The vast majority of people claiming that they have food allergy may at worst have a food intolerance. Often it seems that the patient has decided to eliminate a food from their diet based on one bad experience. For example, someone may eat some cheese, later develop a headache, and then conclude that the cheese is responsible for causing their headache. In other cases, people eliminate foods from their diets because of another family member suspects that he or she has a food allergy, or because they have read a magazine article and decided that the symptoms described relating to their own.
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A 2019 survey, commissioned by the Flour Advisory Bureau, revealed that more than 40% of women have eliminated specific foods from their diet over the last five years – increasing concerns amongst health professionals that the fashionable fad for cutting out foods like wheat, could be putting women at risk. Two-thirds of the women who admitted to eliminating foods had received no information on how to replace the nutrients they were losing and almost half had taken no advice whatsoever about making such wholesale changes to their diet. Worryingly, a quarter of women admitted to eliminating the food in order to lose weight, not even because of any adverse reaction to the foodstuff.
Furthermore, 66% of the women who admitted to eliminating foods, also said they had received no information on how to replace the nutrients they were losing and 46% had taken no advice whatsoever about making such wholesale changes to their diet.
While women are now far more knowledgeable about their own health than in previous years, it seems it is considerable confusion and misinformation regarding nutrition and diet. The survey revealed that 90% of women had no idea what that difference between a food allergy and intolerance actually is – although the disparity is enormous and the implications for treatment are completely different.
Professor Tom Sanders, Department of Nutrition & Dietetics at King’s College London, believes that unless you suffer from the very rare condition of coeliac disease (a serious allergic reaction to gluten, the protein contained within wheat), cutting wheat out of your diet is extremely unwise: “Many women believe they have a food allergy or intolerance but in reality, numerous studies have shown that only 1-2% if the population suffer from food intolerance and only 0. 3% suffer from Coeliac disease. Cutting out wheat is almost always an extremely bad idea – at best it will lead to mental and physical underperformance but at its worst, this type of fashionable fad will set women on the slippery slope towards an eating disorder. The quality of a diet is all about what you include not what you cut out.”
Dr. Judy Buttriss, Science Director at the British Nutrition Foundation added: “Elimination diets are only used by health professionals for very short periods of time, with the specific the intention of isolating a problematic food through a process of carefully re-introducing foods over no more than two weeks. This very controlled diagnostic process has been misapplied by unqualified individuals who now preach elimination diets as a long-term dietary solution for everything from weight-loss to intolerance. Women should be extremely cautious of any diets like these and especially wary where they are given no advice on how to replace the nutrients they will be losing with alternative foods. Tablets or supplements are not an alternative to a balanced diet.”