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Food Allergy and Intolerance


From time to time the media report cases of people who have collapsed immediately after eating a food, often peanuts. The affected person's face swells up and they cannot breathe. This is an example of an allergy. The medical profession usually correctly diagnoses and treats this acute condition.


Some people do not experience the violent allergic reaction described above, but still suffer distressing symptoms after they have consumed certain foods. Migraine and Irritable Bowel Syndrome are two examples of complaints which are sometimes linked to the consumption of certain foods, although sometimes food does not play a part and there are other causes for the complaint. As the time between consuming the food and the onset of the symptoms is often much greater than with an allergy, and as the symptoms are not as extreme, intolerance is much harder to diagnose, and determining the exact food or foods to blame can be difficult. As food may not be the cause of these complaints, it is always wise to consult your doctor about any symptoms that you experience, but if you suspect that food plays a part, you should mention this, as not all doctors will put food near the top of their list of causes to investigate.

A good reference work dealing with the problems of food intolerance is The complete guide to Food Allergy and Intolerance by Dr. Jonathan Brostoff and Linda Gamlin, published by Bloomsbury Publishing Limited, 2 Soho Square, London, W1V 5DE, UK.

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Commonly Implicated Foods


Chocolate, coffee, cheese, citrus fruits and red wine are all recognised migraine triggers. However, they are by no means the only ones. For example, my mother gets migraine if she gets manufactured Vitamin B1 or Vitamin B2. This is a considerable problem for her, as she lives in a part of Australia where bread has B-Vitamins routinely added to it.

Digestive Problems

Milk and other dairy products, eggs and wheat feature at the top of the list here, but once again, are by no means the only foods to cause digestive problems. Soya is often used as a milk substitute, and some unfortunate people find that they are intolerant of this as well.

Intolerance of dairy products is quite wide-spread: a gastroenterologist once told me that about 15% of White Caucasians are lactose intolerant to a greater or lesser degree, and among other racial groups the proportion is even higher.

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How to avoid foods

Hidden Ingredients

Always read the label when buying food.

If food lists pasta as an ingredient, take care if you are intolerant of eggs, as some (not all) pasta contains eggs. Most, although not all pasta, is made from wheat, and may also need to be avoided for that reason.

If food lists batter as an ingredient, it may contain milk, egg or wheat, although it is possible for batter to be free of these ingredients. Batter is most often found as a fish coating.

Milk in its many guises

Milk is turned into a great many products, and the components of milk turn up as ingredients in all sorts of places. Watch out for cream, yoghurt, cheese, butter, fromage frais, whey, lactose, and casein.

Milk turns up in some unexpected places. Read your label before buying potato crisps, for example.

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Substitute Foods

Alternatives to Milk

The most commonly used milk substitute is probably soya. It is widely available in supermarkets and health food shops, but it does not suit everyone. Soya-based products which are dairy free include substitutes for milk, cream, yoghurt and cheese. Tofu should also be mentioned here. Soya flour is another useful product, as it can act as a binding agent in cookery in place of eggs.

Other alternatives which come to mind are Rice Dream and Oatmilk.

Many varieties of margarine are not dairy free. Look for kosher products, or read your ingredients carefully. In the UK, there are dairy free margarines made from soya and from sunflowers that I know of.

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A visit to my kitchen

Some of the manufacturers mentioned in this section have their own websites. Visit my food links to see their sites.

Cheese alternatives

My favourite is Cheatin' brand Cheddar style CHEEZLY which is manufactured by The Redwood Wholefood Company NN17 4SW, UK. (Yes, this should be a sufficient address to reach them: postcodes are very exact in the UK.)
It is labelled vegan on the packaging.
Ingredients: Water, starch, vegetable fats & oils, soya protein, yeast extract, sea salt, thickeners: carrageenan & locust bean gum, flavouring, citric acid, colour: beta carotene, annatto.
Available from many health food stores.
Cheatin' also produce a range of vegan sliced meat substitutes.

Yoghurt alternatives

My favourite is Provamel YOFU which is produced in Belgium for Vandemoortele (UK) Ltd., Hounslow, TW3 1NH, UK.
It is labelled "a 100% non-dairy alternative to yoghurt" on the packaging, which also makes the following claims: With added Calcium, Contains no lactose, Free from artificial colours and preservatives, Free from ingredients of animal origin, Low in fat.
It comes in four-packs: two pots of peach and two pots ofstrawberry; or two pots of black cherry and two pots of vanilla.
Ingredients: Filtered Water, Fruit (11% - peaches or strawberries or cherries) or Vanilla Sauce (10%), Hulled Soya Beans, Sugar, Chicory Syrup, Tri-calcium Phosphate, Lemon Juice, Seasalt, Flavouring, Selected Cultures.
Available from many health food stores.

Ice Cream alternatives

My favourite is Tofutti which is a product of the USA. Imported by Tofutti Europe, Wembley, Middlesex, UK. Distributed in UK by Food Brokers Ltd., Portsmouth, Hampshire.
Available in a number of flavours.
Available from many independent health food stores, although I haven't seen it carried by Holland & Barrett.

Another good product is Swedish Glace, which is made in Sweden for Winner, 15 Willow Lane, Amersham, Bucks, HP7 9DW, UK. Tel: 01494 431355.
It is available in flavours such as vanilla, pear, chocolate and strawberry.
Available from many health food stores and some supermarkets. (I know that Sainsbury's carry this brand. Let me know if you have seen it in any of the other major supermarkets.)

Non-dairy chocolate and carob

A range of products is available from Plamil Foods Ltd., Folkestone, Kent, CT19 6PQ, UK.
The claim on the Plamil packaging is "Made in Plamil's own factory in which no animal ingredients are ever used."
I enjoy their sweetened Carob Drops.
Ingredients: Hydrogenated palm kernel oil, raw sugar (max.28%), defatted soya flour, carob flour (min 15%). Emulsifier: Soya lecithin. Flavouring: Natural vanilla.
Available from many health food stores.

Mayonnaise and other sauce alternatives

A range of products such as mayonnaise, salad cream, horseradish sauce and tartare sauce is available from Life and Health. Life is the Trade Mark of St.Giles Foods Ltd., 5 Church Trading Est., Slade Green , Kent, DA8 2JA, UK.
The ingredients in their tartare sauce are: Cider Vinegar, Sunflower and Soyabean Oil, Apple Juice Concentrate, Grape Juice Concentrate, Soya Bean Curd, Onion, Capers, Garlic, Modified maize Starch, Dill, Spices.
Available from many health food stores.

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Some surprising places where food turns up


I have known for years that egg is used in the preparation of 'flu injections, but I have recently discovered that egg is also a common ingredient in anaesthetics. There are anaesthetics available which do not contain egg, but you need to ask for them, as the anaesthetic of choice of both doctors and dentists appears to be one which does contain egg.

Watch out for lactose as a non-active ingredient in pills and capsules.

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Some foods not to buy

I have been thinking of starting a "don't buy" list for some time, and I was so incensed today by a Birds-Eye recipe change that I have got around to starting my list.

Frozen foods

Birds-Eye Southern Fried Chicken disappeared from my supermarket a while ago. It was the one product in their range of coated chicken products which was dairy free. Now it has reappeared in "new improved" form with the addition of lactose to its ingredients. I hope Birds-Eye know what they are doing: they might think it is tastier, but they have just reduced their potential customers by around 15% among the Caucasian population, and by a considerably greater number among other races. I hope it's at least 15% tastier, or Birds-Eye will find that they have made a big mistake. Whether or not it's tastier, I am one of the 15% who will no longer be buying it. Thumbs down to Birds-Eye!

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Last Revised: 7th June, 1998.