Dangerous fashion trend: "Free from" food only recommended for a few people

23-Oct-2019 - Germany

They are a blessing for people with real food intolerances and allergies, but rarely the better choice for everyone else: "Free from" foods, such as those without gluten or lactose, are currently very much in vogue. There are dangers in that. The members of the Society of Nutrition and Food Science (SNFS), which is based at the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart, warn that those who simply omit foods containing valuable nutrients for no medical reason will also omit their health benefits. On 21 October 2019, they discussed the topic "Food intolerances and allergies - fashion diseases or metabolic disorders of increasing importance?" at the Universitätsclub Bonn as part of the "SNFS Dialog" series of events.

Muffins without gluten, yoghurt without lactose - "free from" foods are considered particularly healthy by many consumers today. More and more people seem to be affected by food intolerances and allergies, from gluten sensitivity to lactose or fructose intolerance to allergies to milk protein, fish or nuts.

But appearances are deceptive: "The supermarket shelves are now full of expensive special foods that respond to them, but food intolerances have not increased in recent years," notes Prof. Dr. Jan Frank. He is a nutrition scientist at the University of Hohenheim and chairman of the SNFS.

Nutrition topics and cooking shows are becoming more and more present in the media. The expert suspects that this could be a cause for the increasing sensitisation of the population and for the fact that self-diagnosed intolerances and allergies are increasing today.

"More and more people are believing that they can no longer tolerate certain foods.
But this assumption cannot be confirmed scientifically , affirms also Dr. Claudia Laupert-Deick, which leads the practice for nourishing therapy and consultation in Bonn.

But for people without a proven allergy or intolerance, "Free from" products in most cases not only have no added value - on the contrary: for example, the gluten, the gluten protein in the grain, is often accompanied by a reduction in the proportion of whole grains in the food. But "foods such as whole grain and dairy products have a high health benefit and are not well tolerated by only a few Germans," emphasizes Dr. Laupert-Deick.

Only about 2-5 percent of the population in Germany has a proven allergy to certain foods or ingredients, such as celiac disease, i.e. gluten intolerance. Here it is necessary to distinguish carefully. The expert stresses: "It requires a differentiated procedure to diagnose food intolerances and to treat them in a health-promoting way".

Prof. Dr. Jörg Kleine-Tebbe from the Allergy and Asthma Centre Westend in Berlin recommends taking a closer look and not confusing different things.
"food allergies are immunologically mediated intolerance reactions to food," he explains. However, a distinction must be made between primary and secondary food allergies.

"Primary food allergies tend to occur in infants and young children as opposed to stable proteins in staple foods. Cow's milk, chicken eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts or fish then cause problems," says the expert. However, while reactions to the first three foods often recede after a few years, reactions to the last three can persist for life.

The situation is different with secondary food allergies, explains Prof. Dr. Kleine-Tebbe. "They are produced by similar proteins in pollen, such as birch pollen, and vegetable foods such as pome and stone fruit, nuts, carrots or soya. The reactions to secondary food allergies are often mild in nature, but can also be severe in individual cases.

"In Europe, considerable progress has been made in the diagnosis and management of food allergies," stresses Prof. Dr. Kleine-Tebbe. According to his recommendation, these should be used by those affected. "Unfortunately, unsuitable methods for food allergies and intolerances are offered here in Germany, which contribute to confusion and unjustified diets among those affected," he warns.

People who are affected by a real metabolic disorder

find themselves in a difficult situation: "Depending on the severity of the food allergy, the emotional and social burden is very high, particularly in children suffering from the disease and their relatives - especially their mothers," emphasises Prof. Dr. Nanette Ströbele-Benschop from the Institute of Nutritional Medicine at the University of Hohenheim.

"In all areas of quality of life, limitations can be observed in those affected and in their environment - especially in the areas of psychological health and social relations.

But this is often underestimated and neglected. "The extent of the psychological burden of food allergies on individuals and their families is rarely discussed or researched by competent doctors and specialist staff," the expert knows. She advocates focusing more on the psychological and social aspects in particular.

In case of doubt, a compromise: reduce, but do not omit completely

The problem remains, however, that some foods cause complaints to many people without a real metabolic disorder. Prof. Dr. Frank also has some advice for her: "Anyone who feels that certain foods are not well tolerated should reduce them, but not leave them out completely in the sense of a balanced, varied diet. With this compromise you can safely try out what is good for you.

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Note: This article has been translated using a computer system without human intervention. LUMITOS offers these automatic translations to present a wider range of current news. Since this article has been translated with automatic translation, it is possible that it contains errors in vocabulary, syntax or grammar. The original article in German can be found here.

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