Food Intolerance vs. Food Allergy

Food allergies make up a large part of the culinary and catering world today.  In fact, when it comes to creating menus for any type of event, we are more often than not faced with the need to include allergy-free or intolerance-free items for guests with such conditions.  We take these opportunities seriously, understanding that whether guests suffer from a food allergy or a food intolerance, the ramifications of consuming products that their bodies reject can range from slightly uncomfortable to life-threatening.

Learn more about food allergies and how they work through these easy-to-follow explanations and examples.

Definitions: Food Intolerance vs. Food Allergy:

Food Intolerance: This occurs in the digestive system when the human body is unable to properly break down the food it is consuming.  These occur because of deficiencies in enzymes in the body, sensitivity to food additives and reactions to naturally occurring chemicals in foods, among other reasons.  Many people can consume foods to which they are intolerant in small doses without causing digestive problems.

Food Allergy: This is something that triggers an immune system response that affects multiple body organs.  The body views these foods, once consumed, as toxins or invaders, something that needs to be eradicated from the body.  The immune system sends out a response, overreacting to the “toxin,” and this response can cause serious or even life-threatening responses.  Allergic reactions can be triggered by microscopic amounts of food particles.

Most Common Food Allergies: These are the most common foods—the “big eight”—to which your guests could be allergic.  Remember, it is always a good idea to have guests notify you of any allergies to foods, especially if those allergies are severe.

Cow’s milk

Fish

Hen’s eggs

Nuts from trees (almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, etc.)

Peanuts

Shellfish

Soy products

Wheat

Symptoms of allergic reactions include hives, itchiness, swelling, vomiting, diarrhea, respiratory symptoms and anaphylaxis.  Anaphylaxis symptoms include difficulty breathing, dizziness and loss of consciousness, among others.

Most Common Food Intolerance

Food intolerance are tricky because a person can consume the products without life-threatening consequences, but plenty of discomfort instead.  These are the most common food intolerance today:

Additives in foods

Glucose

Lactose

Thiamine

Preservatives

Symptoms of food intolerance vary, but include flatulence, abdominal distention, diarrhea, cramping, hives, swelling, fluid retention, migraines, wheezing, asthma and a host of others.

How to Host an Event While Keeping Food Sensitivities in Mind: It is a lot easier than it sounds to keep your food-sensitive guests in mind when planning your menu.  Tell your caterer and food professionals that you would like to be conscious of food intolerance, and be sure to have items such as salads, fresh fruits, vegetables and meats that are treated in all-natural seasonings and flavors (with no preservatives or other substances added).  Keeping items like these on your buffet line makes certain that there is something for everyone.

To be especially safe, try to avoid items such as peanuts that have been widely known to cause anaphylactic responses in those with severe allergies.  Ask your caterer to prepare foods in allergen-free environments whenever possible.  Clearly mark each item with all ingredients to help keep your guests from guessing the contents of the dishes.

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