Imagine it. You’re planning a dinner party. Being a considerate host, you ask your guests about dietary preferences. Turns out, Andrew doesn’t eat gluten. Neither does Lindsey. Kevin is dairy intolerant and allergic to peanuts, and Rumesh doesn’t eat meat or fish. Nancy says she isn’t too keen on eggs, and Reid will not, under any circumstances, eat tomatoes.
Alrighty then. Now to prepare a gluten-free, nut-free, meat-free, no fish, egg or tomato meal… that still looks appealing and tastes delicious.
What gives? Are people just pickier nowadays, or are food sensitivities really on the rise?
Research indicates it is the latter. In fact, according to a 2014 study, children are far more likely than ever to develop food allergies, particularly in the West. While scientists can’t agree for certain why food sensitivities are on the rise, here are the two most common and likely explanations:
#1 Western Diets
Food allergies are far less common in developing countries where diets are simpler with little to no processed foods. Also, data indicates food allergies are more likely to occur in urban areas than rural ones. This leads experts to believe Western diets, which are higher in processed foods and calories, are linked to greater risk of food intolerance.
#2 Less Exposure to Microbes
With changing times and more sanitary environments, humans are living in more sterile conditions than ever before. While on the whole that’s a good thing, extreme sanitary conditions don’t lend themselves to a robust immune system. This is because our bodies actually need small amounts of pathogenic bacteria for training purposes. Immune systems without exposure to pathogens have trouble developing the defenses they need later on. The theory goes that, with weakened defenses, we’re more susceptible to negative reactions from the foods we eat.
Researchers around the world are working hard to combat this problem. They’re even trying out techniques like exposure therapy, basically introducing “germs” in small amounts and controlled settings to help people become less afraid of them.
NOTE: There are two major differences between a food allergy and a food intolerance. An allergy can be severe or life-threatening, and symptoms can affect many of the body’s systems. A food intolerance is less severe and usually only affects the digestive system.
Either way, when your friends tell you they have dietary restrictions, chances are it’s not just a picky palate to blame.