Allergy, intolerance and problem foods

We take a look at some of the more common “culprits” behind food allergies and food intolerances. 

Q: Which foods are people commonly allergic to? 
A: The foodstuffs that most frequently cause allergic reactions when people eat them or come into close contact with them are: peanuts (or groundnuts), milk, eggs, tree nuts, wheat, soya, fish and shellfish.

Q: Are gluten and dairy seen as "problem foods"?
A: “Yes – often inaccurately,” says Maureen Jenkins, director of clinical services at Allergy UK. “But they do cause common problems, as the modern processed diet is overloaded with dairy and gluten.”

Q: Is going dairy or gluten free the best solution?
A: Unless you have a genuine allergy or intolerance (such as coeliac disease, which is an intolerance to gluten), there's no need to. It's becoming increasingly popular to give up wheat or dairy, but many of the people who cut gluten (a protein found in wheat and other grains) and dairy products out of their diet actually needn't go to this extreme.

Q: What would Allergy UK recommend instead?
A: “A very varied diet,” says Maureen. “Replacing processed foods with more vegetables, fruit, other grains and unprocessed cereals and adequate protein is advisable.”

Q: How does a food allergy differ from intolerance?
A: “Food allergy causes rapid reactions, causing wheezing, rash/hives and often swelling of the mouth, face, hands and feet, runny nose, vomiting and collapse (anaphylaxis) and potentially death,” says Maureen. “Many children with a food allergy will also have or develop eczema, asthma or hay fever.”

Symptoms of food intolerance are less immediate. “Intolerance reactions are usually delayed – from an hour or even up to a couple of days – and usually affect the tummy, often the bowels, feeding, and often associated with eczema.”

Q: How can people better manage their allergies?
A: There is plenty of information on managing all allergies – including food allergies - on the Allergy UK website. You'll also find fact sheets there to download: from complementary therapies that may help to practical advice on reducing your symptoms by avoiding allergens (the substances that causes an allergic reaction in your body). You can find out more about how allergies are diagnosed and tested, including the different methods used for various allergy testing. If in doubt, you should speak to your GP or your specialist.

Useful information

For information about allergies, what causes them and how to minimise their impact, visit the Allergy UK website. You can also call the Allergy UK helpline on 01332 619898.

Members of benenden can call the 24-hour GP advice line to talk to a doctor about any health concerns they may have.