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Ask an Expert - Food Allergies vs. Food Intolerances

My nephew Nick has a peanut allergy, so he cannot have peanut butter. Is food allergy the same as food intolerance? What would be some alternate snacks for him.

Yeong Rhee, Ph.D., L.R.D., Associate Professor, Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences, NDSU

No, food allergy is not the same as food intolerance. Food allergy involves immune responses to food protein. Immunoglobulin E
(immune cells) reacts with harmless food protein and induces immune responses immediately or within two hours of exposure to food protein. The severity of allergic reactions to food can be mild or it can be life threatening. Food intolerance is an adverse reaction to food that does not involve immune responses.

Nick may experience the following symptoms after eating, inhaling or touching peanut butter or any other peanut-containing food products:

  • Itching, swelling and/or irritation (lips, inside mouth, throat)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Narrowing of an airway or wheezing
  • Hives
  • Low blood pressure
  • Abnormal heart beat

To avoid allergic reactions to peanuts, food label reading is very important. Avoid the following ingredients or food products:

  • Peanuts, peanut oils, peanut butter, peanut powder, peanut flower, peanut flakes, undisclosed sources of nuts, oil, shortening or nut butter
  • Artificial nuts
  • Arachis oil (another name for peanut oil)
  • Mandelonas (peanuts soaked in almond flavoring)

The following foods often contain peanuts:

  • African or Asian dishes (Chinese, Indonesian, Mexican, Thai and Vietnamese dishes)
  • Ground or mixed nuts
  • Baked cookies, pastries
  • Granola bars, energy bars
  • Ice cream, frozen desserts
  • Grain bread
  • Chocolate candies

Try these alternative snack ideas for Nick:

  • Fresh cut-up fruits, baby carrots, celery stalks dipped in yogurt or with low-fat cream cheese
  • Ready-to-eat cereal and dried fruit mixes for on-the-go snacks
  • Banana-strawberry smoothie (blend banana and frozen strawberries with low-fat milk or fruit juice)
  • Mini tuna or egg salad sandwich on a dinner roll
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