What is the difference? An allergy is an immune response to a food protein, where the body mistakes the protein for something harmful. Tagged with Immunoglobulin E (IgE), the body undergoes a reaction, mild to life-threatening, manifesting in dermititis, gastrointestinal and respiratory distress, etc. An intolerance, on the other hand, is a negative reaction, often delayed, that produces symptoms in one or more parts of the body (skin, organs, etc.) but where IgE antibodies are not present. Amongst the culprits are the food or beverage itself, or a food additive or compound found within what you eat.
Thus, I come to the reason for my post. With the percentage of food allergies and intolerance on the rise (in some cases, it is skyrocketing), I have come to think that it is not so much what we eat but what we do to our food that has caused this surge. I, myself, have discovered that I’m gluten intolerant. I do not have Celiac Disease, an immuno-reaction to gluten of most/all forms. I have friends who do have it, who say they cannot have anything starchier than rice. While I do not suffer the severe reactions they have when they encounter gluten (if the reactions appear at all; they say that 97% of patients with CD go un-diagnosed), eating products comprised of wheat and several other grains cause me problems. One of the most annoying side effects is the sheer lethargy and sleepiness that takes hold of me shortly after consuming something with wheat in it. (I have been tested, by the way, but do not quite trust the test results as the hospital isn’t really equipped to deal with such specialties, and studies show that more than one factor may be the cause of CD.)
Now, I’m not saying that wheat or other grains with the gluten-protein gliadin are bad. They aren’t. They just upset my gastrointestinal system. If you can eat it, do so. Sometimes, I choose to eat something that I know will affect me later anyway. What I have found, however, is that foods that are unprocessed do not mess me up nearly so badly.
My point then is that the processing that our food undergoes may be a big player in the rise in food-related allergies and intolerance. There are studies that clearly show that processed foods contribute to bodily diseases. Why not allergies and intolerance too?
If you are unsure whether or not you have an intolerance (allergies usually make themselves pretty well known), there is a simple way to find out: go off one single food (milk, wheat, soy, etc.) for 2-4 weeks. Then slowly reintroduce it into your diet. See if anything changes. If you notice negative side effects, it is best to find an alternative food and limit/cut out the culprit as much as is possible. This means: read all labels while grocery shopping; find cookbooks that address your specific needs; talk with waiters when you go out for other options. The result will be a happier, healthier you. As I have often joked with my husband, who really wants to be so well preserved due to the things they eat when they die that when an archaeologist digs you up 1000 years later, he can see all your flaws?
For more information on Celiac Disease: http://www.celiac.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3:about-celiac-disease&catid=1:about-celiac-disease&Itemid=9
For more information on gluten sensitivity: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gluten_sensitivity
For more information on lactose intolerance: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/lactoseintolerance/
There are many more out there, including sucrose and fructose intolerance, so read thoroughly and carefully. Be mindful. Never assume you have something. You may or you may not. The number one way to benefit yourself is to do your research!