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Allergen-free Gatherings

As we fall into the season of frosty mornings and cooler weather, we kick off the holiday season with many gatherings of friends and family. With these gatherings comes an abundance of holiday treats children love.

However, many children are unable to enjoy the treats at some of these gatherings due to food allergies. Given the severity of food allergies in some children today, be sure to offer treats all children can enjoy.

But first, we must understand the difference between a food allergy and food intolerance.

Food Allergy vs. Intolerance

Oftentimes, food allergies are confused with food intolerances, but they are very different. The big difference is that a food allergy is a medical condition that involves the immune system, whereas food intolerance or sensitivity is not a medical condition that involves the digestive system.

With a food allergy, a specific food triggers a harmful immune response known as an allergic reaction. The allergic reaction occurs due to the immune system attacking the proteins, or allergens, found in foods. As a result of exposure to a food allergen, anaphylaxis, which is a very serious allergic reaction, can occur suddenly and even result in death.

A food intolerance or sensitivity occurs when a person has difficulty digesting a specific food. This could be due to a specific enzyme deficiency. For example, people with “lactose intolerance” usually are deficient in lactase. They have issues digesting lactose, the natural sugar in milk products.

Food intolerances and sensitivities can lead to discomfort in the gastrointestinal tract, such as gas and abdominal pain, and sometimes results in diarrhea. This condition is uncomfortable, not a medical emergency.

8 Common Food Allergens

Given the severity of food allergies, being mindful of the eight common food allergens is a must when considering which treats to give your kids. The common allergens are:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Wheat
  • Peanut
  • Tree nuts
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Soy

However, they may be found in many different forms and have different names, so recognizing food allergens can be tricky. To find out more information on the allergens listed and other ingredients associated with them, visit and/or


Stephanie Jensen, Program Assistant, NDSU Extension

Sponsored in part by the Sanford Health Foundation.

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