When we experience food allergies, our body is telling us that we have injested a substance that it does not recognize as food. Sometimes the internal wiring is off; for example, some people have allergies to the foods that are commonly eaten by others. But more commonly, the latter is a food “intolerance.”
This page is not about what food allergies there are, but how we can sometimes be fooled about what we are actually eating.
Allergies and Intolerances to Common Foods
Even some seemingly simple foods can cause reactions in both kids and adults. We need to distinguish between “allergy,” which involves the immune system, and “intolerance,” which is more the inability to digest (break down) a substance. When allergies occur, the body’s immune system wages war on the “dangerous intruder” substance. When intolerance occurs, the food is passed on through the small intestine (where it wasn’t broken down), into the large intestine, where it causes other reactions, like flatulence and/or diarrhea.
Wheat is found in many breads that are not labeled “wheat bread”. Wheat gluten is added to some breads when another grain (the main ingredient) has little rising ability, so a rye bread may also have wheat or wheat gluten in it. Check the labels if you are trying to avoid wheat or wheat gluten.
Breaded fish, most ready-made cereals, crackers, noodles, gravies, pancakes and desserts may also have wheat in them.
The good good news is that other grains are readily available to replace wheat, though the flavor and texture may be different. Corn and quinoa pastas as available to replace wheat pastas. They have great flavors of their own that you might like even more than wheat.
Lentils is a superior whole grain that is one of the most nutritious, but gets very little publicity in a society so dependent on wheat.
Many processed foods contain lactose or casein. Lactose is essentially milk sugar. Casein is a protein in cow’s milk. Most of us have tiny fingerlike projections, called vilii ining our small intestines that secrete lactase. Lactase are enzymes that intercept lactose molecules and help break them down into things that our bodies can use, like simple sugars (glucose, etc.). When you get sick with a flu or an intestinal bug, the enzymes either aren’t secreted or become ineffective. That’s why you can’t digest milk when you’re sick and should avoid it.
Many years ago, my gastroenterologist doctor told me that virtually all peoples of the world are born with the ability to produce the lactase enzyme. It’s important for babies, who rely on mother’s milk for nourishment. But, after approximately age 2, our bodies do not produce as much lactase enzyme. He stated that there are 3 groups of people in the world genetically programmed to retain the ability to produce lactase—northern Europeans (Swedes, Germans, Norwegians, etc.), and two tribes in Africa, the Igbo [also called Ibo] people and another African tribe whose name I don’t recall (sorry!).
Everyone else stops producing as much lactase pretty early on, and might want to back off eating so much milk and cheese because they just don’t have the ability they used to have to digest it.
As many as 30% of Americans have lactose intolerance (one wonders why it isn’t even higher, given that so many people lose the lactase enzyme).
Today, lactose is packaged into some processed foods to add flavor (presumably sweet flavor). Casein, a protein in cow’s milk, is added for emulsification, texture, and to supplement the protein (see reference #1 below). Some of the foods that have either casein or lactose include salad dressings, protein bars, processed meats, fried chicken and fish sticks, instant potatoes, whipped toppings, breath mints, fortified cereals, bakery glazes, coffee creamers, etc. How would you ever know what processed foods contain unless you got serious about reading labels?
Many meats contain dairy products. Did you ever wonder why that sliced ham tastes so sweet and delicious? Dairy products are added to meats, like sausages and lunch meats, to increase the flavor (ibid.) If you are a label reader, you will have seed “sodium caseinate” in processed foods. That’s dairy protein in disguise.
Here is a web page the provides a long list of processed foods that contain lactose—What Other Products Contain Lactose? (2)—produced by the National Institutes of Health. Check it out! Potato chips, corn chips, bacon, cereals, breads, frozen waffles, cookies, candies, baked goods, and mixes to make them.
If you or your child are lactose intolerant, you’d be wise to read food labels! If your child acts ill after eating some food (symptoms: skin rash, fatigue, etc.), consider that it might be an allergy, intolerance, or chemical additive that was present in the food.
You might be getting the idea by now that it is less safe to eat processed foods than to just buy the raw stuff and cook it yourself. More work, yes, but it may be just the thing to help little Johnny come down from his hyperactive state.
Soy allergies are common today. Though many start with soy products in infant formula, some people outgrow them and some have them into adulthood. Soy allergies are just that—allergies that involve the immune system. Symptoms include itching in the mouth, runny nose, itchy eyes, dry throat, rashes and hives, nausea, diarrhea, difficulty breathing. (3)
Many soy foods contain dairy products. Dairy products are added to soy foods to boost the protein content (1).
Soy products are added to many, many foods today. If you are unlucky enough to be allergic to soy today, you’d better read labels. Check the food labels for soy flour, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, soy protein isolate, protein concentrate, textured vegetable protein, vegetable oil (simple, fully, or partially hydrogenated), plant sterols, or the emulsifier lecithin. (4) It’s all soy in one guise or another.
1. The George Mateljan Foundation,”I think I am allergic to dairy products. How can I find out for sure?,” World’s Healthiest Foods web site, 9/1/2011)
2. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, “What Other Products Contain Lactose?”, National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) web site, http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/lactoseintolerance/#products, 9/01/2011.
3. Mayo Clinic Staff, Soy Allergy: Causes, Mayo Clinic Health Information, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/soy-allergy/DS00970/DSECTION=causes, 9/1/11.
4. Lawrence, Felicity, “Should we worry about soya in our food?”, The Guardian (UK), http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2006/jul/25/food.foodanddrink, 9/1/11.