But how do you know whether you have a food allergy or a food intolerance? Do you handle them differently? What if it is a friend or coworker – how do you plan for their needs in the event you are making food and want to include them?
Understanding Food Allergies and Intolerances
According to WebMD, the most important difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance is that an allergy can be life-threatening. Allergies tend to show up quickly every time you ingest the allergen, and a small amount of the offending food can cause a reaction. (In fact, it’s so serious that one city in Canada is considering placing EpiPens in restaurants in case a patron has an allergic response to his or her food.)
Food intolerances are more gradual in their effect on the body, are not fatal, and are a bit harder to nail down, as they don't always occur when you eat a small amount of the triggering food. Often, you may only have a reaction when you consume too much of the food or if you eat it more often than your body to handle.
How Do I Know What My Issue Is?
As a general rule, food allergies are easier to spot than intolerances. However, if you suspect you have an issue related to food, you should see your medical doctor for testing. They can run a battery of tests that will identify any food allergies, narrow down intolerances, and help you create a menu and safe eating plan to improve your health and digestion.
But when considering symptoms, WebMD points out that both intolerances and allergies may cause nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, and digestive upset. Intolerances tend towards Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms, like gas, heartburn, headaches, irritability, and even constipation or diarrhea.
Allergies reveal themselves in severe symptoms, like shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain, and hives or fever. You cannot wait to deal with the reaction of an allergy – you may need medical help immediately.
This is when keeping a food diary can be most helpful. Track the foods you eat every day for two weeks, and include in your notes how you feel after each meal. While allergies show up immediately, intolerances can take hours, sometimes even days to affect you, so following your symptoms over time is one of the best ways to evaluate the severity of your intolerance.
How Do I Deal With My Allergy or Intolerance?
If you have a food allergy, there is absolutely no wiggle room. You must avoid the offending food at all costs. Awareness is spreading globally about the seriousness of food allergies, so it’s much easier to find foods both in restaurants and grocery stores that are safe for you to consume. Just remember the golden rule: never trust – always ask. Even if the server offers assurances that the meal will be safe for you, if you have any qualms, ask to speak with the chef.
If you have a food intolerance, you'll need to gauge how sensitive you are. Some people experience mild sensitivities that only show up if they eat a certain food every day, or too many servings of it. Others are more sensitive, and even a small amount results in unpleasant side effects.
The Good News
With the influx of awareness around those with food allergies and intolerances, life has become much easier for those afflicted. And if your digestion isn't ideal, such as you suffer from regular bouts of gas, bloating, and bowel irregularity, it’s worth investigating with the help of your medical practitioner.