Sensitive about Food

Sensitive to certain foods? Maybe and maybe not. A queasy stomach, itchy skin, or diarrhea might be a reaction to something you ate. But it may or may not be what you think. So avoid the urge to give foods a bum rap without exploring the cause!

A food sensitivity, or adverse reaction to food, can't be overlooked as a health issue. It can seriously affect and disrupt the quality of life and may even be life-threatening. The causes of discomfort are more numerous, and perhaps more complex, than you may think. Among the types of food sensitivities:

  • Food intolerances. For metabolic reasons, people with a food intolerance can't digest part of certain foods or a food component. Food intolerances have other causes as well.
  • Food allergies. A food allergy rallies the body's disease-fighting (immune) system to action, creating unpleasant, sometimes serious, symptoms. In other words, the immune system starts to work even though the person isn't sick. That's why symptoms appear.
  • Other adverse reactions to food. Infectious organisms such as bacteria, parasites, or viruses, which cause foodborne illness, or contaminants such as chemicals in water where seafood is harvested, can cause an adverse body reaction.
  • Psychological reasons. Feelings of discomfort after eating can also be wrapped up with emotion. Even though there's no physical reason, just thinking about a certain food that may be associated with an unpleasant experience can make some people feel sick!

If a certain food seems to bother you, skip the temptation to self-diagnose. Instead, check with your physician. For example, a reaction to milk could be an intolerance rather than a food allergy; let your doctor diagnose your symptoms. This chapter can help you get familiar with possible causes. Be aware that an adverse reaction may be a foodborne illness; see chapter 12, "The Safe Kitchen," for a closer look at identifying and preventing foodborne illnesses.

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