Food for thought: allergies, intolerance and nutrition

Posted on November 27, 2013

"The secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside."
- Mark Twain

If only the above quote was true for us all. Whilst we eat to survive, and most of us enjoy the process of doing so, we're now a nation that needs to think twice before gobbling up a plate of the foods that we adore. Not just because of the calorie intake or for the fear of overindulging, but because of the effect it will have on us. Someone who finds their happiest times enjoying a bowl of Moules Frites, creamy pasta carbonara or a heavenly pudding, may find their intolerance to its ingredients mean they are now having to live without.

According to figures released by Allergy UK, a leading national charity dedicated to supporting those who suffer from food sensitivity, almost half (45%) of the population could be affected by the condition. For those affected by an allergy or intolerance, eating can be a challenge. Increasingly, more and more people are becoming conscious of the food they eat and the effect it has on them.

There is believed to be a number of factors that have caused a nation of sufferers with complaints such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), migraines and obesity. Studies have shown that there are more people in the UK suffering from food intolerance than ever before. Although food reactions are common, people are still unclear on what the difference is between an allergic reaction and food intolerance. The two are often confused and are believed to be alike but, in fact, provoke differing symptoms and reactions.

What is a food allergy?

A food allergy is a reaction triggered by the body's immune system upon the intake of harmless food as if they were a threat. There are several adverse reactions to food, some of which are mild whereas others can be more severe and life threatening, like anaphylaxis for example. The reaction to the food happens when the body produces a specific type of antibody called immunoglobulin (IgE). The immune response is triggered when the molecules present in food bind with the IgE.

The allergic reaction process occurs in two steps. Usually, the first time you are exposed to the food allergen, no symptoms occur. However, it does prime the body to respond next time. Symptoms of a food allergy can include all or some of the following: itchy mouth, lips and tongue swelling, trouble breathing (tightening of the throat) vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal cramps and pain, hives, worsening of eczema and a drop in blood pressure. Anaphylaxis is a severe form of an allergic reaction that can come on suddenly and could lead to death if not immediately treated. The most common foods to cause an allergic reaction are peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, wheat, milk and eggs. It's often that food allergies develop from an early age, but they can also develop at any time.

Food intolerance digested

This is where it can get confusing. Food intolerances and allergies seem to be on the rise, with an increasing amount of people suffering symptoms of either complaint.  As a result, many people seek professional advice from a healthcare practitioner to help resolve their symptoms. However, many people are unaware as to whether they are suffering with an allergy or intolerance.

For those suffering with food intolerance, there are a number of symptoms that can occur. The most common are bloating, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), low energy, fluid retention, eczema, asthma, migraines, rhinitis, aches and pains. A food intolerance test can go some way to resolve any issues you may be dealing with. 
Food intolerance isn't instantly detectable, either. An allergic reaction almost instantly occurs, whereas the reaction to food intolerance can take up to three days. Keeping a food diary helps sufferers of food intolerances detect what the culprit could be, making it easier to manage your diet.

Boost your wellbeing.

Understanding your body is important. Nutritionist Kate Cook believes that a tailored food diet will help you manage a healthy eating regime. By following a tailored food intake, perhaps by limiting or removing the cause, there is usually an improvement in digestive health. Cleaning up the intake of foods that can aggravate the intolerance will help to alleviate certain symptoms such as IBS bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. By replacing the culprit food with alternatives, you're not depriving yourself of those important nutrients.

If you're suffering from health niggles that are leaving you fed up and irritable, then the first step is to identify the cause(s) of your health problem. Understanding how you can combat dietary problems will help you move towards living a healthy, happy lifestyle.

For some, it may be that food is the root to your discomfort whereas others may find that they just need to eat the right things. By devising a new approach to food, you can work out what you need to do and most importantly stick to it! Whilst our bodies aren't always good at forewarning us about oncoming ailments, planning is key in all instances.

Related article: Nutritionist Kate Cook, Six steps to growing old gracefully and healthily