Tolerating Food Intolerances

"No thanks, it makes me sick." "Let’s see, if I leave the milk out of these rolls Sheila can eat them." "Will Dad eat birthday cake tonight (and go off his wheat-free diet) because it’s a special occasion?"

In many homes, food allergies have added an extra twist to decisions that go on in the kitchen. While the official number of people with serious allergies is low—2 percent of adults and 8 percent of children—considerably more people have what is known as a "food intolerance." In fact, as many as 25 to 28 percent of us have reactions to certain foods. Does cantaloupe give your stomach a workout? Does chocolate give you a migraine headache? Do strawberries give you a skin rash? Do you avoid shellfish? Then you already know what I’m talking about.

Parents often have to educate themselves quickly on the intricacies of the body’s immune system when a child develops a milk or a peanut allergy. (A certain protein found in peanuts has caused more food allergy deaths, usually by anaphylactic shock, than any other type of allergy, because peanuts often are hidden in baked goods, candy, ethnic food, i.e. as when a Chinese restaurant seals its egg rolls with peanut butter.)

Food allergy symptoms can take the form of hives, headaches, gastrointestinal distress (cramps, bloating, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting), asthma, worsening of arthritis or eczema, or oral manifestations where the lips tingle, itch, and swell, or your throat tightens.

Reactions such as these can be caused by a genuine triggering of the immune system by the enemy substance, or it may be merely an inability to metabolize or break down certain foods because of a sensitivity to a naturally occurring chemical contained in that food, i.e. lactose in milk. (It has been estimated that 80 percent of African Americans are lactose intolerant, as are many people of Mediterranean or Latin American origin.)

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1997
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