Food allergies

Most allergic reactions to food are mild, but some can be very serious. A small amount of the food concerned can trigger a reaction.

If you think you or someone close to you has a food allergy, then it is important to get a proper diagnosis. Don’t cut food groups out of your diet without medical advice, because you could miss out on important nutrients.

What is a food allergy?

A food allergy is when the body’s immune system reacts unusually to specific foods, and the food the body reacts to is known as the allergen.  Most allergic reactions to food are mild, but some can be very serious.  The only way people can deal with a food allergy is to avoid the foods that make them ill. 

You can be allergic to any food but certain foods are responsible for most food allergies.  In the UK, food business must tell you if they use any of 14 key allergens in the food and drink they produce.  This may be provided on a label, orally or written on a menu.

What is the difference between a food allergy and food intolerance?

Food allergies normally causes symptoms within a few minutes of eating the food or being in contact with the substance. A food allergy involves a reaction in the immune system.

Food intolerances are more common and are caused by the body being unable to digest certain substances e.g. lactose.  They are not the same as food allergies, as most do not involve the immune system. Food intolerances can make someone feel very ill and affect their long-term health. You will usually feel the symptoms of a food intolerance symptoms slower than a food allergy, and sometimes it may not be felt until a few hours after you have eaten the food. Symptoms can last for many hours, even into the next day.

In this section

Allergens

A food allergy is when the body's immune system reacts unusually to specific foods, and the food the body reacts to is known as the allergen.

Ordering food or a takeaway

If you have a food allergy or intolerance, it’s important that you have all the information you need to make a safe food choice when you order food.

Cooking for people with allergies

If someone is allergic to something, simply taking it off their plate isn’t enough.

More on this topic

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Labelling

Food Standards Scotland has policy responsibility for food information, food labelling, food standards and nutrition labelling in Scotland.

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Life stages

A healthy diet is important at every stage of your life.