Before having friends over for dinner I tend to ask whether they are vegetarian, or allergic to specific food.
And where in the past most have come back with ‘we eat everything’ or ‘we don’t like fish,’ I have noticed of late that many actually come back with ‘I am gluten intolerant,’ or ‘I am allergic to celeriac’ or ‘I can’t eat wheat!’
Last week my curry night had five different types of curry ... for the vegetarians, the gluten intolerant, the meat lovers and the sea lovers! I also had to make sure they were all nut free! And that was only for 10 of us!
Food allergies are a mysterious affliction, and perhaps the one thing we know for sure about them is that they are on the increase.
Earlier in the year, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that in a survey of more than 40,000 US adults, about 10 per cent had food allergy.
Nearly half of those people had at least one food allergy that had cropped up in adulthood.
A quarter of them had never had a food allergy as a child.
And according to guidelines issued by the Centre for Disease Control food intolerances and allergies among children have increased by more than 50pc since 1990.
With intolerances triggering inflammatory processes and weight gain, it is thought that as we urbanise rapidly and increasingly choose processed food products as well as compel farmers to increase agricultural yields with the help of hybrid crops, fertilisers and pesticides a new group of health conditions are manifesting themselves.
The increasing incidence can be attributed to commercial food production methods of instant or long life foods.
The method of processing, addition of food additives can also alter the nature of proteins in our traditional foods during the production. Our body does not recognise these proteins as food but instead as a foreign substance resulting in immune flare ups.
Doctors say the speed at which food allergies have been increasing rules out certain causes.
Their hypothesis is the increase in prevalence can’t be genetic. Genetics don’t change that quickly and so it must be due to the environment.
The rise in allergies in recent decades has been particularly noticeable in the West. Food allergy affects about 7pc of children in the UK. Across Europe, 2pc of adults have food allergies.
“It is thought that allergies and increased sensitivity to foods are probably environmental, and related to Western lifestyles,” say experts.
“We know there are lower rates of allergies in developing countries. They are also more likely to occur in urban rather than rural areas.”
Factors may include pollution, dietary changes and less exposure to microbes, which change how our immune systems respond.
This is all very interesting, but my main focus and daunting fact right now is that my next dinner night is pasta night!
Reem Antoon is a former GDN news editor. She can be reached on: firstname.lastname@example.org