Helping People with Food Allergies and Intolerances Dine Well

The number of people with food allergies and intolerances is on the rise. It’s hotly debated whether this is a result of better diagnostics or truly a greater number of people developing food allergies and intolerances — likely a combination of the two. And while celebrity diets that promote avoiding certain ingredients like gluten, soy, and dairy (and many more) may make you want to roll your eyes, allergies and intolerances should not be treated lightly.

A food allergy is an adverse health effect that occurs, reproducibly, on exposure to a given food that can show up as hives, tingling of the lips and throat, whole body flushing, difficulty breathing, or significant digestive distress — even from the tiniest crumb that can’t be seen. Many food allergies are considered life threatening and the only way to keep these reactions from happening is complete avoidance of the offending food. Food intolerances and sensitivities, while are less likely to be life threatening, can still be life altering in that they can cause significant digestive distress, migraines, skin disorders, or joint pain, among other symptoms. One difference is that people with food intolerances may be able to tolerate a small amount without significant symptoms, but it varies by person.

But if you don’t have a food allergy or intolerance, why should you care? It’s likely that you know people that do and at some point will dine with them — whether out at a restaurant or in your home — so it’s good to know how to keep them safe and feeling comfortable. Here’s how you can help:

  1. Know that this isn’t their choice: People with food allergies and intolerances don’t choose to have to avoid those foods — they do so for medical necessity. So don’t give them a hard time about it or try to coerce them into trying foods that they are avoiding.
  2. Accept the challenge: If you’re hosting a friend or family member for dinner that needs to avoid certain foods, don’t question it. Look at it as a creative challenge to cook something new. Also, don’t be offended if they choose to bring their own food — it’s all about the best way for them to eat safely.
  3. Ask questions: Not sure if a food is safe for someone to eat? Don’t be afraid to ask. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
  4. Be flexible: If your dining partner requests that you eat at a certain restaurant because he or she knows it’s safe, just go with it — even if it’s not your favorite place.
  5. Do a little research: Do you want to go out for ice cream, but your friend or family member can’t eat dairy? Find a place that serves non-dairy options as well, so you can both enjoy.
  6. Understand the severity of their allergy: Sometimes allergies are so severe that steam from a dish can cause airborne particles to cause a reaction. If this is an issue for your friend or family member, modify your meal choices to avoid food that contains their allergen as well.
  7. Take the time to learn what to do in an emergency: If someone you know has a severe food allergy, they’ll likely carry an EpiPen. Understand the signs of an allergic reaction and how to get your friend the help they need, should one occur in your presence.

Today, nearly everyone is affected by food allergies and intolerances, whether you personally have one or you know someone that does. Learning to respect the severity of these health problems and embracing them as part of life can go a long way toward making loved ones feel comfortable dining with you! To learn more about how Bon Appétit handles food allergies, read here.