What to Do When You Are Allergic or Intolerant to Food?
Food allergies and intolerances are booming. Why? How to protect yourself and avoid too severe symptoms?
Sign of the times: restaurateurs are increasingly showing the presence of allergens on their maps and the number of restaurants without gluten (and/or without allergens) explodes. Allergies and food intolerances have increased in the past 20 years, in children first and also in adults.
The number of people suffering from food allergy has thus doubled in the last 5 years. This is due to various factors including:
- An increase in the allergic potential of certain foods such as tomatoes, peaches or turnips due, for example, to intensive crops;
- The importation of exotic products: this is the case of sesame, which today represents 4.4% of food allergies, compared to 0.7% a few years ago;
- The increasing share in our ultra-processed food plates that increases the risk of exposure to masked allergens; This is particularly the case with the groundnut responsible today for the most severe food allergies, egg white, milk powder, casein or lupine flour.
The most common allergens in adults:
- Plants causing cross-allergies with latex (13%), buckwheat leading (half of the cases)
- Crustaceans (13%),
- Nuts (10%),
- Legumes (8%),
- Wheat flour (8%).
A protective factor: a balanced intestinal microbiota
The health of the gastrointestinal system plays a central role in food allergies. When the intestinal wall has been weakened by infection, antibiotics or inflammation (which may be caused by allergic reactions), the barrier function of the intestine is compromised, allowing large molecules to pass through the wall Intestinal and enter the bloodstream.They can then be recognized as allergens, resulting in digestive disorders (stomach pain, diarrhea …), joint pain or headaches.
In fact, any alteration of the mechanisms of enzymatic, chemical, mechanical and immunological protection of the walls of the digestive tract can be at the origin of an allergic sensitivity. Hence the interest of restoring or preserving its intestinal flora. A diet rich in plants is one of the most important steps to take for this.
Food allergies and intolerances: what are the differences?
Food allergy consists of a specific immune reaction following the ingestion of a particular food (or several). It is characterized by the release of various molecules including histamine which is responsible for symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, running eyes or nose, rash, diarrhea… Then once the body is exposed to water, Allergen, it develops specific IgE antibodies.
Food intolerance does not lead to an immune reaction, but symptoms that may be similar to those of an allergy. For example, a person may suffer from digestive problems after ingesting cow’s milk because it is intolerant to lactose without developing an immunological response that is characteristic of cow’s milk allergy.
The most common food intolerance is gluten, followed closely by casein or lactose. Certain additives (dyes or preservatives, for example), sulphites can also trigger inflammatory reactions that sign intolerance. Note: in the case of gluten, the term gluten intolerance or celiac disease refers to gluten allergy, while the term “gluten sensitivity” refers to intolerance as we have just defined them.
How do you do when you are allergic or intolerant to a food?
Identification of responsible foods and their elimination from the diet is essential; It is the only treatment that has proved its effectiveness. This predation should preferably be prescribed and followed by a physician or dietician.
Some immunosuppressive medicines are being developed but the elimination of the offending allergen remains today the only way to not suffer from an allergy or intolerance.
- Read labels . allergens are reported in bold, so they can be spotted quite easily. If you are hunting gluten, be aware that some ingredients containing the word “wheat” do not contain gluten. These false enemies are: wheat dextrose, wheat glucose, wheat syrup, wheat maltodextrin.
- Avoid as much as possible industrial foods (ultra-processed) . Tip: If a product contains more than 5 ingredients, it is likely to be ultra transformed, if it has a very colorful package and full of allegations, too.
- Banish added sugar that has a pro-inflammatory effect in the body and can aggravate the symptoms of allergies and make it more susceptible to new allergens.
- Eliminate gluten even if you are not celiac: some symptoms of gluten sensitivity may make you think you are allergic to certain foods when you are not (1).
- You should prefer allergen-free food that will boost your immune system and thus improve the allergic response: green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale cabbage, salads, chard, watercress …) which are very rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and Enzymes (2), foods rich in probiotics (fermented vegetables , kombucha, kefir …), coconut milk (a good alternative to lactose intolerance and / or allergies to nuts, soy and cereals) Seeds (flax seeds and chia especially for their richness in omega-3), gluten-free flours (amaranth, teff, nutsedge, quinoa, buckwheat, rice, millet, coconut, chestnut …).
(1) Jessica R Biesiekierski, Julie Iven : Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity: piecing the puzzle together, United European Gastroenterol J. 2015 Apr; 3(2): 160–165.
(2) Eat more fruits and vegetables to improve your immune system. Five or more portions of fruits and vegetables daily significantly increase antibody response. Duke Med Health News. 2013 Feb;19(2):5-6. and vegetables daily significantly increase antibody response. Duke Med Health News.