Learn from John Cramutola, Cura Culinary Director, on food intolerances and the rising incidence of food allergies. Follow our journey on how Cura’s tools help our team members and leaders deliver safe and delicious food!
One of the benefits of my job is the ability to meet new people from around the country, and even the world. Recently I was in Chicago for the Leading Age Annual Meeting and Conference. During my time there, I had the chance to meet and feed many people. It was interesting to learn about regional and individual food preferences. What was more interesting was the prevalence of allergies and food intolerances among these people. While we may be aware of the top nine food allergies, there are many more out there that may go unnoticed. I learned of a garbanzo bean allergy, as well as an onion allergy, and thankfully, they were communicated before any possible concerns that could arise. We may not think of these food items when we think of allergies, but we must take them seriously, as they can pose a serious health threat not dissimilar to the top nine allergies: peanuts, tree nuts, soy, milk, seafood, fish, eggs, wheat, and sesame. Often, the words allergy and intolerance are used interchangeably when we talk about food allergies, but there are distinct differences between the two. Understanding the differences between these two conditions is crucial in proper diagnosis, management, and overall well-being.
Food Intolerance: The Body’s Reaction
Food intolerance occurs when the body has difficulty digesting certain foods, leading to uncomfortable symptoms. Unlike food allergies, which involve the immune system, food intolerance typically involves the digestive system’s inability to process specific components in food.
Common Types and Symptoms of Food Intolerance:
- Lactose Intolerance: Inability to digest lactose, resulting in bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and diarrhea after consuming dairy products.
- Gluten Sensitivity: Non-celiac gluten sensitivity causes symptoms similar to those of celiac disease, such as bloating, abdominal discomfort, and fatigue.
- Histamine Intolerance: Difficulty breaking down histamine-rich foods, leading to headaches, hives, nasal congestion, and digestive issues.
- FODMAP Intolerance: Sensitivity to certain carbohydrates leading to symptoms like bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and altered bowel habits.
Food Allergies: An Immune System Response
On the other hand, food allergies involve the immune system’s reaction to specific proteins in certain foods. Even small amounts of allergenic food can trigger an immune response, leading to a range of mild to severe symptoms, including anaphylaxis in severe cases.
The Escalating Numbers:
Studies worldwide have reported a significant rise in food allergies, particularly in children. Common culprits include allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, and most recently, sesame. Research estimates reveal a substantial increase in the incidence of food allergies across various demographics, altering dietary habits and imposing significant challenges on affected individuals and families.
Factors Fueling the Epidemic:
Several factors contribute to the upward trajectory of food allergies:
- Early Introduction to Allergenic Foods: Changing recommendations regarding introducing allergenic foods to infants have led to variations in early dietary exposures, potentially impacting the development of tolerance and increasing the risk of allergies.
- Environmental Factors: Environmental pollutants, changes in farming practices, and alterations in food processing techniques might play a role in sensitizing individuals to certain food allergens.
- Genetic Predisposition: Genetic and familial factors can significantly influence an individual’s susceptibility to food allergies.
- Hygiene Hypothesis and Immune System Development: Limited exposure to diverse microorganisms in early life might hinder the proper maturation of the immune system, potentially contributing to an increased risk of developing food allergies.
How We Can Address this issue:
Efforts to combat the rising incidence of food allergies and intolerance necessitate a comprehensive approach:
- Early Detection and Diagnosis: Promoting early diagnosis through improved testing methods aids in identifying food allergies, enabling individuals to manage their conditions effectively.
- Education and Awareness: Public education about food allergies, symptoms, emergency responses, and the importance of inclusive environments fosters understanding and support for affected individuals.
- Research and Innovation: Continued research into immunotherapy, innovative treatments, and exploring potential preventive strategies remains crucial in mitigating the impact of food allergies and intolerances. This can be done at the clinical level, as well as the culinary level.
Cura is committed to ensuring that “the food we serve is safe and made with integrity”. To ensure that our team members follow Cura Allergen and Gluten Aware protocols, they are provided with multiple resources and tools. These include:
- Training on allergens, including gluten interventions, hygiene and safety, communication and operations
- Site audit tools, forms, processes
- Communication tools such as posters and huddle handouts
- A comprehensive manual and guide for allergen/gluten intervention
- Certification through ServSafe and Allertrain
Cura Hospitality has many tools to help our team members and leaders deliver safe and delicious food, however; for accurate diagnosis of food intolerance or food allergy, consultation with a healthcare professional is recommended. Elimination diets, food diaries, skin prick tests, and blood tests aid in identifying specific triggers. Management strategies involve avoiding trigger foods for both conditions. However, individuals with food allergies must be vigilant to prevent severe allergic reactions, often carrying medications like epinephrine (EpiPen) for emergencies.
The surge in food allergies and intolerances presents a complex challenge, affecting millions worldwide and significantly altering daily lives. Understanding the distinctions between food intolerance and food allergies is crucial for individuals seeking to manage their dietary concerns effectively. Cura does this by supporting our food service professionals, to help empower residents, patients, guests, and clients to make informed choices, minimize symptoms, and maintain a healthy lifestyle tailored to their specific needs. By prioritizing continuing education, and fostering inclusivity in our communities, there’s hope to mitigate the impact of food allergies and intolerances, providing better support and care for those affected by this growing health concern.