|Vintage Red-Handled Rolling Pin at Etsy|
Although the term "food allergy" is often used to refer to both allergies and sensitivities, there is a distinct difference between the two.
Food allergy produces an immediate reaction when an offending food is ingested, or sometimes even touched or inhaled. Peanut allergy is the most commonly-known food allergy, and most members of the general public understand that this type of allergic reaction is life-threatening and requires an immediate response. In these cases, the body perceives a particular food as a poisonous invader, and reacts dramatically to try to purge it. Symptoms can include vomiting, swelling, hives, migraines, or anaphylactic shock. Occasionally, delayed gastrointestinal symptoms also result, including nausea or diarrhea that can continue for hours or days.
Food sensitivity (or intolerance) on the other hand, most often produces delayed reactions, hours or even days after the offending food is ingested. In these instances, the body is unable to break down a particular food, and large particles pass through the digestive system, fermenting and occasionally creating holes in the intestinal walls. When more large food particles pass through the intestinal walls undigested, the body again perceives that there is an invader present, and reacts as though it has been poisoned. Symptoms of food intolerance can include gas, bloating, stomach cramps, rashes, headaches, bedwetting, eczema, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, and even acne.
While food allergy is clearly life-threatening, food intolerance is also difficult to deal with, as it is lifestyle-threatening. Many individuals are unwilling to make the necessary changes in their diets to avoid the foods to which they are sensitive, thinking that their symptoms are mild enough to ignore. Unfortunately, long-term exposure to foods to which one is intolerant can cause severe illness, including iron deficiency, anemia, osteoporosis, thyroid disruption, obesity, heart disease, and even diabetes. The inability of the body to absorb nutrients from these foods can result in malnutrition, even in people who believe they are getting enough to eat.
Both people with food allergy and food intolerance need support from the general public. When a child with peanut allergy needs an arrangement made in a public place to protect him from peanut exposure, the reaction of the non-allergic public should be one of kindness and concern, not irritation. When a parent of a child with a food sensitivity asks that alternative options be served for birthday snack at school, the reaction of the administration should be one of understanding, not blind adherence to regulations. Both types of allergy are more difficult to deal with for the person who experiences their symptoms than they are for the person "inconvenienced" by changes made to accommodate the allergic individual. As the saying goes, "Kindness, like a boomerang, always returns." Isn't that a standard we should all strive to reach?
Shared with Rednesday at It's A Very Cherry World and Whole Health Weekend at Nourishing Treasures and Monday Mania at the Healthy Home Economist.