Chris Rock has a pretty hilarious stand-up routine about high allergy foods, and
how allergy foods are something that can happen only in the western world where
we have such abundance that our bodies can actually reject certain sources of
nutrition. As he put it, "Do you think anyone's running through Ethiopia saying
'I can't have dairy, I'm lactose intolerant!'?" Unlikely, and keenly observed on
However, with apologies to Mr. Rock, it's a simple fact that the human body has
evolved to process certain foods more efficiently than others. Lactose - milk
and milk-based products - are a good example. If you look in nature, you'll see
that mammals generally stop weaning by the time they're the human equivalent of
four years old. Generally we stop weaning our kids well before that, yet as a
society we still drink milk and have milk products (generally cow's milk) much
later in life. This in spite of the fact that we are not really evolved to do
The side effects of high allergy foods like dairy are easy to see. Humans simply
absorb more fats from these foods than we would from other foods of similar
nutritional value - vegetable oils come immmediately to mind in that regard.
Both cow's milk are high in fat, but your body extracts the good fats from olive
oil much more easily and readily than it does from cow's milk. Your body also
burns those calories easier, and generates more energy from vegetable oils than
it would from a similar amount of dairy calories.
Now, to be clear, this is actually more of a food "intolerance" than a food
allergy. We are evolved to process certain foods better than others, and the
"others" can cause an adverse reaction that's more of a nuisance than a
legitimate medical problem.
An allergy is a serious medical problem, but one that effects a far smaller
number of people than food intolerances. While as many as 45% of adults have
some form of lactose intolerance, it's estimated that only one to three percent
of the population suffers from a legitimate food allergy foods.
Most common among high allergy foods are wheat and gluten, as well as various
allergies to various types of nuts. My niece is among those with a peanut
allergy, for example, and in her case even though it's a relatively minor
allergy, it's still good policy to bring an epi-pen just in case she's exposed
to something that triggers a reaction.