Telling someone with a food allergy that you have a food intolerance can sometimes feel a bit.. awkward. Food intolerances have not exactly got the best reputation!
This is despite plenty of people identify with having food intolerances. In the UK as many as 30 out of every 100 people believe that they are allergic to a food type – and -this number is only increasing year or year, So what’s going on? Are we really getting more intolerant to food? Or, are we just becoming fussy eaters?
First, food allergies and intolerances are… two different things. I probably don’t need to tell you that!
In the interests of clarity, a food allergy is an abnormal response to a food type which is triggered by your immune system. The body thinks it’s under attack. Food allergies affect around 1-2% of the adult population and range from mild to life-threatening. Life-threatening allergies are scary and they can be so severe that even breathing or touching the food that you are allergic too can trigger a reaction.
When it comes to food intolerances things get a lot less clear! Intolerances don’t usually involve the immune system and aren’t usually life-threatening. A lot of the confusion stems because food intolerance is an umbrella term for a whole load of symptoms, from bloating to headaches and even lethargy. Many of the above symptoms overlap with IBS. This means it can be hard to isolate the root cause (or in this case the food cause!).
We think most food intolerances are caused by enzyme deficiencies although they could also be caused by a reaction to certain additives and chemicals.
So if you end up feeling exhausted after a takeaway or if a cup of coffee ends up with you feeling less than ok then you could be intolerant. Could being the operative word as diagnosing a food intolerance isn’t easy. Lactose and fructose aside there aren’t any tests that provide accurate results. As for the gluten debate..several scientific papers have argued that gluten intolerance isn’t really a thing. Gluten intolerance definitely isn’t universally acknowledged yet. There is no conclusive way to test for Gluten intolerance.
If you are experiencing food intolerance symptoms, see your GP to rule out any obvious causes, such as IBS. If there aren’t any obvious causes do cut out food groups for no two to four weeks to see if your symptoms improve. Then think about seeking advice from a registered dietician. This is so that you don’t miss out on key nutrients. Potentially something that could leave you feeling even worse than your food intolerance!