I can't eat that...I'm Allergic

We all have at least one annoying friend who at every gathering or dinner party says: “Sorry, I can’t eat that…I’m allergic” or at every restaurant asks to have their order customized to be gluten, dairy, egg and soy free. Believe me when I tell you, I am usually the first one to roll my eyes at these people. After all the hassle, in the end they usually just end up munching on a pack of carrot sticks they brought in their purse. The truth is, food allergies and intolerances are a legitimate issue for many people and a lot of the time can go unrecognized. Health Canada estimates that 3-4% of Canadians suffer from food allergies, in my personal experience I feel as though it may be even more. Do you have a food allergy or intolerance?

Signs and symptoms
If you have ever experienced any of these symptoms, consider the possibility of a food allergy or intolerance:
  • Skin rash or hives
  • Eczema
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sinusitis
  • Pharyngeal irritation
  • Asthma
  • Unproductive cough
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation

What is a food allergy?
A food allergy results from the process in which your body mounts an immune response towards proteins found in certain foods. The immune system produces antibodies towards the food, which are always present in the blood. Once any amount of food is eaten these antibodies attach to the specific proteins of the food and signal your body to attack it. This leads to inflammation which can cause the common symptoms of a food allergy such as abdominal pain, pharyngeal irritation or diarrhea.  Food allergies can be due to any number of foods but are most commonly attributed to the foods listed below.

What is a food intolerance?
A food intolerance is different than a food allergy because there is no immune response present. A food intolerance generally involves your bodies inability to digest a certain food because of the absence of specific enzymes or bacteria in the gut. Although symptoms of a food intolerance can often be mistaken for symptoms of a food allergy, they are usually isolated to the gastrointestinal tract and require a normal sized portion of food as a trigger.

Common foods that can cause an allergic reaction or an intolerance are:
  • Wheat
  • Gluten
  • Corn
  • Soy
  • Dairy
  • Peanuts
  • Shellfish
  • Red meat
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • White or brown refined sugar 

In our day and age it is very difficult to know exactly what is in the food we are eating, which makes it hard to know whether or not we are consuming any of the above ingredients. We definitely recommend eating a diet containing only whole foods that have not been processed, but sometimes convenience rules and we decide to grab something pre-packaged. The good news is that on August 4, 2012 all food labels in Canada will be forced to include known food allergens. This means that if you know you have a certain food allergy or intolerance you will be able to read the nutrition label and know if you may react negatively to a certain packaged food. This will further allow consumers to make individualized healthy food choices.

If you feel as though you may have a food allergy or intolerance but are not sure from which food, stay tuned for my follow up post. In my next post I will explore different strategies or options in figuring out your specific food allergies.

Please leave a comment or question!

Jamie Smellie


Harper Government Strengthens Food Allergens Labelling Regulations 
News Release, 2011-23, February 14, 2011, For immediate distribution

Food Allergies and Intolerances
Health Canada: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/securit/allerg/index-eng.php


wombling hobo said...

The situation you describe at the start of your article is so commonplace it's untrue. And I'd like to join you in moaning about it... except, my disgruntlement lies not with the 'fussy eater' but with their intolerant, unsympathetic dinner mates. Does it really mess up your evening so very much for someone sitting near you to ask a question or two about food that noone is making you eat yourself? Can it really be so offensive for someone quite separate from yourself to monitor their personal food intake? Because it doenn't really affect YOU much, after all. Granted, there may be extra effort involved if you are the chef; but restaurant chefs will be recompensed for their work, and if it's a dinner party we're talking about, good hosts should find satisfaction in pleasing their guests, shouldn't they? Oh, I see - you have to wait a little longer at the restaurant for the food to arrive? Or you're forced to tolerate disapproving looks from the snooty jobsworth of a waiter? Well, I honestly can't say I feel for you all that much.
See, I'm the one eating carrot sticks. Yup, that's right, it's a big, beautiful celebratory meal with people I love, and not only am I eating crappy carrot sticks (again), but my supposed friends are making me feel really uncomfortable and unwanted. What do you think, maybe I should just shut up my whining, eat the damn corn and drink the blinkin' coffee. What harm can they do? Apart from cause a crohn's flare up that could last months - months of a painful, doubled up belly, bloody diarrhea, arthritis, skin sores and ulcers, doctor's trips, cameras where the sun don't shine, corticosteroids with horrid side effects, increased risk of cancer and if it gets really bad so that we can't control it this time, removal of a section of my guts...
Right, so, I guess I'll put up with my skin turning orange and me being made to feel like utter crap, then.
Oh, but how great it would be if I didn't have to...!
(THANK YOU, Jamie, for writing an informative article on the topic :D)

Jamie Smellie said...

Thank you for your perspective! I as well have been on both sides of this equation. I have found it particularly helpful to educate friends and family on these issues so they may better understand why we eat the way we eat. I hope you would agree that this was my intention in writing this article. Your frustration around this issue is clear and I encourage you to educate as many people as you can! Good luck!

K.C. said...

What a great article! I hope I'm not one of the people you roll your eyes at! I always say I'm allergic to peppers, but after reading this I am now going to say I am intolerant of them. It kinda sounds funny, but it's closer to the truth! J you are amazing. Looking forward to more articles!

Jackie O said...

Looking forward to the next post! I know I don't have allergies but I'm curious to know if I may have any intolerance...

wombling hobo said...

Yes, Jamie, I think it's a wonderful article and I'm really glad to see you writing about an issue like this. I hope I didn't give the impression that your handling of it or your manner touched on any nerves.. not at all (I thought it was very sensitively written) - just the contextualisation really struck a chord with me! Sorry for the rant... and yes, let's keep getting the word out :)

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