Food Allergies, Intolerances and Celiac Disease

Have you heard of The Teal Pumpkin Project and Food Allergy Canada’s Shine a Light? These are two great campaigns running each October to raise awareness about food allergies. Since food allergies, celiac disease, and food intolerances are ever-present in Canada and at Queen’s, it’s important to know some details.

Let’s start with a few quick definitions before we dive into the details.

Food allergy: An immune system reaction that occurs when an individual eats a food item with a food protein they are allergic to. Anaphylaxis is the most severe reaction which can be life-threatening. (For example, anaphylactic peanut allergy)

Food Intolerance: A digestive system reaction to a specific food substance. This means the body is unable to sufficiently digest the food which can lead to severe digestive discomfort. (For example, lactose intolerance)

Celiac Disease: An autoimmune digestive disorder that damages the small intestine when gluten is ingested causing severe illness. Note: Our small intestine contains microvilli that absorb nutrients from the food we eat.

Interested in learning more? Keep reading!

Food Allergies:

What does a reaction look like? A reaction can happen quickly, or several hours after eating the offending item. The severity is difficult to predict: it can be mild or severe. The most severe reaction is anaphylaxis, which is a whole-body response to an allergen. The reaction can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.

Remember common symptoms with “FAST”:

Face: hives, itching, redness, swelling of face, lips or tongue

Airway: trouble breathing, swallowing or speaking, nasal congestion, sneezing

Stomach: stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea

Total Body: hives, itching, swelling, weakness, sense of doom, loss of consciousness

What are common food allergies? Some individuals have one allergy, while others have multiple. In Canada, there are 10 common allergens that are responsible for 90% of allergic reactions in Canada including: milk, egg, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, mustard, seafood (fish, shellfish, crustaceans), sulphites and sesame. However, there are more than 170 documented allergens.

Is there a cure? There is no cure for allergies currently. The only treatment is to completely avoid foods that contain the allergen(s) of concern. However, there is ongoing research in this area.

How common is it? Approximately 2.6 million Canadians, or 1 in every 13, have self-reported at least one food allergy. Food Allergy Canada is a great resource if you are looking for more allergy information. Click here for information on Queen’s Severe Food Allergy Policy.

Food Intolerance and Sensitivities

What does a reaction look like? Reactions can typically occur within minutes of eating, or they can take up to 3 days. There is not an immediate threat to the individual’s health like a food allergy but eating the food item can cause severe digestive discomfort. Common symptoms include severe stomach pain, diarrhea or constipation, migraines and headaches, and sometimes hives and rashes.

What are common intolerances? Lactose intolerance (lacking enzyme to digest lactose), irritable bowel syndrome (may be sensitive to FODMAPs), sulphite sensitivity (found in wine and meat), etc.

How common is it? Unknown since there are no blood tests validated for diagnosis of food intolerance.

Celiac Disease:

What does a reaction look like? When someone with celiac disease ingests even a crumb of gluten, their immune system reacts to the protein and damages their small intestine. When this occurs, the individual can become very sick with a variety of symptoms including weight loss, anemia, skin blisters, abdominal pain, etc.

What is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in barley, rye, wheat, spelt, triticale, some oats, and a variety of other grains. Click here for an extensive list.

Is there a cure? Celiac disease does not currently have a cure, so complete avoidance of all gluten-containing products is the only treatment.

How common is it? Approximately 1 in 133 people have celiac disease, and the disease can develop at any point in life. More information on Celiac Disease can be found here:

In summary…Queen’s University takes food allergies very seriously. For information on how Queen’s University and Queen’s Hospitality Services addresses food allergies and dietary restrictions on campus, see the links below.


Dining With Allergies

True Balance

Gluten Free Friendly Pantry

If you are eating on campus this year and haven’t met with the Hospitality Services Registered Dietitian and/or Colin Johnson, our Campus Executive Chef, to talk about safely navigating food across campus, please book an appointment today! Contact Hospitality Services by emailing or calling 613-533-2953. Please always Ask Before You Eat! Ask to speak with a chef or manager about safe dining options in each location.

Dietitian & Allergy Appointment Buy Flex $
& Campus Meal Plans