts (or contains wheat, etc.) but that’s not always the case.  Our innocuous-seeming treat did not.  And the boldface (yet small font) warning of processed in a facility that processes nuts was also absent because, well, the product actually contained nuts.  I consider this a lesson well-learned:  always, always read ingredient lists.

And keep an antihistamine in the medicine cabinet.

There’s a lot of sugar in one of these little pseudo-cookies, 7 grams. At least the allergen info is pretty complete.


  • So true. With food issues in my home, I have learned to read labels each time I get something as I have had it happen where ingredients changed, but packaging had not. Things get missed, but luckily our reactions are not life threatening.

    • That’s a very good point. Ingredients can change right under our noses. It’s just a good idea to habitually read labels, no matter what.

  • It always surprises me how many names there are for sugar substitutes and how sick I get if I don’t read labels close enough!!

    • We do have to be vigilant, don’t we? Common and “scientific” names can be confusing, too. Like “salt” and “sodium.” It’s good you are so up-to-the-moment!

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