Allergies – a rising problem

22 December, 2017

A frequency of allergy and dietary requirements that professional kitchens have to accommodate has been rising rapidly in recent years. Two main reasons are that people are more aware of allergies and also the human body has become more vulnerable to the allergens because of poor, chemical rich diets, affecting the immune system.

Allergies are the most common chronic diseases in Europe. They affects between 10 to 40 % of the population worldwide.

Relative to others, food allergies are rare. They are a reaction of immune system trying to fight off the food substance by producing antibodies. You can be allergic to any food product but the main 14 allergens are responsible for over 90% of all allergic reactions. These are cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, peanuts, soybeans, milk, nuts, celery, mustard, sesame, sulphur dioxide/sulphites, lupin and molluscs. According to the European regulations; all products containing these ingredients must be clearly labelled.

Symptoms of the allergy appear normally within a few minutes from eating the products but may be delayed up to few hours. The “classic” ones are:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Skin reactions – itching, swelling, rash
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Cough

The much more common condition is a food intolerance. It is less severe and acute; oversensitiveness that normally appear within a few hours from eating the offending product and can last for many hours. Two most common intolerances are lactose and gluten intolerance.

Lactose intolerance is an inability to digest milk sugar called lactose because of low levels of the enzyme lactase. Lactose is the main sugar in milk and milk products from mammals like humans, cows,  goats etc. Lactose intolerance is NOT an allergy.


  • Diarrhoea
  • Bloating
  • Flatulence
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Infantile Colic

Less commonly, it can cause constipation and nausea.

To treat a lactose intolerance it is recommended to follow a low lactose diet as most people affected can tolerate small amounts of lactose. Including it in a diet helps to improve absorption of milks minerals (like calcium).

Gluten intolerance is a fairly newly recognised condition. It is still unclear what causes this intolerance – if is it gluten or some other wheat protein and if the immune system is actually taking part in fighting it off. It is confirmed neither if it is a lifelong condition nor is treatable. Some researchers doubt even in existence of this condition.


  • Abdominal pain
  • Altered bowel habit
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Reflux

It was reported that gluten intolerance gives also symptoms outside the digestive system like:

  • Foggy mind
  • Joint pains
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • General lack of well being

As the condition hasn’t been confirmed there is no particular treatment method. The only way to eliminate the symptoms is to exclude gluten from the diet and then reintroduce it to check if symptoms reappear.

Allergies are a serious condition and should always be treated with great care by the front-of-house and kitchen staff. In restaurants, we minimise the risk of contamination the dishes with the allergens by: writing and following recipes, creating designated areas for products containing allergens and providing correct labeling. As chefs, we undergo professional training to be able to always accommodate dietary requirements. Unfortunately, I fear that some customers have started to use allergies and food intolerances as a “trendy” thing or the way to eliminate the products that they don’t like e.g. by claiming lactose intolerance asking for dishes without butter but then ordering cheeseboard! This damage awareness, rises confusion and falsely flatters the importance of the allergies creating a potential risk for people who really suffer from this conditions.