Recent Industry News
Dr Gill Hart of York Test talks to us about food allergies and intolerances
1) How common are food intolerances and food allergies in the UK today?
“According to the leading medical charity Allergy UK food intolerance affects a staggering 45% of the population; however, when I am out lecturing and giving talks, when I ask, the perception is that the figure is in fact even higher!
Although true food allergy can be hugely significant for those who suffer it is actually relatively rare with approximately 2.5% of the adult population diagnosed.”
2) Do you feel that this is on the rise?
“The statistics are clear for true food allergies; the number of cases has risen sharply over the past two decades. For example, the number of children admitted to hospital for food-related anaphylaxis has risen by 700% since 1990.
It is widely reported that food intolerances are on the rise too.”
3) Why do you think it is on the rise?
“There are a number of theories; although there is no hard evidence to really prove or disprove any of them. These theories include changes in diet (most of us no longer eat a “Stone Age” diet foraging for berries and nuts!), food processing, food additives, chemical pollution, intensive rearing of animals, overworked soil, use of chemical fertilisers, stressful lifestyles and the fact that children are increasingly growing up in ‘germ-free’ environments.
In terms of food intolerance, any of these factors can put stress on the digestive system allowing larger food particles into the blood stream that can then be seen as “foreign” by the body. New evidence suggests a link between the presence of food-specific IgG antibodies and inflammation in the body which can present as food intolerance symptoms (see question’s 4 & 7 below).”
4) What are the common symptoms of food intolerances?
“Gut problems, skin problems, headaches, migraines, joint pains, fatigue and low mood are just some of the symptoms. For a full list refer to the Food Intolerance Awareness website http://www.foodintoleranceawareness.org/symptoms.htm“
5) If a member of the general public feels that they are showing symptoms what should they do?
“The first point of call for anyone showing symptoms is their GP. For further advice about food allergies and food intolerances they should contact Allergy UK at www.allergyuk.org“
6) What can we do to safeguard ourselves from allergies or intolerances? or is that impossible to do?
“An allergy that persists into, or begins in adulthood also tends to be lifelong. There is little that can be done to stop developing allergies in the first place, however, safeguarding against exposure to foods that cause allergic reaction is key as symptoms can be severe and sometimes life-threatening. The foods that most commonly cause allergy are milk and eggs, nuts (including peanuts) and seeds, shellfish, fish, wheat, soya and some fruits such as citrus and kiwi.
Food intolerances are different, reactions are usually delayed; not immediate or potentially life threatening like allergy. Recognising that food is a trigger for a particular set of symptoms is not easy when food intolerance symptoms appear hours, and often up to two or three days, later. In addition, food intolerances usually develop to a particular pattern of food ingredients that is unique to each individual. Before you can embark on a targeted elimination diet the key here is to determine exactly which particular foods are causing your problems, only then can you think about safeguarding yourself against them.”
7) What would you tell members of the general public to be aware of in the foods they eat?
“Those who have a true food allergy are usually aware of the symptoms and aware of the foods that they need to avoid. For more information visit www.allergyuk.com
Food intolerances are different – but where then do you start to look for food triggers? Currently the best accepted method for confirming food sensitivities is by elimination diet. This involves eating a restricted diet for several weeks. If there is no improvement during this time, it is assumed that the food type that has been restricted is not causing the symptoms, and the process is repeated with another food type. This method is time consuming, and it is very difficult to test all the different combinations of food types that may be causing the problems. For these people, one approach that has been used for many years is a strategy to “fast track” the elimination diet process by targeting foods that have triggered specific IgG antibody food reactions in the blood. One example of this strategy is the food intolerance programme that we offer at YorkTest Laboratories, the only programme of its kind recommended by the medical charity Allergy UK. The programme includes a finger-prick blood test for food-specific IgG antibodies, and support from a qualified Nutritional Therapist to help manage the dietary change required, all from the comfort of home.
In the largest study of its kind, commissioned by Allergy UK, over 5000 people who had taken the YorkTest Food Intolerance Test reported back on their findings. The results were analysed by the University of York and published in the journal Nutrition and Food Science in 2007. Results showed that 76% had a noticeably improvement in their food intolerance symptoms; 68% seeing an improvement within 3 weeks of starting their elimination diet. There is more research needed in this area, however, removal of foods from the diet that the body has reacted to in this way can reduce symptoms of food intolerance, often where all else has failed! YorkTest is 30 years old this year and has helped many thousands of people over the years. For more information visit www.yorktest.com or call one of the YorkTest food intolerance specialists on 0800 074 6185.”
8 ) What do you think of the various products being sold in the free from market today?
“The choice available now is growing, and food manufacturers, in producing products that are guaranteed “free-from”, are having to think more and more creatively to ensure that the customer still gets what they expect in terms of the foods’ flavour and structure. Remember, though, that what’s taken out has to be replaced with something else! For example methyl cellulose (E461) is used to add fibre and bulk to gluten-free breads, and as a thickener in dairy-free ice creams; all very well, but this compound is indigestible and can cause gut symptoms similar to those caused by food intolerances.
It’s important to check the ingredients on any food product to see if it contains the food you need to avoid, but you should also check the other ingredients too. It can take time to do your homework, but I have found the Food Standards Agency http://www.food.gov.uk/ website helpful when I have tried to find out whether I should be concerned about locust bean gum (E410) or carrageenan (E407)! I also check out levels of salt, sugars and fats on any labelling; “free-from” doesn’t necessarily translate as “healthy”. Of course, foods that aren’t pre-packed don’t need to be labelled with the same information as pre-packed foods, so you might not be able to check the ingredients. These foods include those sold from a restaurant, bakery, deli counter or salad bar, sandwiches sold to be eaten straight away, and foods weighed and sold loose.
I am not saying that all “free-from” alternatives are unhealthy, it’s just that with a little homework in choosing processed foods with ingredients that are right for you, combined with a ‘back to basics’ approach to cooking appreciating the goodness that whole natural unprocessed foods can give, there are ways to tackle your food allergies and food intolerances that, I think, will give you an even better chance of improved health.”
9) Do you feel that there is a big enough selection of choice for those with intolerances or allergies?
“In order to get the full benefit of the test results, YorkTest offers Nutritional Therapist support as part of their programmes to help people manage their elimination diets and find suitable alternatives for food ingredients that they need to remove. Our experience is that many people with food intolerances find that they need to remove a number of different foods in combination from their diet to gain the most benefit. The average number of foods for those with symptoms is 6 so this can be really tricky and many people struggle to find suitable alternatives.”
10) Do you feel that these products are priced correctly?
“As with any “niche” small volume product lines the price points at the moment can be prohibitively high for many. With higher demand there should be a price drop, but in the meantime it is worth looking for “free from” alternatives that are not branded as such – these may not have such a price hike!”
11) In the next 5 to 10 years do you think that people will still suffer from food allergies or intolerances due to the food they eat?
“It is unlikely that the factors mentioned above will change dramatically over that sort of time period, or that our resistance will change. Allergies that persist into, or develop in adulthood are for life anyway. I think (hope) that people will become more aware of the impact of diet on their health, and the fact that personalised dietary optimisation can be very effective at reducing reduce common complaints.”
12) If there were one thing you could tell consumers today to be careful of regarding what they eat, what would it be?
“My view is that we are all unique and one person’s “meat” is another person’s poison. Identifying your own individual “culprit foods” is key and it is difficult to generalise; you need to get to know what suits you best, and what doesn’t.”
13) If there is one change that food manufacturers should make, what would you like it to be?
“Difficult question, I am not sure how much we can expect from food manufacturers. I think that education is the key, helping people to understand the impact of diet on health, and that there are options and simple solutions for them to try which will help improve their health and wellbeing. The excellent www.foodsyoucan.co.uk is helping with this!”