Healthy Living: Allergy or Intolerance

 

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A few years ago, Paul Coniglio, co-owner of Colony Grill, noticed a trend that just didn’t sit right.

The menu at the famous thin-crust pizza joint (which now has locations in Stamford, Fairfield and Milford) features only one main-course option: pizza. When the company opened its Fairfield location in 2012, he says he began to notice that more and more people were coming who didn’t eat wheat.

Coniglio’s staff would try and do what they could to accommodate these guests; allowing them to bring outside food or even their own gluten-free pizza dough. However, often in those cases, one kid would still be sitting at the table eating something different than everybody else. Coniglio was unhappy with that. “We just didn’t like the feeling of seeing one member of a family miss out,” he says.

To rectify the situation, Coniglio and his business partners began offering a gluten-free pizza at all Colony Grill locations. The gluten-free dough is purchased from Still Riding Pizza, a Connecticut-based company that manufactures and supplies gluten-free pizza dough to restaurants.

Like many Connecticut food-based businesses, Colony Grill has adapted to increasing demand for food products that take into consideration diverse dietary restrictions. And Coniglio is not the only person who’s noticed that there are more and more people with dietary restrictions.

The occurrences of food allergies and food intolerance—a separate group of adverse reactions from foods that are often, but incorrectly, referred to as allergies by the general public—seem to be on the rise. Food allergies among children increased approximately 50 percent between 1997 and 2011, according to a 2013 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The website Foodallergy.org points to research showing that roughly 1 in every 13 children in the U.S. has a food allergy of some type. There’s a good chance those numbers also include individuals with food intolerance, as most studies are based upon telephone interviews, and many confuse food intolerance with allergies.

Eight food groups account for 90 percent of serious allergic reactions in the U.S.: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, wheat, soy, peanuts and tree nuts. Nut allergies, in particular, have captured the public’s attention and with good reason. According to Foodallergy.org, approximately 3 million people in the U.S. report having nut allergies. While some peanut allergies are minor, in other cases it can be so severe minimal exposure (such as eating food made near peanuts) can result in potentially life-threatening anaphylaxis.

In October, the CDC released “Voluntary Guidelines for Managing Food Allergies in Schools and Early Care and Education Centers.” The non-mandatory guidelines outline, among other things, ways schools can ensure the daily management of food allergies in individual children, prepare for food-allergy emergencies, and provide professional development on food allergies for staff members.

“There has definitely been an increase in overall allergies, especially food allergies and intolerance,” says Dr. Prasad Srinivasan, an allergist with Allergy Associates of Hartford. “The awareness is definitely heightened, which is a good thing, but beyond that I’m not sure why we’re seeing more cases, we don’t know the answer to that. Maybe it’s the processed food that we’re eating; there are so many different chemicals in our food. Or maybe it’s the way our animals have been raised, and what they are exposed to and are eating. There are a whole slew of things that have changed between where we are today and the way things were for Grandma Stein. Maybe that’s what’s contributing to these higher incidences, but that’s pure hypothesis.”

As the instances of adverse food reactions have increased, so has the misinformation surrounding the situation. “There is a huge amount of urban mythology about adverse reactions,” says Dr. Bernard Adelsberg, an allergist with the Connecticut Medical Group in Hamden. All negative symptoms that come as a result of eating food are generally referred to as “allergies” in conversations, which is a very common misnomer, explains Adelsberg. “Allergies are something specific, they involve your immune system, and they’re actually not very common. Adverse reactions to food are much more common and don’t involve your immune system; they involve your metabolic system.”

Or as WebMD puts it: “When a food irritates your stomach or your body can’t properly digest it, that’s an intolerance;” on the other hand, a food allergy occurs “when your immune system mistakes something in food as harmful and attacks it. It can affect your whole body, not just your stomach.”

 

Healthy Living: Allergy or Intolerance

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