If you have an unpleasant reaction to something you have eaten, you may have a food allergy or intolerance. One out of three people believe they have a food allergy.
Although food allergy is commonly suspected, healthcare providers diagnose it less frequently than most people think. Food allergy is diagnosed in up to 10 percent of children and about 5 percent of adults. Many who believe they have a food allergy may actually have a food intolerance, which affects more than 10 percent of adults.
Foods and chemicals that often cause problems include shellfish (shrimp, crayfish, lobster, crab), peanuts, tree nuts such as walnuts, fish, eggs, milk, lactose, gluten, Aspartame, MSG (monosodium glutamate), benzoates, sorbates, sulfites, nitrates and nitrites.
Symptoms of a food allergy or intolerance can range from mild to severe, and the amount of food necessary to trigger a reaction varies. Common symptoms may include nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea, gas, cramps, bloating, rash or hives, itchy skin, shortness of breath, chest pain, swelling of the airways to the lungs, anaphylaxis, vomiting, heartburn, irritability and nervousness.
Food allergy is an abnormal response to a food triggered by the body’s immune system. If your symptoms include rash, itchy skin or trouble breathing, you may have a food allergy rather than an intolerance. Allergic reactions to food can cause serious illness and, in some cases, death. Therefore, if you suspect you have a food allergy (or even an intolerance), it is extremely important for you to work with your healthcare provider to find out what foods causes your reaction.
Food intolerance is a digestive system response rather than an immune system response. It occurs when a food irritates a person’s digestive system or when a person is unable to properly digest the food. Intolerance to lactose, which is found in milk and other dairy products, is the most common food intolerance. Many are also intolerant of gluten, the proteins found in grains like wheat, rye, and barley.
Most food intolerances are found through trial and error to determine which food or foods cause symptoms. You should keep a food diary to record what you eat and when you get symptoms, and then look for common factors.
Another way to identify problem foods is to go on an elimination diet until you are symptom-free. Then reintroduce the foods, one at a time, to pinpoint which foods cause symptoms. Seek the advice of your health care provider or a dietitian before beginning an elimination diet to be sure your diet provides adequate nutrition.
Whether you have an allergy or an intolerance, you should learn which foods cause the symptoms and limit your intake to amounts you can handle. When you dine out, ask your server about where the food comes from and how your meal will be prepared. Also, when you shop, carefully read the labels and avoid products that contain problem foods or added chemicals.
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