Defining Food Allergies and Food Intolerances

I don't talk about food allergies and intolerances very much on my blog, but allergies are probably the single most influential factor in my day-to-day life. I will try to spend more time blogging about them to help spread the word about what food allergies are, what intolerances are, and how to cook with them.


There is some basic vocabulary about food allergies that I thought might be helpful to learn.

1. Food Allergy: 
According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, a food allergy happens when the immune system over-reacts to the protein in a certain food. The reactions can include:
- a rash, or red, itchy skin (hives/eczema)
- stuffy or itchy nose, sneezing, or itchy and teary eyes
- vomiting, stomach cramps, or diarrhea
- angloedema or swelling
- hoarseness, throat tightness, or a lump in the throat
- wheezing, chest tightness, or trouble breathing
- anaphylaxis

2. Food Intolerance:
There's a lot of conflicting information out there about intolerances. Here's the general consensus, though: if a reaction to the food involves the immune system, then it's an allergy. If a reaction to a food does not involve the immune system, then it's an intolerance. The Australian government's Better Health Channel provides a thorough list of food intolerance symptoms, which include:
- nervousness, tremor
- sweating
- palpitations
- rapid breathing
- headache, migraine
- diarrhea 
- burning sensations on the skin
- tightness across the face and chest
- breathing problems (asthma-like symptoms)
- allergy-like reactions

The best example is a milk allergy verses lactose intolerance:
- a milk allergy is when the immune system attacks the milk protein whereas lactose intolerance is when the person's body doesn't have the enzyme to process the lactose in milk. 
- The symptoms are probably similar (unless the allergy causes anaphylaxis) but the cause is completely different. 

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