nutrition for allergies and intolerances

What is the difference between allergies and intolerances?

Allergies and intolerances are two different types of reactions that the body can have to certain foods. An allergy is an immune system response to a specific food protein. When someone with a food allergy eats even a small amount of that food, their immune system recognizes the protein as a foreign invader and triggers an allergic reaction. Symptoms of an allergic reaction can range from mild (e.g. hives, itching) to severe (e.g. anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening allergic reaction). Food allergies can be diagnosed with a skin prick test, blood test, or an oral food challenge.

An intolerance, on the other hand, is a non-immune system response to a food. This means that the body cannot digest or absorb the food properly, such as for gluten intolerance. Intolerances are typically diagnosed through a process of elimination, where suspected foods are removed from the diet and then gradually reintroduced to see if symptoms occur.

Do I need to see a dietitian if I am lactose intolerant?

Lactose intolerance is a condition in which a person has difficulty digesting lactose, a type of sugar found in milk and other dairy products. It occurs when the body does not produce enough of the enzyme lactase, which is needed to break down lactose into simpler sugars that can be absorbed by the body. When lactose is not properly digested, it can cause a range of digestive symptoms, including bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

Symptoms can vary in severity depending on the individual and the amount of lactose consumed. Lactose intolerance is a common condition, particularly in adults. It is more common in people of certain ethnic backgrounds, such as those of African, Asian, and Hispanic descent. It is also more common in older adults, as the body’s production of lactase tends to decrease with age. There is no cure for lactose intolerance, but it can be managed through dietary changes. This may include avoiding or limiting the consumption of dairy products or taking lactase supplements before consuming dairy products. It’s important to speak with an accredited practising dietitian for individualized recommendations to ensure you don’t miss out on important nutrients found in dairy products.

What if I am intolerant to certain foods and chemicals but not sure which ones?

The RPAH (Royal Prince Alfred Hospital) Elimination Diet is a type of elimination diet that was developed in Australia in the 1980s to help identify food intolerances and sensitivities in individuals who were experiencing a range of symptoms, including gastrointestinal issues, eczema, asthma, and behavioural problems. The RPAH Elimination Diet involves eliminating certain foods and food chemicals that are thought to be potentially problematic for some individuals. The diet involves removing a wide range of foods, including dairy products, wheat, gluten, corn, soy, eggs, nuts, and certain fruits and vegetables, as well as food additives such as artificial colours, flavours, and preservatives. During the elimination phase, which typically lasts for 2-6 weeks, individuals are encouraged to eat a diet of fresh, whole foods that are low in food chemicals. After the elimination phase, foods are gradually reintroduced one at a time to help identity which foods may be causing symptoms. The diet can be customized to suit individual needs and preferences, and it is often recommended to work with a dietitian to ensure proper nutrition and to monitor for any adverse reactions.

The RPAH Elimination Diet has been shown to be an effective tool for identifying food intolerances and sensitivities in some individuals. However, it is important to note that not everyone will benefit from this approach, and it should only be undertaken under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional.

How can a dietitian help me if I have an allergy?

If you have a food allergy, a dietitian can help you in several ways:

  • Identifying allergens: A dietitian can help you identify which foods contain the allergen that triggers your allergic reaction. They can also teach you how to read food labels and ingredient lists to avoid hidden sources of the allergen.
  • Nutrition counselling: A dietitian can provide nutrition counselling to ensure that your diet is nutritionally balanced and that you are getting all the nutrients you need while avoiding your allergen. They can also help you find substitutes for the foods you need to avoid.
  • Meal planning: A dietitian can help you plan meals that are free from your allergen, tasty, and enjoyable. They can provide recipes and meal ideas that will help you to maintain a varied and healthy diet.
  • Dining out: A dietitian can help you navigate eating out in restaurants and advise you on how to communicate your allergy to restaurant staff. They can also provide information about restaurants that cater to people with food allergies.
  • Emotional support: Living with a food allergy can be challenging and can impact your quality of life. A dietitian can provide emotional support and help you develop coping strategies.

Overall, a registered dietitian can help you manage your food allergy by providing tailored advice and support to ensure that you are maintaining a healthy and balanced diet while avoiding your allergen. They can also help you navigate situations where you might be at risk of exposure to your allergen, such as dining out or travelling.

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