Recently I saw a comedy sketch where a girl with a gluten allergy tried to explain her dietary requirements to her co workers who kept offering her bread products which differed only in appearance. The video ended with our hero giving up and eating at her own gluten free desk. Very often when we try to explain our allergies and diet requirements there arises confusing statements, things like
“My cousin is allergic to milk but she can have ice cream.”
“I think I’m allergic to gluten, when I ate too many rolls at Thanksgiving I felt bloated for a few hours”
So let’s see what the experts have to say about the differences between a food allergy and a food intolerance.
According to the Mayo Clinic “A true food allergy causes an immune system reaction that affects numerous organs in the body. It can cause a range of symptoms. In some cases, an allergic reaction to a food can be severe or life-threatening. In contrast, food intolerance symptoms are generally less serious and often limited to digestive problems.
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 a lactose intolerance, you may be able to drink lactose-free milk or take lactase enzyme pills (Lactaid) to aid digestion.” If you are interested in what you may be intolerant to you can this test that is done by four strands of your hair which tests for over 600 food and environmental intolerances.
To break the differences down even further her are some basics....
-An immune system reaction
-Affects more than one organ in the body
-Can be life threatening
An INTOLERANCE (A.K.A. sensitivity):
-Not life threatening
-Often limited to digestive tract
-Reaction may be prevented through medical intervention
Why does it matter?
Because knowledge is power, when you have a reaction to a certain food, consulting with a doctor can help you figure out whether you just need to take a preventative medicine or if you need to carry epinephrine with you at all times.
If you have an intolerance you may be able to enjoy many common eating experiences without any extra stress, simply choosing not to eat things you know are a problem. Dealing with allergies, you may need to make more preparations (bring your own food, cleaning products to make sure your eating area is allergen free etc.)
There are big misconceptions around food allergies and intolerances. It is our personal duty to ensure our personal safety. If you are allergic and have life threatening reactions you need to be taken seriously. Discussing your reactions and helping others understand the severity of your allergy will help people know how serious it can be.
The point is, invite people to understand more by being their teacher.
We want people to understand our allergy and intolerance issues so that they can be “on our team”. As an allergy mom, many times I have felt support from other parents who bought/made a special treat for my child after checking with me if it would be safe, or saved packaging from products so my daughter could read the labels for herself and decide if it would be OK. At school, I have been blessed to have teachers call me before planning a party/event to see what we could do together to make it work.
When you come across someone who is insensitive or uneducated to your allergy and intolerance issues try to remember what it was like before you or your loved one was diagnosed, until you are closely affected by allergies or had to deal with the consequences of intolerances, you likely hadn’t given it a second thought. Remember that you are in charge of your health and don’t let the ignorance of others endanger your well being, or your confidence. You can also check out the video on how to stay positive with food allergies here.
So whether you have an allergy, an intolerance, or both, being able to tell people what you need in order to be healthy makes it that much easier for them to help you.
And when you have people on your team that you can trust, you can more easily enjoy your life, and your meals.