It’s really exciting to see that people are becoming more and more aware of their food choices. People are looking at ingredients lists, opting for organic and free range produce and now they are really starting to tune in on how certain foods make them feel. I thought it might be a great time to look at food allergies compared with food sensitives and briefly explain the difference between the two.
Food sensitivity or intolerance is defined as any unpleasant reaction to the consumption of a certain food or group of foods. Food intolerances do not actually involve our immune systems; it is more likely that the sensitivity/intolerance has originated in the gastrointestinal system and is the result of the individual’s inability to digest and absorb certain foods effectively. It’s quite common for people to confuse a sensitivity with an allergy but allergies generally have a greater and more threatening impact. One example of an intolerance that you may be quite familiar with, is that relating to lactose. Fermented products like cheese and cultured products like yoghurt, milk and even ice cream contain lactose and individuals that are intolerant may experience bloating, abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, and generalized sickness as a result of consumption. Lactose intolerance develops because the individual is missing the enzyme lactase, they are low in lactase activity or they unable to hydrolyze lactose to galactose and glucose.
On the other hand, allergies are in a different category and involve the immune system. It is important to note that in the most extreme cases, food allergies can be fatal. A whole-body response called anaphylaxis occurs in response to even the smallest of doses of the food. These symptoms usually occur within minutes of exposure and may present as a drop in blood pressure, hives, itching, flushed skin, a feeling of warmth, a sensation of esophageal constriction, a constriction of the airways with a swollen tongue and/or throat, a weak and rapid pulse, nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea, and dizziness and/or fainting. Although any food can provoke an immune response in allergic individuals, a few foods are responsible for the majority of food allergies. Some of the most common foods containing allergens are peanuts, shellfish, and eggs. Others that are not as well-known include wheat, corn, chocolate (yes very sad but true), strawberries, tomatoes, milk, and soy products. There are millions of people that have an allergy to one or more foods, so keep in tune with your body and take a moment after your meals every now and then to see how they make you feel.