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Are most people who say they have food allergies just picky eaters?

You've probably suspected that a friend of yours is fibbing when she tells a server about her food allergies when you're out for dinner.

Well, according to a recent report from the Washington Post, as many as 20 per cent of people claim they have food allergies – when only about three to four per cent really do.

Hugh Sampson, director of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York told the Post that the difference may be due to a number of non-allergic symptoms that flare up when people eat certain foods.

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"And various symptoms are sometimes mistakenly attributed to food when they really stem from something else," reports the paper.

Food intolerance, for instance, occurs in the digestive system and can cause gas, bloating and diarrhea. Some of the more common culprits include lactose (found in dairy products) and fructose, which is found in fruit, honey, some vegetables and some soft drinks and fruit drinks, reports the paper.

Other intolerances, such as those to cheese, chocolate and wine can trigger migraines. But, these are not allergic reactions, says the report.

At the same time, though, truly life-threatening food allergies do appear to be on the rise.

"For example, a 2010 report comparing surveys of U.S. households in 1997, 2002 and 2008 found a steady increase in allergies to peanuts and tree nuts in children."

Allergies are triggered by the immune system and 90 per cent of all food allergies tend to be from "just eight items: eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, shellfish, soy, tree nuts (including almonds, cashews, pecans, pistachios and walnuts) and wheat."

The news is already making the rounds among those with food allergies and sensitivities.

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Blogger April Peveteaux, who has Celiac disease, sees the research as a call to dismiss people who are trying to avoid foods that make them sick – even if they're not technically allergic.

"I realize not everyone thinks food allergies are a load, but if you do -- you need to get over it. It's not about you, it's about the sensitive person's digestive and/or immune system."

Should you call people out if you think they are lying about their food allergies? Or should people treat food intolerances the same as allergies?

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