Many of us believe food allergies to be relatively common, largely because of the continued attention it receives on social media networks. Food allergies are in fact quite uncommon. The confusion increases when “food allergy” and “food intolerance” are mistakenly assumed to be synonymous. So what is the difference? Food intolerances involve the digestive system. Certain foods cause a reaction in your digestive system due to an irritation or difficulty digesting the food. A food allergy involves the immune system – your body develops an immune reaction to a certain type of food. Symptoms develop immediately with even small amounts of exposure to the food type. These symptoms are more severe than those of food intolerances and can even be life threatening.


Did you know? Only around 1 – 6% of individuals suspected of having a true food allergy test positively.


There are 8 main food allergens: Cow’s milk, soya, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, and wheat.


The treatment of food allergies is complete avoidance of the food type. People suffering from an intolerance may however be able to tolerate small amounts of the food without eliciting a reaction.


Did you know? Children can outgrow food allergies as a tolerance to certain foods may develop over time. Food allergies that are usually outgrown are cow’s milk and egg allergies. Fish and shellfish allergies tend to be lifelong.


It is important to remember that foods should never be eliminated from the diet without proof of a food allergy. This is especially true for infants and young children because eliminating certain foods from their diet can be detrimental to their growth and development. If you suspect your child has a food allergy or food intolerance, speak to your doctor and dietitian immediately. Correct diagnosis and interpretation is vital when it comes to food allergies and intolerances. We ultimately do not want to eliminate certain foods from the diet without reason.


What if you or your child have a true food allergy? Our number one tip is to become more informed. Make sure that you (as a parent, caregiver or food allergy sufferer) become more educated on food allergies. Learn how to read labels and identify foods that may contain hidden allergens. Become more aware of what to do should you or a loved one ingest a food allergen. People living with true food allergies have to cut the food allergen out of their diet, so speak to a dietitian about nutritious replacements for that food type.


What about food allergies and the introduction of solids? Many parents are concerned about introducing certain food allergens to their baby in the fear that they will develop an allergy.

  • Mothers are encouraged to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months. Exclusive breastfeeding assists in decreasing the risk of allergies.
  • Introduce complementary foods at 6 months while continuing to breastfeed to two years and beyond.
  • There is currently no evidence showing that delaying the introduction of potentially allergenic foods reduces the risk of allergies. Therefore, it is recommended that infants receive all the main allergens soon after starting with complementary feeding.
  • Remember to always monitor your child’s food intake and their reaction to certain foods, especially when introducing new foods.


Levin ME, Gray CL, Goddard E, Karabus S, Kriel M, et al. South African food allergy consensus document 2014. S Afr Med J. 2015;105(1):62-65.
Agostoni C, Decsi T, Fewtrell M, Goulet O, Kolacek S, Koletzko B, et al. Complementary Feeding: A Commentary by the ESPGHAN Committee on Nutrition. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition. 2008;46:99–110.
Allergy Foundation South Africa