/ Food & Drink, Health

What it’s like to live with a nut and dairy allergy

Nuts crossed out on chalk board

Any parent knows how tricky it is to come up with a varied and nutritious packed lunch for a six-year old. When that child has a severe allergy to eggs, nuts and dairy products, as my own daughter does, it’s even harder.

Luckily in this country we are generally well-served with products such as non-dairy cheese, margarine, ice-cream and chocolate (including Easter eggs and advent calendars) – as long as you search them out, and don’t mind paying a premium. You can even buy dairy-free mayonnaise.

We’re also lucky in the UK that we have a high standard of labelling food allergens in products. But you’d be surprised at how many products do contain warnings of cross contamination – I’ve found that even some brands of baked beans can contain traces of nuts.

An added complication is that recipes constantly change. So just because it was OK last time, it doesn’t mean it still is. Our monthly trip to the supermarket takes twice as long as everyone else as we have to stop and read every label.

One area of confusion is the wide array of warnings on packaging. As well as ‘may contain traces of…’, there’s varying warnings that indicate when nuts or dairy products are handled elsewhere in the factory, or were previously handled on the production line. There are even messages saying that although the recipe and factory are nut-free, the product may still contain them.

I often find we’re not sure about a certain product so we end up not taking the risk.

Food allergies and eating out

Having a family meal out is another test for us. Luckily most child-friendly chains, such as Pizza Express, will make pizzas etc using soya cheese supplied by ourselves. And these kinds of chains are generally very good at supplying breakdowns of ingredients. Fish and chips are usually off-limits for us unless we can be sure groundnut oil hasn’t been used – unfortunately my local chippy does fry in it.

Later this year, we’re taking our children on their first ever holiday abroad, to the Italian Lakes. The hope is that we can take soya-based butter and cheese with us on the plane, so that my daughter can enjoy the local specialities.

Most of these situations we can control, but going to children’s parties is often a worry for us. If we’re not confident that the organiser can supply appropriate food, then we’ll send some food along for my daughter. It’s hard though when she can’t eat the usual party biscuits, cakes and crisps with her friends. She’s a sensible girl and she handles it well, but it can still be upsetting as a parent.

Do you or anyone you know have a food allergy? Do you have any experiences or advice you can share with me and my six-year-old daughter?


My other half is allergic to dairy and also a diet-controlled diabetic. I am dairy intolerant.

Products do need to state they are either 100% milk/peanut free or produced in a factory where these products are handled.

I wholly identify you with shopping and having to check the package every time you buy a product as the ingredients can change, but the packaging can look the same. Waitrose is guilty of this practice and do not realise how ill a person can get. We rarely shop there nowadays as they have added dairy to so many things that did not use to have it. Thai curry, meat pies, are a couple of old favourites from there.

We used to take dairy-free products on holiday with us but these days they are more readily available. I don’t know about Italy though. If you take soya spread, it travels quite well surrounded by ice packs in an insulated bag in hold luggage. You may have to declare you are taking food into the country.

You might find it useful to type a statement in Italian something like:
“My daughter is allergic to dairy/cow’s milk and cannot eat milk, cheese, cream, yoghurt, butter, etc. as it will make her very ill. Please show this to the chef.”

I use Google translator and translate it back into English to make sure it still makes sense. The word “dairy” doesn’t seem to translate that well. I also do it in bold large letters and have several copies.

I am sure you will have a great holiday.


It is surprising how many people think you can’t eat eggs when you say you are allergic to dairy.

I just can’t resist an apologetic “what part of a cow does an egg come from ?!?!?.

nigel soames says:
24 March 2014

I suggest you all read Rod Liddle’s article in last week’s Spectator. Dyslexia, ADHD and so called “food allergies” are uniquely anglo-American nonsense exploited by British and American children to get control over their parents and teachers. I am sorry but waiters in Italy will be completely baffled by you waffling on about “dairy allergy” because it doesn’t exist in normal countries where children eat the same food as everyone else. I have seen 11 year old English girls whose parents still cut their meat for them because they had convinced them that they were still unable to do it. It’s the same thing, it’s about control and remaining the centre of attention way beyond the infant years.

Karen says:
24 March 2014

Nigel, anaphalaxis is a serious condition. When exposed to an allergen blood pressure can drop, throat can swell up and their heart can stop. They can die. According to the Anaphylaxis Campaign, there are up to 10 recognised deaths from anaphalaxis each year.

claudia says:
24 March 2014

I cut food for my 10 year-old as he has serious gross and fine motor skills difficulties. He has high functioning autism. I am allergic to some antibiotics, so allergies do exist. As for Italians not having allergies, my parents are Italians and my mum had more allergies than me. What you saying is simply ignorance.

Linda says:
24 March 2014

May I suggest that you educate yourself. Whilst I agree that there MAY be some people out there who play on allergies, how can an infant know to use such techniques? I was diagnosed as lactose intolerant as a toddler, and was fortunate enough to grow out of it, my husband is allergic to penicillin, a dose could kill him. My father had to carry an epi pen as he was allergic to wasp stings, again a single sting could kill him, and yes, whilst the majority of these aren’t necessarily food related, I would like to know how fish roe makes my tongue and throat swell? Do I make that up? Perhaps a quick glance at this article relating to Italians with hayfever (an allergy if I’m not mistaken) might open your mind a little. http://newsteria.com/spring-10-million-italians-began-nightmare-pollen-allergies/

dairyfreebabyandme says:
24 March 2014

Nigel you are incredibly wrong on so many points, but just for your information, some of the best dairy and gluten free products currently available come from Italy!! I love Mozzarisella dairy free cheese for example and most of the best gluten free pasta is Italian.

Also, I am an adult living with various food allergies and intolerances that developed over the years. Just think yourself lucky that you don’t have any, because I am now unable to eat many foods that I used to really enjoy!!

In fact allergies have been around for a lot longer than people realise. Since I developed some of these intolerances, I have discovered that many of my family members, grandparents, uncles, aunts etc. also have had issues with various foods of which I knew nothing, until I started talking about mine.

So please do not start talking about things of which you clearly no nothing!


The article mentioned by Nigel Soames is here: http://www.spectator.co.uk/columnists/rod-liddle/9157681/dyslexia-isnt-real-but-dont-worry-neither-is-adhd/

Perhaps The Spectator should vet what Rod Liddle writes a little more carefully. It beggars belief that he does not know that some allergies can be very serious, even fatal, and that even food intolerances can be very unpleasant to sufferers.


Rod Liddle appears to have no qualifications to talk about many things, but, tellingly, studied Social Psychology at LSE according to Wikipedia. This probably gives him an insight into how to stir up emo