Food allergies

Food allergies occur when your body’s immune system reacts negatively to a specific food. Symptoms of food allergies may include skin rashes, facial swelling, stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhoea, difficulty breathing or a runny nose.

True food allergies are rare, and affect mostly children. About 5% of infants are affected by food allergies in the first year of life. True allergies are less common in adults.

Although not common, some allergies like gluten, seafood and peanut allergies can cause serious reactions. Peanut allergies can cause a shock reaction called anaphylaxis.

Food intolerances are more common, such as intolerances to lactose (milk sugar), wheat or to food additives like sodium benzoate or tartrazine.


Milk allergy and intolerance

Cow’s milk allergy is one of the most common allergies affecting children.  Symptoms of asthma and eczema can be symptoms of such an allergy.  Children allergic to cow’s milk may also react to other foods such as goat’s milk or soya milk.  Alternatives products are rice or almond milk.

A child may be allergic to either of the milk proteins casein or whey, or both.

Whey proteins are damaged by heat, therefore those sensitive to whey may be able to tolerate heat-treated (long-life) milk or milk powder.

Lactose intolerance occurs because the enzyme aiding it’s digestion  is lacking in the body. Symptoms include diarrhoea, stomach pain, wind  and vomiting.

Yoghurt and cottage cheese are often  tolerated by those with lactose intolerance because they have lower lactose levels.

Wheat allergy

Wheat allergy is a reaction to the proteins in wheat. Symptoms include eczema, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing and sneezing/watery nose.

Treatment is avoidance of wheat products such as bread, biscuits, muffins and cakes. Starches that can be eaten are rye bread, barley, oats, potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice and maize meal, and the flours from these starches.

A Gluten allergy is more severe and therefore all wheat products, as well as rye, barley and oats need to be avoided. Starches that can be eaten include potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, rice noodles and maize meal. Many gluten-free breads and pastas are available in select stores. Since so many foods need to be avoided, particularly if you have the condition Coeliac disease, it is best to consult a dietitian who can help with an eating plan and understanding food labels.  Check all food labels for the presence of wheat or gluten.

Soya allergy

Soya beans contain a protein to which  some people may be allergic

Avoid soya products.  Be aware that soya flour is often used in baked products, margarines and as thickeners in processed foods and packet sauces. Those affected by soya  may also react to peanuts, dried lentils, peas and coconut.

Nut allergy

All nuts can cause allergies and they are usually labeled as 'tree nuts' - cashews, almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pine nuts and pistachios.

The most severe (life-threatening) is the peanut allergy.

Peanuts are widely used in baked products, cereals, Chinese and Thai dishes, crackers, health bars, ice creams and of course, peanut butter and peanut oil. Always check labels for the presence of nuts.

Even if a food does not have peanuts, but has come into contact with nuts, it may cause a reaction in an allergic person. For this reason, many products are labeled 'may contain traces of nuts' or 'produced in a factory which  uses nuts'.

Fish and shellfish allergy

Some people may be allergic to a group of seafood whereas others may be allergic to one type of shellfish only  Tests can be conducted to determine which specific food causes an allergy.

Symptoms include skin reactions/rashes, stomach cramps, diarrhea, swelling of the throat and mouth and shortness of breath.

Egg allergy

Egg allergies are more common in infants and children than adults.

The reaction mostly occurs to egg white proteins (albumin and ovo-mucoids). Symptoms include eczema and other skin problems. It is important that egg be introduced to infants only from 10 months.

Food invariably containing egg include: mayonnaise, salad cream/dressings, meringues, marshmallows, baked products, processed meats, crumbed food and food with a batter. Pies and pastries are often coated on top with egg.

What to do if you think you may have a food allergy or intolerance

  • If symptoms are severe, see a Doctor immediately.
  • Keep a food diary noting your reaction to specific foods Allergy ests can also be conducted
  • Treatment of the allergy will be avoidance of the food/s.  It will be helpful to consult a dietitian to assist with menu planning and reading labels
  •  Many children grow out of food allergies by 5 years of age, but some may still have problems beyond this age.
**If you need more advice, click on the ''Ask the Dietitian'' to pose a question to our Registered Dietitian

Disclaimer: The information contained in this website is provided by the SPAR Group Ltd for general information purposes only. Any reliance you place on such information is therefore strictly at your own risk.