Busting the Myths of Food Allergies and Food Intolerances

Busting the Myths of Food Allergies and Food Intolerances


Although you may think that food allergies and food intolerances are the same thing—they’re not. Many folks use the term interchangeably and mistakenly assume that they must avoid the offending food. I often give talks on this important topic because there are so many misconceptions and misinformation swirling around. Here’s a closer look at common myths surrounding allergies and intolerances.

Myth #1: Food allergy and food intolerance are the same thing.

Fact: These terms describe different conditions. A food allergy is when the body’s immune system is triggered leading to immediate symptoms that can range from mild to severe. Mild symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and sneezing, while more severe symptoms include wheezing, shortness of breath, swelling of the lips and throat, and loss of consciousness. The 8 most coming food allergies that account for 90% of reactions include milk, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, soy, fish and shellfish.

A food intolerance, on the other hand, is triggered by the digestive system and symptoms occur when you eat over a tolerable limit of the food. Symptoms occur gradually and may include nausea, bloating, diarrhea, and flatulence. The most common food intolerances include dairy and wheat.

Myth #2: If the offending food bothers you, avoid it.

Fact: The last thing you want to do is remove any food or food group from your diet without getting properly tested. If you think you have a food allergy, then see a qualified physician so they can conduct testing. Common tests for food allergies include the skin prick test, blood test, oral food challenge and trial elimination diet. A combination of these tests is the best way to get a proper diagnosis. Once you are diagnosed with a food allergy, then you do need to avoid that food.

There are also two tests to determine if you’re intolerant to milk and dairy, the lactose tolerance test and the hydrogen breathe test. Once lactose intolerance is diagnosed, recommended management includes keeping dairy foods in the diet.

Myth #3: Once you’re diagnosed with a food allergy, you must eliminate the offending food forever.

Fact: Food allergies can occur at any age and many kids are affected, but it is possible to outgrow them. If you or your child has a food allergy, it is important to get re-tested regularly.

Myth #4: You should avoid milk and dairy if you’re lactose intolerant.

Fact: Both the National Medical Association and the National Institute of Health expert panel recommend keeping dairy foods in the diet. Research has found that adults and adolescents diagnosed with lactose intolerance can tolerate about 12 grams of lactose in a single dose, the amount found in 1 cup of milk or yogurt. Since the amount of lactose in dairy foods differ, start with lower lactose foods and work your way up. Lower lactose foods include cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, Swiss cheese and mozzarella. The live and active cultures in traditional and Greek yogurt can also be easier on your tummy.

Myth #5: Someone with a milk allergy may consume lactose-free milk.

Fact: Lactose-free milk comes from a cow and is real milk, so it’s not a good choice for someone with a milk allergy. However, lactose-free milk is a perfect choice for folks with lactose intolerance! Lactose-free milk provides the same 9 essential nutrients as traditional milk. In order to create lactose-free milk, a natural lactase enzyme is added to cow’s milk to help breakdown the milk sugar called lactose. Lactose-free dairy products you can find at the market include milk, ice cream, cottage cheese, yogurt, and egg nog.


Disclaimer: I am a member of the National Dairy Council’s Lactose Intolerance Speakers Bureau. This post is sponsored by the National Dairy Council.

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