Tracking Tools for Food Allergy Prevention: Help or Hype?

A woman in her kitchen using her phone; smiling
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Allergies to common foods like milk, soy and nuts not only pose a health risk but can make everyday tasks like grocery shopping a challenge. Grocery shopping can take hours when it requires thoroughly reading each food label. Eating out can seem impossible, especially if it’s an unfamiliar restaurant. Even going to a friend’s house for dinner can be risky if he or she cooks with or eats the allergen at other times.

Over the past several years, advances in technology and research have made living with a food allergy, if not easier, at least more manageable.

Several food tracking smartphone applications have made identifying milder allergies and intolerances easier for individuals and clinicians. Instead of relying on memory or handwritten food diaries to determine what ingredient or additive is causing the problem, food trackers that are updated as you eat create a more accurate and time-sensitive mechanism of pinning down what foods may trigger symptoms.

Other apps have targeted the restaurant scene. Apps can allow individuals with allergies to review restaurants and specific dishes on menus that are safe to eat. This can be a great way to reduce the anxiety surrounding eating out. The only problem is inconsistencies or inaccuracies in the app data. A restaurant may change its recipe or a customer may have incorrectly entered information into the app. Tools for self-testing of food items in restaurants and at social gatherings are hitting the market as well. These tools use test strips or other indicators to analyze food samples for allergens. It will be important to verify accuracy of these tools when using them. Technology will only continue to empower individuals with food allergies.

Julia Werth
Julia Werth graduated from the University of Connecticut with a dual degree in nutritional sciences and journalism in May 2017. She is currently pursuing her RDN credential through the dietetic internship at the University of Maryland.