The ultimate guide to allergies and intolerances

What's an allergy? How about an intolerance? We're here to help dispel the myths

The ultimate guide to allergies and intolerances

When it comes to chatting about allergies and intolerances, do you know what’s what? Someone might be lactose intolerant, or allergic to eggs - but you might not be completely sure what that means.

common allergies

The most important thing to remember is an allergy involves an immune reaction triggered by eating even a small amount of a certain food. An intolerance does not involve the immune system and normally requires eating a reasonable amount of food – causing uncomfortable symptoms such as tummy pain.

According to the NHS, the most common causes of allergic reactions in kids include:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts (such as walnuts, brazil nuts, almonds and hazelnuts)
  • Fish
  • Shellfish

Whilst many foods can cause an allergic reaction, these are the big ones to think of when it comes to catering for groups. Other less-common ones include soy, wheat, celery, mustard and sesame – all of which are clearly labelled on pre-packed foods.

These allergens can affect people in different ways. From a skin rash and swelling of the lips, to anaphylaxis – a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction.

coeliac disease

Coeliac disease is when you are allergic to gluten.

According to Coeliac UK, one in every 100 of us is affected by coeliac disease (an autoimmune disease caused by a reaction to gluten). Symptoms of coeliac disease are different from a normal allergic reaction, and can include:

  • Recurring stomach pain, cramping or bloating
  • Tiredness
  • In some cases, sudden or unexpected weight loss
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Severe or occasional diarrhoea and/or constipation
  • Skin rash
  • Liver abnormalities

Some symptoms of coeliac disease may be mistaken as irritable bowel syndrome, so it’s wise to have the proper tests done by your doctor to see if it could be coeliac disease.

Allergies vs. intolerances

When it comes to telling the difference between an allergy and an intolerance, the important differences include:

  • The symptoms of a food intolerance usually occur over several hours after eating the food
  • A larger amount of food is needed to trigger an intolerance than an allergy
  • A food intolerance isn’t potentially life-threatening, unlike an allergy

So, when chatting about your child’s diet with other parents at the school gate or sending your little one off to their first sleepover with a new friend, it’s important to chat about diets nice and early.

Understanding what allergens are is one thing, but keeping an eye out for them in popular kids’ food – especially if you’re not used to it – is another challenge.

Products containing one of the 14 main allergens should be listed on the packaging, but school fêtes, bake sales or even kids bringing birthday cake to class could mean hidden allergens. Some common things to watch-out for are:

  • Nuts in cakes, breads and sauces
  • Eggs in cakes and mayonnaise
  • Shellfish and fish in sauces
  • Gluten in bread, pasta, cake and sauces
  • Soya in sauces


Find our full range of award-winning Free From products, suitable for both people with allergies and intolerances, online or pop into your local store.