More and more people are avoiding foods for many different reasons.
Food businesses preparing food and selling it to the public may be asked by their customers about:
- ingredients in foods that are on sale
- possible contamination from other dishes or products during preparation and service
Examples of why people avoid foods
- They are allergic or intolerant to a particular ingredient or food
- They want to make healthier food choices
- For health reasons (for example they could have a medical condition such as diabetes, high cholesterol and/or high blood pressure)
- For religious reasons (for example they may want to observe dietary laws such as kosher, halal, Hindu or Sikh vegetarian)
- For moral or ethical reasons (for example they may prefer Fairtrade, organic, vegetarian or vegan)
- Personal choice or preference
Some people have a reproducible food sensitivity such as a food intolerance, food allergy or coeliac disease.
Coeliac disease is not an allergy. It is an auto-immune disease, which means that the body produces antibodies that attack its own tissues. For people with coeliac disease this attack is triggered by gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Some people with coeliac disease also react to oats. Symptoms of coeliac disease can range from mild to severe and can include: bloating, diarrhoea, nausea, wind, tiredness, constipation, anaemia, mouth ulcers, headaches, weight loss, hair loss, skin problems, short stature, depression, infertility, recurrent miscarriages and joint/bone pain.
Some symptoms might be confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or wheat intolerance, while others might be related to stress or getting older. As a consequence, it can take some time before an accurate diagnosis is sought, or made. After diagnosis and starting a gluten-free diet these symptoms typically cease.
You can get more information at www.coeliac.org.uk
- A food intolerance is more common than food allergy and could affect one in five people.
- It doesn't involve the same immune system mechanism as food allergy.
- There are consistent symptoms after eating particular foods.
- Symptoms typically include gastro-intestinal upset.
- Lactose can be found in milk and other dairy products.
- Lactose intolerance is particularly common in people with Chinese and African-Caribbean backgrounds.
Some people need to avoid certain foods because they are allergic to them.
- Food allergies involve specific antibodies, mainly Immunoglobin E (IgE), in the immune system. For each food, the body manufactures a specific antibody.
- Immunoglobin E antibodies are designed to recognise and attack disease-causing substances such as pathogens and parasitic worms.
- Allergic (atopic) people have immune systems that are programmed to treat ordinary proteins from foods and other things as if they are a threat (for example cats, dogs, horses, insect stings, pollen etc.).
- IgE is a two-stage process. The first stage of IgE mediated food allergy is sensitisation when the body recognises a particular substance as harmful but no symptoms are experienced. The second stage is where symptoms occur.
Food allergy symptoms
Mild to moderate symptoms may include:
- a swollen throat or lips
- difficulty in swallowing or speaking
- coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath
- alterations in heart rate
- skin rash and/or itchy skin
- abdominal cramps, bloating, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting
- sore, red and/or itchy eyes
- runny or blocked nose
- dry, itchy throat and tongue
If these develop, severe symptoms might involve:
- difficulties with breathing, including asthmatic symptoms
- a sudden feeling of weakness (a drop in blood pressure)
- a sense of impending doom
If the symptoms are severe enough food allergy can be fatal.
For more information on food allergy symptoms see the 'In the body' section.