Food intolerance is a condition in which an individual has difficulty digesting certain foods. Consumption of these foods manifests as physical symptoms such as bloating, loose motion, gases, and bellyache. Food intolerance is quite common. Most people are aware of the foods that disagree with them. They may like the food, but they avoid it because of the disturbing digestive symptoms they may have because of that particular food. The symptoms may generally begin within a few hours of consuming the culprit food.
In the United States, three of the most common foods that cause intolerance are lactose, gluten, and casein. Lactose (a type of carbohydrate) and casein (a type of protein) are found in milk, whereas gluten is a protein found in barley, wheat, and rye. Other common types of foods that may cause intolerance are as follows:
- Eggs (particularly egg yolks)
- Soy products such as soy milk and tofu
- Foods containing salicylates such as nuts (such as peanuts, pecans, walnuts, and almonds), vegetables, and wine
- Foods containing sulfites such as red wine, beer, and certain foods with sulfites such as preservatives
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG) may be added as a taste enhancer in some foods
Is food intolerance the same as food allergy?
The terms food intolerance and food allergy are quite often, but wrongly, used interchangeably. Food intolerance is not the same as a food allergy. Food intolerance involves the reaction of the gut (the gastrointestinal [GI] tract) toward certain foods leading to disturbing symptoms. It occurs when the gut is irritated by certain food products or when the food product is not properly digested in the gut. The most common type of food intolerance in the United States is lactose intolerance where symptoms such as bloating, bellyache, and diarrhea occur on consuming dairy products. Although the symptoms of food intolerance cause discomfort, they are generally not as serious or life-threatening as a food allergy. They can even be managed by limiting the amount of offending food that is consumed.
Food allergy refers to the response of the immune system to consuming certain foods. It occurs when certain components of the consumed food, usually proteins, trigger an immune response in the body. The body produces antibodies against the culprit ingredient that may manifest as itching, rashes, sweating, chest pain, and breathlessness. Food intolerance may occur on eating a considerable portion of the offending food, whereas food allergies occur when even a small amount of the food is consumed. Shellfish allergy is the most common food allergy in the United States. A food allergy may even produce a serious and potentially fatal reaction called anaphylaxis. It is characterized by swelling of the airways and a sudden drop in blood pressure leading to fainting and choking. It needs urgent medical intervention.
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