Imagine your life without the pleasures of pizza smothered in cheese, a slice of birthday cake or a cool ice cream cone on a hot day and you can begin to understand what it's like for many people living with food allergies or intolerances. While an allergy is often confused with an intolerance, the two are quite different. Whereas an allergy can be life-threatening and involves an immune response, an intolerance can cause discomfort but not much more. A milk intolerance, for example, is caused by the body's inability to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk, and is characterised by gas, bloating and diarrhoea.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, the prevalence of reported food allergies in children under the age of 18 in that country increased nearly 20 per cent between 1997 and 2007. In Europe, the situation isn't much different. One study found that the number of hospital admissions in the UK for food allergies has increased 500 per cent since 1990. Even more troubling, not only is the number of people living with allergies on the rise, but the number of foods to which they are allergic is also increasing. Where it was once common to see someone allergic to one or two foods, now it is common to see someone allergic to three or more.
A food allergy is often described as an abnormal immune response in the body to a particular food. For many people, exposure to the allergen can mean hives or a rash, swelling of the tongue and mouth, difficulty breathing, abdominal cramps, dizziness and even loss of consciousness. In extreme cases, the allergic response can cause an anaphylactic reaction, which is life-threatening if not treated immediately.
So what's to blame for the ballooning number of food allergies? It's not entirely clear, although everything from the increased use of pesticides and antibiotics to changes in food processing have been blamed. Rising obesity rates have also been thought to play a role. As anyone who is allergic to gluten, dairy or soy knows, desserts are usually at the top of the list when it comes to dishes that are off-limits, since most contain at least one of the offending ingredients. But thanks to Ariana Bundy, a chef who splits her time between Paris and Dubai, there is a cookbook to change all that.
Sweet Alternative, Bundy's cookbook debut, contains more than 100 dessert recipes that are free of all sources of gluten, dairy and soy. While it's fairly easy to find a cookbook that is gluten, dairy or soy free, this one stands out because it limits all three, a bonus for anyone with multiple allergies. It's estimated that eight types of food account for more than 90 per cent of food allergies, including milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat.
Having lived with a milk allergy my entire life, I can attest to the challenges of eating and cooking with an allergy. Learning to inspect the ingredient list on packaged foods and interrogating waiters about the contents of a dish and how it was prepared become part of everyday life. For me, the best sign of a cookbook aimed at people with allergies is if the recipes sound appealing enough that people without an allergy would also want to indulge. Sweet Alternative certainly passes the test. It's hard to believe recipes such as Molten Chocolate Cake, Saffron and Pistachio Bars and Wild Orchid Ice Cream are made without any dairy, soy and gluten.
Bundy, who is lactose intolerant, is determined to put desserts back on the menu for people living with allergies. Not only are there plenty of mouth-watering recipes to tempt your palate, but Bundy takes it a step further and provides a guide to essential ingredients, as well as a list of websites to help you navigate an allergen-free world. Bundy also provides a list of common ingredients to look out for that often contain hidden sources of allergens. All in all, it's a great resource for people living with an allergy to milk, wheat or soy.
Sweet Alternative is a perfect example of one of the many cookbooks that are available to people living with allergies. Most major bookstores have a food allergy section, where you'll find cookbooks that offer recipes that are dairy, soy, wheat, egg and nut-free, among others.