Approximately one in 25 people suffers from a food allergy. They are slightly more common in young children and in people who have a family history of them. Most food allergies develop early in life, and many are outgrown.
Food allergies occur when your body's immune system reacts to a substance in a food, usually a protein, your body sees as harmful. This sets off a chain reaction within your body. Symptoms can occur within minutes and can be mild–such as a runny nose or itchy eyes to severe and even life-threatening.
A food intolerance is not the same as a food allergy. An intolerance occurs when your body is unable to digest a certain component of a food, such as lactose, a sugar found in milk; monosodium glutamate; or sulfites, a preservative. Though symptoms of intolerance may be unpleasant, including abdominal cramping or diarrhea, they are not life-threatening.
Types of Food Allergies
More than 160 foods are known to cause food allergies. However, eight foods account for 90 percent of all food-allergic reactions:
Tree nuts (walnuts, cashews)
Fish (pollock, salmon, cod, tuna, snapper, eel, and tilapia)
Eating Well with Food Allergies and Intolerances
People with food allergies or intolerances need to avoid foods that make them sick. But navigating menu items and dishes, where many foods include a combination of ingredients, can be difficult. Allergy-triggering foods may be prepared on the same counters, or with the same utensils as non-allergy causing ingredients. Through cross-contact, a food allergen can creep into what may otherwise be a safe food.
If you have a food allergy, be sure to speak with whoever is preparing your food to inform them of your allergy and ask them to be especially careful when preparing your food