By Fatema Valikarimwala
Owner and Founder of Heal-Thy
As a Clinical Dietitian, my ears prickle up in public when I hear people giving advice related to food. Don’t even get me started on how I control the itch to go and correct a total stranger, who is preaching about benefits/harmful effects of a particular ingredient. If you look closely, all of us have one self-proclaimed dietitian in our family, friends circle and neighbourhood. They are constantly scrutinizing our bodies and correcting our ‘so called bad habits’. “Oh, you have acne, you should totally stop eating non-veg”. “You look too bloated, are you constipated and gassy? I don’t think milk and pulses suit you”, “You have so much of pigmentation! Have you been mixing fish with dairy products?”
This list can go on…
Oh, and if you have allergy issues which are visible on your face or other body parts, you have recommendations flowing in from everyone! From your house help to your work colleagues, everyone seems to be an expert now. This article gives you an insight about food allergy and how it is different from food intolerance.
Scientifically, food allergy can be defined as the ‘immunological mediated reactions to food or an adverse immunological response to a specific substance which produces the characteristic symptoms’
In lay man’s terms, food allergy can be termed as an abnormal response to a food triggered by your body’s immune system. Your body’s immune system does not accept a particular component of a food and triggers a cascade of reactions which manifest as symptoms experienced by an individual. Now, food intolerance is different. It doesn’t involve body’s immune system (immunological mechanism) and is normally due to absence of dietary enzymes or unfavourable gut environment.
How do we detect and handle allergies and food intolerances?
Food Allergies: There are a number of tests (E.g.: ELISA) to detect allergies. These tests are done in response to symptoms occurring repeatedly on food consumption. The test narrows down the ingredients that you are allergic to. Example: nut allergy, vegetable allergy, etc. On detection, that particular ingredient has to be avoided completely. While grocery shopping, make sure to read the nutritional labels and be mindful of the ingredients present in packed foods. While dining in restaurant, inform the waiter while placing the order, so as to avoid any allergic reactions.
Food intolerance: The two commonly seen food intolerance are lactose and gluten intolerance.
Lactose intolerance is a digestive disorder caused by the inability to digest lactose, the main carbohydrate present in dairy products. These individuals are deficient in the enzyme lactase which is needed to digest lactose. It can cause various symptoms, which include bloating, diarrhoea and abdominal cramps. There are varying degrees of lactose intolerance, some can tolerate fermented products while some cannot.
Gluten intolerance/sensitivity: The digestive system of individuals suffering from gluten intolerance/sensitivity cannot digest gliadin, a component of gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley). They experience symptoms such as nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, bloating, etc., and are advised to follow a gluten free diet which basically does not involve wheat and wheat products, rye and barley. Products made from corn, rice, soya bean, tapioca, arrowroot, millets can be used instead. Pure oats do not contain gluten, however certain packed oats contain traces of wheat and rye, therefore, nutritional labels should be carefully read.
The only two tests available for detection of lactose intolerance are lactose tolerance blood test and hydrogen breath test. Gluten intolerance/sensitivity can be detected by tracking symptoms and elimination diet. No test can tell whether you are gluten intolerant. Be mindful about your symptoms, maintain a food dairy, track your symptoms and visit a dietitian for further consultation.
Disclaimer: There are no other tests for validating any other food intolerances. A lot of online food intolerance tests are available which are nothing but scams.