Food Allergies and Intolerances

Back in April, the government announced plans to cut over 19,000 jobs in the next 3 years in an effort to balance the budget. Included in those jobs are approximately 200 food inspector jobs; leaving the responsibility of food label accuracy to the consumer. At the time of this blog, the CFIA website has not made mention of or posted the web-based tool consumers will need to use to bring validated concerns directly to the companies and associations for resolution.

In addition to the many glaring concerns I have with this move by the government, is the fact most consumers purchase and consume packaged foods assuming the nutrition labels are indeed accurate and safe. With 1.2 Canadians affected by food allergies and many more with intolerances, accurate food packaging and unbiased nutrition claims are ever important.

Food allergies: when a food protein is mistaken as harmful in the body resulting in a mild to severe reaction. While proteins are found in most foods, there are ten top food allergens consumers need to be aware of (including a newly recognized allergen this summer). They include:

  1. Peanuts
  2. Eggs
  3. Milk
  4. Tree nuts
  5. Wheat
  6. Soy
  7. Sesame seeds
  8. Seafood (fish, crustaceans, shellfish)
  9. Sulphites
  10. Mustard (NEW – August 4th, 2012)

An allergic reaction results in an Immunoglobulin E-mediated response. Simply put, the body releases antibodies (IgE) in response to the allergen (the protein). Signs and symptoms of an IgE response include but are not limited to skin reactions such as hives or itching, gastrointestinal (GI) tract upset or irritation and breathing difficulties. The most severe reaction is anaphylaxis which can result in death. While there is no cure for food allergies, the only treatment is the strict avoidance of the allergen. Unlike a food allergy, food intolerances do not result in an IgE-mediated response.

Food intolerances often present after being sick or following a treatment with antibiotics. For example, a dairy intolerance results from lacking the enzyme (lactase) required to fully digest the milk sugar (lactose). Most adults, outside of Scandinavian descent, have some degree of lactose intolerance. Often I have clients who present with a sudden onset of lactose intolerance after they have been sick (generally a result of the imbalance through the GI tract). Like a food allergy, removing the trigger food is beneficial. In contrast though, with some food intolerances like lactose, slowly reintroducing the trigger foods can help restore the missing enzymes.

Signs and symptoms of food intolerances include bloating, gas, stomach or back pain, and diarrhea or constipation, to name a few. If you find you suffer from food intolerances, before completely eliminating a whole food group like grains and or dairy, speak with a healthcare professional to identify your food triggers and then to suggest safe alternatives to prevent a nutrient deficiency.
Helpful online resources for more information: