Physical reactions to certain foods are common, but most are caused by a food intolerance rather than a food allergy. A food intolerance can cause some of the same signs and symptoms as a food allergy, so people often confuse the two. A true food allergy affects the immune system. Even small amounts of the offending food can trigger a range of symptoms, which can be severe or life-threatening. In contrast, a food intolerance often affects only the digestive system and causes less serious symptoms.
If you have a food intolerance, you may be able to eat small amounts of the offending food without trouble. You may also be able to prevent a reaction. For example, if you have lactose intolerance, you may be able to drink lactose-free milk or take lactase enzyme pills (Lactaid) to aid digestion.
Causes of food intolerance include:
Absence of an enzyme needed to fully digest a food: lactose intolerance is a common example.
Irritable bowel syndrome: this chronic condition can cause cramping, constipation and diarrhea.
Sensitivity to food additives: for example, sulfites used to preserve dried fruit, canned goods and wine can trigger asthma attacks in people who are sensitive to food additives.
What about celiac disease?
This chronic digestive condition is triggered by eating gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains. Celiac disease has some features of a true food allergy because it involves the immune system. Symptoms often include gastrointestinal issues as well as those unrelated to the digestive system, such as joint pain and headaches. However, people with celiac disease are not at risk of anaphylaxis.
If you have a reaction after eating a particular food and would like to discuss your risks contact the doctors at Bernstein Allergy Group to help you determine whether you have a food intolerance or a food allergy.
FODMAP diet for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
When people say “FODMAP diet,” they usually mean a diet low in FODMAP — certain sugars that may cause intestinal distress. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, which are short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that the small intestine absorbs poorly. This diet is designed to help people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and/or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) figure out which foods are problematic and which foods reduce symptoms. A low FODMAP diet is a temporary eating plan because it can be very restrictive since it eliminates so many foods. This diet not something that you will follow lifelong, rather it’s a short discovery process to determine what foods are troublesome for you.