Food Issues

We all eat food. We all want food of the highest quality and safety. Issues such as food allergies, the effects of additives, organic and genetically-modified foods are all areas that people have worries about. What are the facts about these issues? What are the real risks?

Allergy and Intolerance

It has been known for thousands of years that some susceptible people have unpleasant reactions to certain types of foods. These days we now know a lot more about the problem, the reasons for it, and why only some people suffer from it.

Photo of peanuts

Someone who suffers from an abnormal, unpleasant reaction to a particular food is said to be 'sensitive' to that food. It can give rise to a wide range of symptoms. It can simply be a feeling of being bloated, abdominal pains or headaches, to severe adverse reactions like those caused by nuts in certain individuals.

Perhaps the most well known reaction to food is sensitivity to nuts. Some people have a severe reaction to even the slightest trace of nuts in their food. Labels now often show if foods contain nuts or nut products. Great care is taken over food hygiene to prevent accidental contamination of foods with even the smallest trace of nuts.

Research suggests that around 1 person in every 50 have some form of food sensitivity. Less than 0.25% of people suffer from reactions to food additives. That is just 1 person in every 400. In other words you are more likely to suffer a bad reaction to a natural foodstuff than to an additive.

How many people do you think suffer from food allergies?

 

What is an allergic reaction?

An allergic reaction happens when the immune system reacts to a substance from outside the body. This could be pollen (hay fever), pet hairs (asthma) or molecules in foods such as nuts and milk. The immune system of a healthy individual is unaffected by these normally harmless molecules, but the immune system of the allergic individual reacts as if the body is under attack . It releases powerful chemicals called histamine that cause the unpleasant symptoms of an allergic reaction. Allergy is essentially 'immunity gone wrong.'

About 90% of all cases of food allergy involve wheat, eggs, peanuts (groundnuts), tree nuts (including walnuts, brazil nuts, hazelnuts and almonds), milk, shellfish, fish and soy.

The table shows the types of problems that can be caused by an allergic reaction. Very few people are allergic to food additives.

Types of Allergic Reactions
Location of reaction Symptoms
Digestive system Sickness, nausea, diarrhoea
Lungs Sneezing, runny nose, watering eyes, shortness of breath
Skin Rashes, redness, inflammation, itchy skin, eczema

Anaphylaxis is the most serious form of allergic reaction. The throat and windpipe can swell so that the person cannot breath. This can cause death if not treated quickly. Someone who knows they are at risk of suffering from anaphylaxis may carry a pen-syringe containing adrenalin. This antidote can relieve the symptoms if given quickly enough.

This animation shows what happens during
an allergic reaction

 

Find out more on food intolerance