Years ago, I would have dinner parties and cookouts with various friends. These were not formal, multicourse dinners seated in a dining room with white tablecloths. Rather, these events typically involved steaks and other meats on the grill. Guests would bring anything from their own steak to a dish to share. I don’t recall any special dietary requirements other than one host’s mother and sister who were vegetarians, and only came twice in 20 years. Other than those two guests it was mostly carnivores.
A recent advice column in Slate was about a woman who liked to plan dinner parties but her friend had an ever-changing list of dietary requirements. Having to accommodate her friend’s fad diets was killing the fun of throwing parties, saying:
About one-and-a-half years ago, Erin, following a doctor’s advice, went on a slightly restrictive diet to see if it helped with some medical issues she was having. I had plans to host a dinner a few weeks after she began this, but I was happy to make accommodations. Then, in the weeks and months that followed, she began modifying this diet—adding back certain things and taking away others. I learned that this was not on the advice of the doctor, but rather, her own internet research.
Over the past few years, I have run into people who don’t want to eat bread (gluten), sugar and meat. Then there are people I know who avoid packaged foods or highly processed foods. I’ve been asked if the rice is white or brown and whether the pasta is gluten free? It makes me wonder how humans managed to survive the past 300,000 years. Indeed, one theory is that we’re killing our microbiome with poison in food and the human microbiome is going extinct. That could affect food sensitivity.
A new documentary, The Invisible Extinction, highlights how the human microbiome—also known as the bacteria and microorganisms living within the human body, most prevalent in the gut—is on the verge of extinct. And it’s all your fault.
An article on the Firefox homepage asked Why Does Everyone Seem to Have Food Intolerances These Days?
Most of you will have noticed hosting a dinner party is harder than it used to be. One friend is gluten-free, another is dairy-free, one can’t eat onion and two more are vegetarian. Are food intolerances increasing? Or do we just hear more about them now?
First off, the article explains there is a difference between food intolerance and food allergy.
Food intolerances are reactions to eating foods, in normal quantities, that do not involve the immune system.
They are very different to food allergies which is when the body mounts an immune response to a food that is either ingested or even touches the skin. This immune response is very quick (within 20 minutes to two hours) and releases chemicals that can affect the person’s breathing, gastrointestinal tract and heart.
Severe allergies can cause anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction. By contrast, a common food intolerance is lactose intolerance. Something like 75% of the adult population of the World stopped being able to digest dairy products after childhood. It’s quite common in Africa and Asia.
Without lactase, lactose stays in the intestine, where it draws water in from the blood supply to dilute the amount of lactose. Initially this leads to diarrhoea, and then as the lactose enters the large intestine it is fermented by the bacteria in our gut, which results in gas causing abdominal bloating, pain and discomfort.
I used to work with an African immigrant who was lactose intolerant. He told me about a road trip where he stopped and bought a hamburger only to discover it had melted cheese that could not easily be removed. He decided to eat the burger anyway, thinking it couldn’t be that bad. He was wrong and the rest of his road trip was very painful. There are other food intolerances:
Some people are unable to break down histamine, which is found in red wine, strong and blue cheeses, tuna, tomatoes and pork products.
This can lead to symptoms such as itching, red flushing on the skin, abdominal pain, nausea, dizziness, headaches and migraines. Similarly, people can also have a sensitivity to caffeine (found in coffee and cocoa).
I have also heard of people sensitive to alcohol.
Alcohol intolerance is caused by a genetic condition in which the body can’t break down alcohol efficiently. The only way to prevent these uncomfortable reactions is to avoid alcohol.
Food allergies and food intolerances are different than an autoimmune response to certain foods. Coeliac disease is an autoimmune response in the small intestine to gluten, a protein in wheat. However, some people have a sensitivity to a fructan, a type of carbohydrate in wheat.
About 20% to 25% of the population either have or claims to have a food sensitivity of some sort. Supposedly this is about what it was 30 years ago. The perception that food intolerances are increasing is probably due to the well-intended but misleading advice from family and friends, or self-diagnosis using Dr. Google. There is also the fact that food sensitivities are being normalized so people feel freer to speak up. I have read that it drives restaurant chefs and cooks crazy when diners tell the waiter they have a food allergy when they really have a food preference.