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The Food Programme - BBC Radio 4 Sunday 18 March
There's been a huge growth in the range of 'free from' foods over the last decade. In the latest episode of the Food Programme Sheila Dillon asks whether this is due to more people being diagnosed with food allergies, or whether retailers and manufacturers are finding their own ways to grow consumer interest in dairy and gluten free foods.
There is an important difference between food allergies (involving a specific type of immune response which is fairly immediate and therefore relatively easy to identify) and 'food intolerances' - which are much more difficult to identify and validate.
Adverse reactions to some foods and drinks can occur for a wide variety of reasons, and many of these are very real. In many cases, however, the symptoms attributed to 'food intolerance' may relfect other health problems, non-specific factors, or a diet that is generally poor. Before excluding any major food groups from the diet (such as wheat or dairy products, which are common 'suspects' for food intolerance), it is important to get medical advice - and ideally, referral to a dietitian or other suitably qualified specialist. Otherwise, 'exclusion diets' can be unbalanced and may lead to nutritional deficiencies.