Could I have a food allergy or intolerance?
I can remember as a child spending Saturday afternoons amongst the richly scented interior of our local health food shop.
As my Mother was a vegetarian and this was long before the introduction of Quorn and Linda McCartney, we sought refuge in this vegetarian mecca to seek out mung beans and red lentils in order to furnish her meat-free diet.
This was back when Holland & Barrett was only frequented by sport enthusiasts and vegetarians, but is now a high street favourite. Now, new brands of consumers are heading to their local supermarket to seek out their ‘Free From’ section, advocating some kind of food allergy or intolerance.
Gluten, wheat and dairy
A gluten free, wheat free or dairy free diet have become normal terms in modern eating and mean big business to the retailers.
Many stick-thin celebrities such as Victoria Beckham and Gwyneth Paltrow claim to be intolerant to wheat and dairy, which begs the question whether it is an actual food intolerant or an effective way of dieting.
People who claim to be allergic to gluten complain of bloating and constipation, although this can often be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome.
Is it an allergy or food intolerance?
Food allergy and food intolerance are very different problems and unfortunately are bounded about without any real proof. They do exist as conditions but so-called sufferers are often self-diagnosed rather than seeking the advice of a health professional to discuss their symptoms with.
People who choose a wheat-free diet will often see food such as pasta and bread as their enemy, claiming that the body is unable to digest wheat which isn’t always the case.
Most of us produce enzymes in our digestive systems that can break down any food group in many combinations. For those who have adopted a dairy free lifestyle, it could mean denying important calcium which is essential for strong bones.
Soya milk has a become a popular alternative to regular milk as it is lower in fat which in turn reduces cholesterol, however, if it is not fortified with calcium you could risk osteoporosis if you do not make up the calcium lost in the milk.
When to avoid certain foods
If you suspect you have a food allergy, it could mean that your immune system is not accepting a certain food which can cause nasty side-affects such as a rash or swelling to the face.
Common food allergies for many people are peanuts and seafood and need to be avoided if you discover you are allergic to them.
Food intolerance is when your body does not provide enough of a particular enzyme to break down that particular food group. For example, if you were lactose or dairy intolerant, you do not produce enough enzyme lactase, making it difficult for your digestive system to absorb the lactose in the milk.
Food intolerances are not life threatening but can cause unpleasant reactions such as abdominal pain and diarrhoea. It is important to seek professional health advice if you think you have a food intolerance or food allergy, as there are self-diagnosis kits that aren’t always accurate.