Food allergies and intolerances have become a larger topic of discussion as we see a wider variety of foods emerge within the grocery industry containing labels such as ‘gluten free’ or ‘allergy friendly’. It is important to recognize the prevalence of food allergies and know what the top allergens are, as they can be severe to life threatening for those around us.
It’s important to note the difference between food allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities. These are often confused as they may produce similar symptoms. Food allergies are an immune response that occurs when one comes into contact with proteins from an allergen such as gluten. Our body creates antibodies to attack the proteins, which can result in physical responses such as hives, mouth and tongue swelling, vomiting, and trouble breathing.
Food intolerances are normally less severe, but they occur as our bodies react to molecules of a specific substance. One example of this is seen with lactose intolerance. Some people don’t produce enough lactase enzymes to break down lactose molecules. Food intolerances cause mainly digestive upset with symptoms lasting up to 48 hours. Some suffering from food intolerances are able to consume small amounts of a triggering food, while others may opt for taking digestive enzymes along with a food to help in breaking it down.
Another issue that consumers have is food sensitivities. These are another example of an immune response from our body, but this is much less severe in comparison to an allergic reaction. Sensitivities may be felt immediately or delayed symptoms may last for several days. High allergen foods including soy or food additives such as preservatives may produce this response.
The top nine food allergens that contribute to allergic reactions include milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, wheat, and sesame. Sesame was recently added to this list earlier this year as it affects over 1.5 billion people within the U.S. that are allergic to it. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that all imported and U.S. manufactured foods include these food allergens labeled on all packaged foods for transparency. Allergens listed on food labels are important to pay attention to as many schools and day cares for kids don’t allow foods containing these ingredients. How do we find out if we are sensitive to a common allergen or common ingredient? The easiest way to discover this information is through an elimination diet.
The elimination diet is the gold standard for identifying foods that our body might have trouble digesting. The approach includes eliminating all top allergen foods from one’s diet for at least 30 days, and slowly reintroducing foods one at a time to see how our bodies respond to them. In this way we are able to pinpoint specific foods that might make us feel bloated or nauseous, or produce skin rashes, headaches, and stomach cramping.
It can be incredibly beneficial for our health to take a deeper look into the way we eat. Through this process we can discover the foods we consume that may be linked to allergies or digestive upset. We can also work to feel our best by implementing changes in our eating habits, ensuring that our bodies are well nourished and prepared for each day.