Island News

When food is the enemy

Written By : Sun Fiji Newsroom. Food intolerance is on the rise but getting the right diagnosis can be tricky, writes Paula Goodyer. When it comes to food intolerance, dietitian
06 Sep 2008 12:00

Written By : Sun Fiji Newsroom. Food intolerance is on the rise but getting the right diagnosis can be tricky, writes Paula Goodyer.
When it comes to food intolerance, dietitian Linda Hodge suspects most of us sit somewhere between two extremes: at one end, the cast-iron stomach that can eat anything; and, at the other, the highly sensitive stomach that reacts to many foods.
But the reason more people now seem to lean towards the sensitive end is that our food supply exposes us to more of the chemicals that trigger food intolerance than in the past.
“It’s not just that our food supply now contains more artificial or added chemicals – processed foods – but also because we now have a large variety of fruits and vegetables all year round, many of which used to be available only for short periods. Summer fruits and vegetables, in particular, contain natural chemicals, like salicylates, which can upset some people.”
While food allergies are caused by an overreacting immune system, the reasons for food intolerances aren’t clear.
The theory is that they happen when a genetic tendency to react to some substances in foods collides with consuming a lot of them, explains Hodge, an accredited practising dietitian, specialising in food allergy and intolerance.
In susceptible people, natural and artificial food chemicals are equally likely to provoke a range of problems, such as hives, digestive problems, headache, and behaviour problems.
And, if you’ve decided it’s all the fault of dairy products or wheat, don’t be so sure, says Hodge, as there are many other possibilities
“People often blame dairy products and wheat for food intolerance. But many foods that have dairy products and wheat in them are also processed foods, and often the culprit is another ingredient,” points out Dr Alan Barclay, a spokesman for the Dietitians Association of Australia.
“I’ve heard people say, ‘I can’t eat wheat,’ for instance, when the real problem has turned out to be an additive, propionate, used to prevent bread going moldy.”
Like Hodge, Barclay believes food intolerance is linked to changes in the food supply.
“Fruit and vegetables are often picked early, at the stage when their salicylate content is higher than when they’re ripe,” he says.
“We’re also a big country: food has to travel long distances and needs to have a long shelf-life.”
What concerns Hodge and Barclay isn’t just that people frequently self-diagnose food intolerances – and often skip entire food groups as a result.
He is also concerned about the unproven tests some alternative practitioners use to identify food intolerances.
While food allergy can be diagnosed with a blood or skin test, the best test for intolerance, according to the Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, involves excluding all foods with suspect chemicals for up to six weeks.
Foods containing these chemicals are then reintroduced to check for a reaction.

Dos & don’ts

If you suspect a food intolerance or allergy:

– Don’t self-diagnose (yep, the internet makes it tempting, but it’s easy to misdiagnose)

– Do see a GP for a referral to a hospital allergy clinic

– Don’t skip whole food groups without a reliable diagnosis: you may miss out on valuable nutrients

– Do get reliable information on food allergy and intolerance. See the Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy’s website at allergy.org.au



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