Food Intolerance and Allergy

What is food allergy and food intolerance?

Food allergy and food intolerance are both types of food sensitivity. When someone has a food allergy, their immune system reacts to a particular food as if it isn't safe. If someone has a severe food allergy, this can cause a life-threatening reaction.

Food intolerance doesn't involve the immune system and is generally not life-threatening. But if someone eats a food they are intolerant to, this could make them feel ill.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a complex protein found in wheat and also in a number of other cereals including rye and barley. Gluten gives kneaded dough its elasticity, allowing the bread to raise and to hold the structure we recognise in traditional bread and cakes.

Although wheat is a great source of dietary protein in the world, a small percentage of the population, including those with Coeliac disease, are gluten-intolerant and cannot consume it safely.

What is Coeliac disease?

Coeliac disease is also called gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity. It's an auto-immune disease, which means the body's immune system attacks itself. The type of reaction it causes is different to a food allergy - it does not cause anaphylaxis.

When people with Coeliac disease eat foods containing gluten, it damages the lining of the small intestine, which stops the body from absorbing nutrients. This can lead to diarrhoea and weight loss.

Coeliac disease affects about 1 in 100 people in the UK, although some may have minimal or no symptoms (known as silent Coeliac disease). Research suggests that many of those who have Coeliac disease will not have been diagnosed. Coeliac disease affects both adults and children and is genetic so can be passed on in families.

What is Dairy?

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of dairy products is milk, cream, butter and cheese.

What are Lactose and milk products?

Where Mrs Crimble's cakes and biscuits use milk or milk products in the recipe this will be labelled on the back of the pack under the 'allergy advice' section. Lactose is the name of the type of sugar that is found naturally in milk. Some people can't digest lactose properly, and having milk and some dairy products makes them feel sick or bloated and gives them stomach pains and diarrhoea.

Some people with lactose intolerance find that they can cope with small amounts of milk in their diet, such as a milk glaze on pastry, or one or two pieces of chocolate, milk powder in a cake but the amount that someone can tolerate varies from person to person.

What is Lactose intolerance?

Lactose is a sugar found naturally in milk. It is important to distinguish between lactose intolerance and milk allergy, because milk allergy can cause severe reactions. (See above)

Lactose intolerance is caused by a shortage of the enzyme lactase, which is needed to break down lactose so it can be absorbed into the bloodstream. When someone doesn't have enough of this enzyme, lactose isn't absorbed properly from the gut, which can cause symptoms such as bloating and diarrhoea. This condition normally appears in adults because people's levels of lactase in their bodies begin to decrease after childhood. Some children are born with lactose intolerance, but this is rare.

People with lactose intolerance often find that they can eat cheese and yoghurt without any problems. Cheese contains much less lactose than milk. Yoghurt contains a similar amount of lactose to milk, but it still seems to be easier to digest for people with lactose intolerance. This might be something to do with the bacteria used to make it.