The terms “food allergy” and “food intolerance” are often confused. A food allergy occurs when the immune system reacts to a food, or is otherwise involved. Food intolerance is an adverse, food-induced reaction that does not involve the immune system.
For instance, lactose and gluten sensitivity are examples of food intolerance. These are caused because the body lacks an enzyme (lactase) or is sensitive to a protein (gluten).
Food allergies are commonly self-diagnosed. Frequently, we believe we are allergic to a food because we have a reaction to it. Although this shouldn’t be taken lightly, you may be surprised to know how rare true food allergies are. According to the American Dietetic Association, 1 in 3 adults believe they’re allergic to milk. However, fewer than 2% of adults suffer from true food allergies of any kind. Even the 5% of children diagnosed with food allergies usually outgrow them by the time they become adults.
Why do people think they have allergies?
Many food allergy symptoms can mimic other food-induced ailments, like food-borne illnesses and food intolerances. People often use the term “allergy” loosely to describe almost any physical reaction to food, even if it’s psychological.
What’s a food allergy?
An allergen (a protein in the troublesome food) sets off a chain of immune reactions. When a person prone to food allergies eats a food they’re allergic to, the body protects itself by making antibodies. These antibodies release a variety of chemicals, like histamine which produces uncomfortable symptoms associated with food allergies, such as runny nose, headaches, vertigo, itchy skin, or even a rapid heartbeat.
Can I be tested for food allergies?
Never try to self-diagnose yourself or your family members. A certified allergist is best qualified to diagnose food allergies. If diagnosed with a true food allergy, you will most likely need to avoid that food. Plan carefully to ensure you consume a balanced diet that includes all food groups and essential nutrients. Seek the help of a health professional, like a registered dietitian and an allergist, to teach you how to manage your food allergy. Read the label for "hidden" allergens. Keep up-to-date on food products, since manufacturers may change their ingredients.
* Dietitian with The MyDiet Team
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