Book Reviews

Reviews of Food Allergies For Dummies

From the Anaphylaxis Canada Newsletter

by Judy Irwin

This book (Food Allergies For Dummies), which follows the snappy style of the Dummies series, is an engaging read full of bulleted lists and interesting sidebars. The book gets top marks for both readability and comprehensive content about diagnosing and living with food allergies. Although I’ve read a number of good books about food allergy, this one filled in a several gaps in my understanding. The section on research was particularly interesting and accessible, and I would recommend the book for that alone.

There’s an even more compelling reason to recommend this book, and one that I wasn’t expecting. I had been carrying it with me in the car, snatching time to read chapters while waiting to pick up my 11-year-old daughter at her activities. One day she picked it up off the seat and asked if she could read it too. Thanks to the colloquial style of the Dummies format, she was able to manage the sections that interested her. The book unexpectedly became a springboard for several in-depth discussions about managing her allergy, and for that I would have paid the $24 (Canadian, $19.99 US) price tag many times over.

Food Allergies for Dummies is written by Dr. Robert Wood, chief of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, with assistance from writer Joe Kraynak. Dr. Wood is peanut-allergic himself and tells compelling stories about his anaphylactic reactions and how he lives with the allergy. My daughter Claire certainly didn’t read the whole book (and not all of it would have been interesting or relevant to her at 11), but she was particularly taken with the stories about his experiences. Both Claire and I liked the conversational tone and the way he personalizes his recommendations (“I used to eat Asian foods… but the more I get into this field, the more I realize that I was playing a game of Asian roulette.”)

My only caveat about the book is that readers need to be able to recognize content that is specific to the US. Some information about US food labelling, food manufacturing, school issues, and restaurant practices don’t match our Canadian experience. Readers who are connected to Anaphylaxis Canada are likely to spot these differences; less informed readers may not. Having said that, I found the American information helped me think about what we need to do differently when traveling south.

(This review first appeared in the Fall 2007 edition of the Anaphylaxis Canada Newsletter. Visit Anaphylaxis Canada for additional information about allergies of all kinds and to subscribe to the newsletter.)

From Allergic Living Magazine

by Gwen Smith, Editor

Allergy and asthma expert Dr. Robert Wood offers an organized and practical guide to food allergies, from diagnosis to preventing reactions, and steps to follow in case of emergency.

Wood, the chief of pediatric allergy at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Maryland, treats thousands of patients a year. He has also been peanut-allergic since childhood, so his counsel on “living well with food allergies” – from eating out, to managing in school and traveling – comes with the benefit of personal experience.

Also excellent: the detailed advice on enrolling in daycare and preschool.

(This review first appeared in the fall 2007 edition of Allergic Living. Visit Allergic Living for additional information about allergies of all kinds and to subscribe to the magazine.)

From the Food Allergy Support Group of Monmouth County

by Ellen Montemarano

When I began reading Food Allergies for Dummies, I thought this would be a great book to recommend to parents whose children have been recently diagnosed with food allergies or friends and families of people with food allergies. After four years of dealing with my daughter’s peanut allergy, I didn’t think a Dummies book would teach me anything. I was wrong. (For example, there is a Chinese Herbal remedy, FAHF-2, which looks promising for the treatment of food allergies.)

Food Allergies for Dummies was written by Robert Wood, a pediatric allergist at Johns Hopkins who has a severe peanut allergy, and Joe Kraynak, who is a freelance writer. Kraynak did a good job of translating the technical lingo to make it more understandable to those without a medical or scientific background. The book’s explanation as to why peanuts are more likely to cause a life-threatening reaction (short answer: it’s the way the proteins are folded) is much more clear than what I have read previously.

The book is a very understandable read; it gets across the seriousness of food allergies without resorting to the hysteria that has been seen in some media reports.

Since Dr. Wood is not only an allergist but also a patient, he includes information on how he deals with his own allergies. It is reassuring to a parent to read about someone who has dealt with food allergy from childhood through adulthood. It also is reassuring to read that a highly educated allergist “saves desserts for home,” making me feel less neurotic when refusing dessert at a restaurant on my daughter’s behalf. Dr. Wood doesn’t eat anything that anyone else has baked and described what happened the one time he broke his rule:

“I made it a rule to never eat a baked good that I didn’t personally prepare myself…. I made an exception to the rule just once… after I had become an allergist and had learned a great deal about peanut allergy…. A colleague of mine, a world-renowned authority in food allergy, presented me with a gift of beautifully decorated cookies. As he handed them to me, without me even asking, he reassured me—in fact, he promised me—that these cookies were peanut free. Unfortunately, however, he didn’t know that his wife had also made peanut butter cookies that morning and that she used the same spatula between those cookies and mine. The level of contamination was enough to cause a very severe reaction…. I needed five shots of epinephrine…. I have not broken my ‘no cookie rule’ ever since.”
—excerpt from Food Allergies for Dummies

These simple stories have already been helpful in explaining the seriousness of my daughter’s food allergies to others.

The book has the common Dummies style and organization. It’s straighforward, easy to read in its entirety and it is easy to find information if you just want to browse quickly through the book. It has the Dummies multiple headings and checklists, as well as the Dummies icons—a “warning” bomb for important information (e.g. Never conduct a food challenge at home,) “tips,” “remember,” and “technical stuff.” The “technical stuff” icon is used sparingly as most of the information is very reader-friendly. When in a rush you can just read a heading (“Discovering peanuts in your chili bowl and other unsuspecting places”) and what is in bold next to checks (Spaghetti sauce, Chicken Dishes and Vegetarian Dishes) to see if this was the information you were looking for or if you should skim to the next section.

Food Allergies for Dummies is packed with a lot of practical information beginning with what is a food allergy and what is not, the diagnosis and treatment, and living with food allergies—from daycare to college; at home, on vacation or in restaurants.

I recommend it for anyone who has a food allergy or knows someone with a food allergy. In addition, I recommend it as a gift for the family member/friend/teacher etc. who “doesn’t get it” when it comes to allergies.

(This review first appeared in the FASGMC’s Fall 2007 Newsletter. For more about the group, visit the group’s home page.)