The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Health & Fitness

April 18, 2014

Speaking of Health: Food allergy or food intolerance? Know the difference

What if you had to carefully read the ingredients of every food you ate in order to avoid an allergic reaction? Life at the dinner table is very different for the small percentage of Americans who are allergic to certain foods. Recent studies show that approximately five percent of children under the age of 5, and three percent of adults are allergic to at least one food.

There is often confusion regarding the difference between a food allergy and intolerance. Often, the symptoms can be very similar.

What is a food allergy?

If you have a food allergy, your body is overreacting to a specific food as if it were a threat. Your immune system releases an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE) to neutralize the food allergen. When you eat even the smallest amount of that food, the IgE antibodies sense it and tell your immune system to release a chemical called histamine, which causes many allergic symptoms such as:

• Itching

• Swelling

• Hives

• Difficulty breathing

• Vomiting

• Diarrhea

• Abdominal cramps

• Anaphylaxis (Severe, life-threatening reaction)

Some of the most common food allergens include:

• Eggs

• Milk

• Peanuts

• Shellfish

• Tree nuts

• Soy

• Fish

What is food intolerance?

Unlike an allergic reaction, the symptoms of food intolerance are almost always gastrointestinal. An intolerance means that your body does not have the correct mechanisms to digest certain foods properly. A common food intolerance is lactose intolerance, which means your body has difficulty digesting lactose, the main sugar in milk products. This, in turn, causes symptoms of bloating, abdominal pain and sometimes diarrhea.

Other intolerances that are sometimes confused with food allergy include:

• Sensitivity to food additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) or artificial sweeteners.

• Celiac disease, which is a gluten intolerance triggered by eating bread, pasta and many other foods containing wheat, barley or rye.

• Food poisoning causes by bacteria that contaminate the food

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