Food Allergies and Intolerance

If you have a severe or life-threatening response to a food, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. See Emergency.

Food allergies: 

A food allergy is an immune response (hives, rash, shortness of breath, swelling, etc.) to a food that a person consumes.

Milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (e. g. walnuts, cashews), fish, shellfish, soy and wheat are foods that cause an estimated 90% of all allergic responses.

If you dine out, remember to ask for the ingredients used in preparing the food you order.

When shopping, read food labels carefully, because common food allergens are listed in the ingredient section of the label. 

Food intolerance:

A food intolerance does not cause an immune response but instead may create uncomfortable symptoms such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, etc. Common food intolerances include lactose, gluten (protein in wheat) and fructose (sugar in fruit). Some may be related to a psychological experience with a particular food.

Lactose intolerance: 

Lactose is milk sugar, present in dairy-based beverages and foods such as cheese, milk, yogurt and ice cream. Some people cannot digest lactose because they lack or produce low levels of the enzyme lactase, which breaks down milk sugar in the small intestine.  When lactose remains undigested, it can cause bloating, watery diarrhea, cramps and nausea.

Tips for lactose intolerance:

  • Read labels; if a dairy product contains few carbohydrates, it contains little lactose.
  • Consume any dairy products with meals rather than alone.
  • Limit portion size of food containing lactose.
  • Allow adequate time intervals between consumption of foods containing lactose.
  • Vary meals containing high-lactose content foods with meals containing low-lactose content foods.
  • Consume yogurt containing “active and live” cultures.
  • Choose low-lactose dairy options, such as aged (hard) cheese.
  • Consume higher-fat dairy foods.  Fat content helps decrease the negative effects of the lactose (use in moderation due to saturated fat content).
  • Try lactase enzyme tablets (e.g. Lactaid) before consuming a lactose-containing food.
  • Try lactose-reduced or lactose-free milk.
  • Try heated milk products (soups, custard) which may be better tolerated than cold milk products.
  • Use kosher foods that contain the word “pareve” or “parve” on the label (they contain no milk products).
  • If you decrease or eliminate milk products from your diet, be sure you ingest other calcium-containing or calcium-fortified foods such as calcium-fortified orange juice.

Learn more about Lactose Intolerance from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Want help with food allergies or intolerance? 

University Health Service offers:

For more information:

If you eat in U-M dining halls, see:

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network  provides education, advocacy, research and awareness, lists foods that contain common food allergens, and offers information For the Newly Diagnosed.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology on Food Allergies

For eczema:

For celiac disease, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases offers information.