Sunday, September 18, 2011

Navigating Maize

I'm again frustrated with the lack of appropriate wording for corn allergies.
The only word we have for a potentially debilitating reaction caused by an ingested substance is 'allergy'.  But when it comes to corn and corn derivatives, allergy doesn't describe the half of it.
You see, food allergies indicate potential anaphylaxis.  And while with corn, we do have the potential for anaphylaxis, most professionals also associate true food allergies with food proteins.
Corn derivatives like xanthan gum, citric acid and microcrystalline cellulose are 'pure'.  They don't have protein.  But they still manage to pack quite the whollop.  So, Corn avoiders tend to avoid all corn derivatives, at least until they figure out which ones they, personally, can tolerate.
Most allergists run diagnostic testing when determining food allergies.  They start with skin tests, and then draw blood.  The intention is to measure the antibodies present and then determine the likelihood of a severe reaction.
However, as this South African Journal notes, corn/maize frequently reveals a false negative result.  Double blind placebo trials reveal reactions.
In short, corn/maize does NOT follow the typical allergy rules.  It's not always protein mediated.  And the typical allergy testing rarely reveals a positive result.
There are also multiple potential allergens in corn, although studies have not been done to evaluate them thoroughly. 
While I know all this, not everyone in the medical community seems to.  Even worse, the companies who produce and package my food, and everyone else's, tend to have a very tenuous hold on the understanding of corn and it's potential for causing reactions.
This understanding is encouraged by the belief that food proteins are the problematic substance when dealing with food allergies; and that the Top 8 are the main (frequently misunderstood as 'only') foods responsible for 'real' reactions.
So when I contact a company and say "Is there corn in this?", they respond with "Of course not, it's a bottle of fruit juice."  When, in fact, there may be 3 or 4 different corn derived ingredients either on the label or used as a processing agent.
(If you're wondering, off the top of my head:  Ascorbic acid, citric acid, xanthan gum, and vitamin enrichments are the first 4 ingredients I can think of found in juice drinks that are often corn-taminated)
Some companies get it.  When they say "There are no corn derivatives" they mean that they pick the fruit, squeeze it directly into pure, clean glass bottles and seal it up for distribution.  They KNOW what's in there.

Shopping with a corn/maize allergy (or whatever it is you want to call this condition) is a completely different experience from what shopping used to be.  There are entire aisles in the grocery store that are off limits. And even the aisles that are inviting seem ominous.  New products are tempting, and yet need to be cautiously evaluated.  First, the label is scrutinized.  Questionable ingredients noted.  The company then needs to be contacted to verify the source of questionable ingredients, and to ask about processing.  And then comes the moment of truth.  The deep breath, the taste.  And hopefully, if the evening passes without reaction, a full out meal. 
And then it gets added to the normal rotation.  However, just because an item is familiar doesn't mean that a shopping trip is filled with confidence or that each purchase is quick and safe.  Every single time I go to the store, I read ingredients.  I scan for red flags that sound 'different' from last time.  If packaging changes, it means I need to contact the company (and/or double check with the corn-free community on delphi)  to see if any portion of the packaging process has changed. 
If corn were like dairy or eggs or even gluten, answers would be easier to get.  The protein would be the main item of concern, the answers would be straight forward.  They are for my daughter.  But corn...corn is complicated.  It has so many facets and is used so many different ways. 
Learning life without corn derivatives is truly like navigating a maze, except that rather than navigating a complicated labyrinth to discover a vicious minotaur, the maze itself is the danger and once we find the center, the danger is long as we continue to stay vigilant. 

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