Saturday, October 11, 2014

Fashionable Superstitions: Food Allergies

Have you noticed all the new food "allergies" sprouting up; nuts, gluten, wheat. "Allergy" warnings on food packaging are becoming ever more verbose. I just ate some bread that came with a warning that it had spent time in the same hemisphere as tree nuts.

I'm going to be sensitivity-allergic and submit that maybe all these new food allergies shouldn't be classified as allergies. When you eat something, your body does indeed react. Red meat is generally harder to digest than chicken. Some folks are more bloated after yogurt than others. These are reactions that can be unpleasant. But of those two, only dairy is something people claim a distinct allergy to*. You don't hear much about red meat allergies. Given how the slightest unpleasant reaction is now called an allergy, perhaps that should change. Perhaps we should be warning people about foods whose name includes the letter C, O, or W.

If the slightest unpleasant reaction (sometimes imagined) is now termed an allergy, what isn't an allergy?

Spicy food can cause heartburn. Should that now be called an allergy?

Plenty of folks now claim to have celiac disease, obviously unaware of how serious actual celiac can be. Some people are more sensitive to sugar than others; imagine if everyone who couldn't handle intense desserts went around advertising their "diabetes."

What about alcohol? Alcohol is the one ingestible where people gladly look past all the side effects (and unlike many of the foods they do avoid, alcohol has little nutritional value). After consuming booze, even in moderation, people experience headaches, stomach aches, sensitivity to light, etc. Yet no one talks about having a booze allergy. They will however say they can't have beer because of the gluten...

The way popular usage has warped the word allergy, having a hangover should now be classified as a serious allergic reaction. Your body is telling you alcohol doesn't sit well with you. The side effects are much easier to measure than the supposed impacts of many of the foods people are now swearing off.

Everyone has different sensitivities, but as with all things, magnitude matters. Someone who sneezes slightly after spending a day in a dog kennel shouldn't be classed with the same word as someone who can't breath after a few minutes around a poodle. Unfortunately with food, that perspective has fled the stage. Given how perennially fat Americans seem to be, perhaps they are allergic to all that
"health food" they claim to be consuming. Or maybe the allergy labels are what's making us pudgy. There is as much science to that claim as there is to a lot of today's homespun "allergy" wisdom.

*Obviously, I'm not talking about genuine, harsh sensitivity to lactose, etc. Notice that those with that kind of hypersensitivity don't suddenly "discover" it after skimming an allergy article in Cosmo while eating an airport pizza.

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