Nutritional issues

Should I stop eating a food if I think I’m allergic or have an intolerance to it?

At present, there is no medical cure for any of the food allergies or intolerances including coeliac condition. If you suffer from a food allergy or intolerance, the key to managing your condition is to avoid eating, or in some cases even smelling, the offending food. However, going on an avoidance diet, is not something that you should do without some support from a trained health professional

What are the risks of an avoidance diet?

If the avoidance diet is done under professional medical or nutritional guidance, there should be no risk to the nutritional intake and health of the person. The risks to health arise due to self-diagnosis and the ad-hoc individual adoption of avoidance diets in the absence of any professional guidance or advice. Eliminating suspect foods can adversely affect a person’s nutrition as essential nutrients may be removed from the diet and not replaced from another source.   

What is the procedure for adopting an avoidance diet?

If you have been told to avoid a particular food/foods by a health professional the success of this avoidance diet depends on a number of factors including how rigorously it is adhered to and how prevalent the offending food is on the market. Modern food processing technology means that certain allergenic foods can end up in food products where they would not necessarily be an obvious ingredient.

For example would you expect to find peanuts or peanut oil in soups, battered foods like fried fish or egg rolls? These hidden ingredients are quite difficult to avoid. Indeed, studies have shown that avoidance diets are generally not 100% effective and must be viewed as a part of the overall risk management strategy. Accurate and intelligible information is the key to the success of an avoidance diet.

At what stage can the avoidance diet be abandoned?

Very simply, when you can eat the offending food without reacting to it. Again, it is important that coming off an avoidance diet is done under professional supervision. You should not take chances with your health.

Some food allergies can be outgrown. This seems to depend on both the person who is affected and on the particular type of food to which they are allergic or intolerant. For instance milk allergy is one of the more common childhood food allergies but most children will outgrow their allergy by age eight. Other food allergies, such as those to peanuts or shellfish, tend not to resolve and are lifelong.

How can I get professional advice?

If you think you have a food allergy or intolerance go and speak to your GP. They may then send you to see an allergy expert. They may also refer you to see a dietitian who will advise you on the proper avoidance diet and how to get all the nutrients you need for your health.

You may also arrange a private consultation directly with an experienced dietitian in your area. To do this, please visit the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute or the British Dietetic Association.