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Managing Diseases and Conditions

Managing Food Allergies and Intolerances

A food allergy occurs when the body's immune system reacts to a component in a food, often a protein. Antibodies designed to protect us from disease react against the allergy-causing food protein and cause symptoms such as bloating, headaches, hives, or diarrhea. In more severe cases, allergies can impair your ability to breathe and even be life-threatening. An estimated two to eight percent of children and two percent of adults have one or more food allergies.

A food intolerance is a more general term referring to an adverse reaction-to a food, food ingredient, or additive-that does not necessarily involve the immune system. Food intolerances typically involve the digestive system. Examples include intolerances to the milk sugar lactose, or to the commonly used flavoring agent monosodium glutamate (MSG), or to histamines found in aged cheese, wine, beer, and processed meats. Symptoms of food intolerances are sometimes similar to those of food allergies.1

While many foods can cause a food allergy, particularly common causes of food allergy include the following:,2, 3

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Wheat
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Soy
  • Fish and shellfish


1. Melina V, Stepaniak J, Aronson D. Food allergy survival guide. Summertown TN: Healthy Living Publications, 2004.
2. Christie L. Food hypersensitivies. In: Samour, PQ, Kelm KK and Lang CE. Handbook of pediatric nutrition, 2nd ed. Gaithersburg: MD: Aspen Publishers; 1999:pp 149-72.
3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Food allergies rare but risky. Available from http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/wh-alrg1.html, Accessed September 1, 2005.


Managing Food Allergies and Intolerances: Try an Elimination Diet >>