Food Allergies and Intolerance 

When your immune system fights your body because of a harmless food, you have a food allergy. Food intolerance is a reaction your body gives upon eating a particular food. Both are similar but differ in specific ways. 

Food allergies are immune-mediated, that is, the immune system is responsible. Food intolerance, on the other hand, is digestive system-mediated. Such foods are difficult for the body to digest, resulting in the symptoms experienced. 

Allergies could be severe and even life-threatening. Only a small amount of the food is required to trigger the process. Intolerances are less serious and can sometimes be controlled by controlling the amount of the trigger food eaten. 

A proper diagnosis of what food you are allergic to or sensitive to should be carried out by your doctor. 

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Food allergy

If you are allergic to a food, you may not discover this until a day or even three days later. This is because sometimes, these allergic reactions can be delayed in individuals. It may be useful to document the foods you ate during that period and the frequency and severity of the reaction. 

A person can be allergic to any food. However, some foods are often the culprit, and knowing this helps you narrow down your suspicions. Food allergies can also be inherited. Check your family history if you can’t determine the food you are allergic to. 

Milk, soybeans, tree nuts and peanuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, and eggs are among the foods that commonly cause allergic reactions. 

Casein allergy 

Casein is a protein found in most dairy products, especially milk. It causes an immune-mediated reaction in individuals, resulting in swollen lips, sudden rash, difficulty swallowing, and occasionally, difficulty breathing. 

If you experience any of these symptoms after having a cheesecake or a milkshake, you are most likely allergic to casein. The reaction, however, may be delayed for up to 72 hours. 

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Nut allergy

The symptoms of a nut allergy are similar to those of a casein allergy, but they may also include abdominal discomfort. Pistachios, almonds, walnuts, and peanuts are examples of nuts that cause this allergy. However, if you are allergic to nuts, it is strongly advised to stay away from nuts. Coconuts are not classified as nuts, so even if you have a nut allergy, you can eat coconuts. 

Some foods to be careful of include granola or energy bars, cereals, and certain cookies. These foods may contain nuts that trigger your allergy. 

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Food intolerance 

If your body finds it hard to digest a certain food, you will most likely know within an hour to three of eating it. Abdominal cramping, bloatedness, and “feeling sick” are common symptoms. 

When it comes to food intolerance, since its symptoms are most often similar to those of food poisoning, it is important to be sure. If the symptoms present every time the food is eaten, it is most likely intolerance. If the food was not in optimum condition before consumption, E.g., stale milk, it is most likely food poisoning. 

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Lactose intolerance 

This is the most common type of food intolerance. Lactose is a sugar found in animal milk. If your body cannot produce enough lactase–the enzyme responsible for breaking down and aiding lactose absorption–then you have lactose intolerance. It may present as diarrhea, vomiting, bloatedness, or a general feeling of discomfort. 

For chocolate lovers, the fun doesn’t have to stop because of food sensitivity. Dark chocolate and lactose-free chocolates are your saving grace. Soy milk, almond milk, or coconut milk may be an easy replacement. But if you must take animal milk, then a very small quantity should be used. 

Today, there is even lactose-free milk available in stores, allowing you to have the best of both worlds. 

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Gluten intolerance

Another common food intolerance is gluten intolerance. Gluten is a protein found in barley, wheat, and rye. If you eat cereals or beer often and experience bloatedness, constipation, or abdominal pain, you most likely have gluten intolerance. 

Just like lactose intolerance, the body cannot properly digest gluten in this condition. This is what leads to the gastrointestinal symptoms you experience. But not all beer or cereal contains gluten. A few companies produce gluten-free versions of these foods to cater to those sensitive to protein. 

Fruits, vegetables, lean meat, and unprocessed legumes are gluten-free foods that you can incorporate into your meal plan for a balanced, healthy diet.

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Managing food intolerance and allergy

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Many people tend to outgrow their food allergies. For example, most children with milk allergies outgrow the condition before their teenage years or adulthood. However, not everyone outgrows these allergies, and not every allergy goes away with age. Hence, food allergy is typically a lifetime condition. 

For such people, careful attention must be paid to what is eaten. While store-bought ingredients and food packs mandatorily give information on possible allergens used in production, it may be a bit difficult to get food at a restaurant. If you love eating out and fine dining, it may be useful for you to know these practical tips. 

In managing food allergies and intolerances, it is best to be sure of which of the two you have. First, identify if you have allergic reactions or intolerance when you consume that food. If you are intolerant to nuts, you may still be able to eat nut-flavored foods or in small quantities. But if you are allergic, it is best to avoid nuts or nut-flavoured foods strictly. 

  • One practical tip for dining out is to ask questions. Ask your host about the ingredients used in preparing the meal. Ask the waiter for any specific warning concerning allergies for a given meal. 
  • Share information with your host. If you are invited for lunch at a friend’s house, telling your friend beforehand about your allergy or intolerance helps your friend decide what food to make and how to make it. 
  • Always read the ingredient list. Most companies now print a full ingredient list on the ingredient container, with the possible allergy-causing foods written in bold to prevent allergic reactions and complications.
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  • If you’re visiting a country for the first time, start by eating familiar foods before getting adventurous. Asking locals about the commonly used ingredients for the dishes is also helpful.
  • Have your EPIPEN® and other immediate-response drugs handy. Mistakes could happen, and you may expose yourself to a triggering food. You can protect yourself from severe danger by keeping your prophylactic drugs at hand. 

Summary

Food allergies and intolerances are manageable and should not stop you from trying new dishes and recipes. Understanding which category you fall into helps you better manage them. There are also many other foods you can substitute with the ones you have an allergy to. But before cutting off certain foods from your diet, ask your dietician or doctor what is best for you. Substituting foods you are allergic to with other foods that give the same result is advised to prevent deficiencies. For example, if you are a vegan with allergies to nuts, avocados are a good replacement since they contain fibers, proteins, and vitamins.  

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