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Gender food allergies

Question:

It appears that in our restaurant women guests with food allergies and/or food sensitivities outnumber men. What do you think?

– Steve Jones, Rainbow Restaurant, Fort Collins, CO

Answer:

Food allergies and intolerances are on the rise and that trend will likely continue. According to the Food Allergy Initiative, about twelve million Americans have food allergies, primarily to peanuts, tree nuts, milk, fish, shellfish, eggs, and soy. Effects can range from discomfort to death. Many more people find they have intolerances to these and other ingredients. These intolerances don’t involve the immune system as allergies do, but can still cause gastrointestinal distress. It is important that servers know which menu items contain allergens, as their presence may be hidden (for example, a prepared curry paste may contain dried shrimp) and that cooks follow standardized recipes (an off-menu toasted nut garnish may be cute but dangerous). Many operations are including allergen information on menus or make separate allergen menus available online and upon request.

In terms of your observation that food allergies and sensitivities seem more prevalent in women than men in your restaurant, this disparity is well supported by the research, though it is less clear why. Jamillah Hoy-Rosas, MPH, RD, CDE, a Nutrition Consultant in New York City says, “[Researchers are considering] a few potential reasons why, [including]: an increased exposure to and sensitization to a wider variety of foods and ingredients; some make-up and skin care items that women use may contain allergens like soy that may lead to sensitivities. In addition, women also experience hormonal fluctuations in their sensitivity to certain foods, which can be based on their menstrual cycle or pregnancy.”

In addition to the biological differences, women may be more comfortable culturally announcing their food allergy or intolerance and having a conversation with the server, manager or chef to make sure they are enjoying a meal that they won’t regret.

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