Every time you have a glass of milk or a bowl of dal, you feel bloated or get gas (flatulence) or diarrhea; does this mean you are allergic to milk / dal or you are intolerant to these foods? Our body exhibits a level of physical reactions and symptoms to certain specific foods but most of which are caused by food intolerance and not because of food allergy. A food intolerance can cause the same signs and symptoms like a food allergy and hence getting confused between these two is quite common.
What is food allergy?
A Food Allergy is when the immune system reacts to a certain food. While they are often mild, they can be more severe and, in some cases, life threatening. If the immune system mistakenly treats the food as a threat, it will release a number of chemicals
When the chemicals are released, symptoms develop. Symptoms of food allergy include an itchy throat, mouth or ears, a rash or hives, vomiting, swelling of the face, lips or tongue, anaphylaxis (a life-threatening condition due to allergy).
Almost any food can cause a reaction and people will respond differently to different foods. Yet there are certain foods, recognized for commonly causing food allergies, especially in children and adulthood. Common allergens include: milk, eggs, peanuts, fish and shellfish.
What is food intolerance?
A Food Intolerance is not at all easy to diagnose, despite being more common than a food allergy. While not life threatening, symptoms can leave a person feeling unwell and interfere with daily life.
Food intolerance reactions do not involve the immune system and so the causes of many food intolerances are unclear. Symptoms are often delayed, occurring hours later and sometimes lasting a number of days. The symptoms are usually gut related: diarrhea, bloating, constipation and skin problems. Severe forms of food intolerance later take shape into disease like irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease and other gut diseases.
Food Intolerance can be caused by a number of factors. Certain lifestyles can have an effect on how the body reacts to a specific food.
One of the most effective ways to manage a food allergy and food intolerance is to identify the food that contains the suspected food allergen/ trigger.
For preventing food allergy:
Controlling your allergies and preventing allergic reactions depends on your type of allergy. Here are some ways to manage your allergy:
1. Completely eliminate and avoid the food causing your allergy: This is very important but not always easy. Some allergens are easier to avoid than others. When it is difficult to avoid an allergen, try to reduce the contact or frequency of consumption.
2. Take your food allergy medications as prescribed: This is again very important and will help to manage your symptoms. Take them while also avoiding allergens.
3. Keep a food journal to track the foods causing the trigger to your allergy: Track what you do, what you eat and amount of consumption. This may help you and your doctor find what causes or worsens your symptoms
4. Know what to do during an allergic reaction: It is important that you recognize when you are having an allergic symptoms or severe allergic reaction to a food. It is crucial to recognize that you are having an allergic reaction and respond to it quickly and properly. Always take professional help from a doctor and a nutritionist.
For preventing food intolerance:
1. Improve your digestive health: It’s important to optimize your gut health and improve digestion in order to prevent food intolerances. Take support from probiotic rich foods like curd, buttermilk, kefir, kombucha, yakult or probiotic supplements prescribed from a doctor or nutritionist.
2. Identify and eliminate the food from your diet: Your doctor and nutritionist will advise you to be on a Food Elimination Diet. Food Elimination Diet involves a specific food to be eliminated for a brief period of time and slowly introduced in small amounts post elimination phase. Please do not attempt on a food elimination diet without discussing changes with your family doctor and nutritionist.
3. Check food labels for ingredients: Before buying, check the ingredients carefully for problem foods. Don’t forget to check the condiments and seasonings. They may contain MSG or any other additive symptoms that can lead to intolerance symptoms.
4. When you dine out, ask your server about how your meal will be prepared: Learn and understand which foods in which amounts cause you to have symptoms and limit your intake to amounts you can handle. When you dine out, some meals may contain foods you cannot tolerate and that may not be evident from the description on the menu – make sure to check thoroughly and ask servers.
Seeking health professional help is a must
If you suspect you or someone you know may have a food allergy or a food intolerance then it is important to seek a diagnosis from your doctor.
Your doctor will take a full and detailed medical history and if possible, arrange appropriate tests to diagnose if you have a food allergy or food intolerance.
Once the allergens and intolerances have been diagnosed, your doctor will recommend treatment and medications.
Your doctor may also direct you to a qualified nutrition professional who can help understand the foods which are causing the symptoms and may assist you in successful implementation of an exclusion and reintroduction diet. They will advise you on how to avoid the confirmed allergies or intolerance to prevent symptoms while maintaining a healthy balanced diet that meets your nutritional requirements