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  • Writer's pictureTanja Samalya, MNT

Food Allergy or Food Intolerance?

Food allergies and intolerances are on the rise, and an increasing number of children are affected. Ask your grandparents if they are experiencing symptoms of any food reaction…I would think it is not common in that generation.

When we talk about a true food allergy, the body generates an immune response to the offending food. The most severe immune response is an anaphylactic shock, which can be life-threatening and often occurs with eating peanuts or shellfish. People who are aware of these kinds of food allergies usually carry an EpiPen with them, an auto-injector that immediately treats the reaction. This is what most people consider to be a "real" food allergy. A milder response creates inflammation in the body and shows itself in swelling of face, tongue or lips, coughing and wheezing, hives and skin rashes, and/or vomiting and diarrhea.

Food intolerances are more complex and do not involve the immune system. People dealing with intolerances might experience digestive problems, migraines, brain fog, fatigue, nasal congestion, or joint pain. The most common reason why someone suffers an intolerance to a portion of food is that they lack certain enzymes to absorb the food. Being lactose intolerant is a perfect example of that reaction as that person lacks the enzyme lactase to absorb dairy products. Other reasons are that specific proteins or components from food bring forth symptoms to some people; a good example of that would be gluten. Many other food compounds can start a reaction in the body, such as oxalates, lectins, tannins, salicylate…sorry, I was going there, but I am trying to keep it simple and not throw too many words that sound too scientific.

Don't sprint to your allergist quiet yet to run tests on sensitivities. Besides a lactose test, these tests have high rates of falsely elevated results, and there are no science-based food intolerances tests out there that can give you an accurate answer. An elimination diet is an excellent alternative to tests. You can keep a food diary and avoid a suspected trigger food for about 3-4 weeks and see if your symptoms approve. It's important to start reading the ingredient list on packaged food items as the food needs to be avoided completely. If you start feeling better, you can reintroduce the food for at least 3 days and see if your symptoms are reappearing. You have to be patient and dedicated to an elimination diet as it can take a long time to find the offending food.

People need to take their sensitivities to food seriously. Even if symptoms are not dangerous and uncomfortable as most allergies, new research shows that if intolerances are not addressed, then the risk of cancer, neurodegenerative disease, and heart disease is increased.

Modern diets, hygiene speculation, and overuse of antibiotics (especially in children) are suspected to be the reason for the rise in food intolerances, which also explains the lower prevalence rates in older generations and under-developed countries. Listen to the little signs that your body is sending you that possibly certain foods are aggravating you.

In good health,

Tanja Samalya, MNT

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