What about food allergy and intolerance? Are they the same thing? And what do I do if I think I have an allergy?

It’s confusing isn’t it! But there is a difference between food allergy and food intolerance.
You can have a food allergy if your immune system over-reacts to a particular protein in common foods such as peanuts, nuts, eggs, milk, crustaceans, sesame and fish. Symptoms of an allergic reaction usually come on quickly and may include breathing difficulty, vomiting, swelling and collapse.

A food intolerance is different in onset and severity. You may experience unpleasant symptoms, such as upset stomach, rash, headache, or other discomfort. However, they do not involve the immune system and usually take a few hours to appear. Examples include lactose intolerance (when you cannot digest milk properly) or migraine brought on by red wine.

Interestingly, Coeliac disease is not an allergy or intolerance to gluten. It is an autoimmune disease where your immune system produces antibodies that attack the lining of the gut. This means you cannot absorb food properly, resulting in malnutrition and symptoms that range from pain and diarrhoea to fatigue and nerve damage.

Just to give you an idea of rate of food allergies and intolerances ……..In Ireland it is estimated that 3% of the population have a food allergy, 1% has coeliac disease and 5% of adults have lactose intolerance*. Your GP may refer you to a specialist if they’re not sure what’s causing your symptoms and further tests are needed.

The important thing to know is this food sensitivities are complex and you need to involve a qualified specialist, rather than self-diagnose yourself. Restricting certain foods un-necessarily can lead to nutrient deficiencies.
For further information see IFAN.ie, the Irish Food Allergy Network.


*The socio-economic cost of food hypersensitivity on the island of Ireland, May 2022 -https://www.safefood.net/getattachment/69d04d2f-314d-44a6-9983-be3ea09f9acc/safefood-2022-Economic-Cost-Hypersensitivity.pdf?lang=en-IE Accessed October 2022


IE-CH-1021 Date of Preparation October 2022

Are there good and bad drinks for my bone health?

Carbonated Sugary Drinks

Lots of carbonated sugary drinks can be bad for your bones. These drinks containing phosphoric acid which can be damaging if taken in excess. Our body needs some phosphorus for proper bone formation, but it needs to be taken in balance with calcium. If phosphorus intake is high this has been found to contribute to bone loss over time, especially when calcium intake is low. 

Phosphoric acid is added to carbonated sugary drinks to enhance their flavour. Too many of these drinks can cause decreased bone density so choose these drinks only occasionally.  


A high caffeine intake has been found to increase the amount of calcium lost in urine and in theory this may lead to loss of bone strength if enough calcium is not taken to replace it. Ground coffee contains more caffeine than instant coffee, and carbonated sugary drinks also contain caffeine. 

Although tea contains some caffeine it does not appear to have this effect on bones, maybe because it contains other substances such as flavonoids which might be slightly beneficial to bones and so counteract the effects of the caffeine. 

If your calcium intake is low or you already have other risk factors for osteoporosis, consider having no more than 2-3 cups of coffee a day, and bear in mind that strong coffee contains more caffeine. If you like drinking coffee, try to balance out any calcium losses by having milky coffee or increasing your calcium intake through other foods. Just a note on milky coffee – heating your milk for a latte or cappuccino won’t negatively affect the calcium levels in hot milk. Great, if you don’t like to drink a glass of cold milk on its own!


Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol appears to be a significant risk factor for osteoporosis and fractures. Alcohol appears to slow down the bone renewal process, can slow down healing after a fracture and can also cause unsteadiness leading to falls and fractures (broken bones). You should not exceed the recommended limit (men 17 standard drinks per week and women 11 standard drinks per week), and to spread these units over the course of at least 3 to 4 days and have some alcohol-free days.


IE-CH-976 | Date of Preparation July 2022

Why is vitamin D important for bone health, and is it easy to get enough in foods?

Why is vitamin D important for bone health, and is it easy to get enough in foods?

Vitamin D is vital for everyone for strong bones and it may protect against heart disease and cancer (Food Safety Authority of Ireland). It is both a nutrient (a fat-soluble vitamin) found naturally in only a few foods and it is a hormone too. Vitamin D helps us absorb the mineral, calcium. We can make this hormone through the action of strong sunlight on our skin, according to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland “most people in Ireland do not get enough vitamin D. The sunlight is too weak from October to March and people need to protect themselves against strong summer sunlight to prevent skin cancer”. 

That is why we need to eat vitamin d-rich foods and/or take a vitamin D supplement.  

Dietary Sources of Vitamin D

Very few foods are naturally good sources of Vitamin D. Oily fish including salmon and mackerel are the best sources. Choosing trout, mackerel or salmon twice a week provides most people with half of their weekly vitamin D needs. 

  • A serving of trout (150g) contains 600IU of vitamin D
  • A serving of mackerel (150g) contains 520IU of vitamin D
  • A serving of salmon (150g) contains 480IU of vitamin D
  • A serving of tuna (150g) contains 180IU of vitamin D
  • A tin of sardines (100g) contains 200IU of vitamin D
  • One egg contains almost 80IU of vitamin D

Tips to boost your vitamin D intake 

Try including a Fishy Friday in your week and enjoy regular family dishes such as salmon bake trays, herring and mackerel in chowders and fish pies. 

Choose tinned fish for lunch such as smashed sardines on sourdough toast.

Choose a fortified breakfast cereal with a fortified milk. There is a growing number of fortified foods containing vitamin D so check the food label to see if vitamin D has been added to a particular product.

  • A serving (200ml) of fortified milk contains 160IU of vitamin D
  • A serving (200ml) of fortified cereal flakes contains up to 100IU of vitamin D

Consider a blood test and supplementation with your doctor if you can’t meet your intake through diet alone. If there is inadequate calcium and vitamin D in your diet, supplementation is necessary especially when vitamin D is inadequate (Irish Osteoporosis Society). 

Note; In postmenopausal women and older men (>50 years) at increased risk of fracture, vitamin D deficiency should be avoided with the use of supplements (800-1000IU cholecalciferol daily) if necessary (NOGG 2017). 

Date of Preparation: February 2022

Good Sources of Calcium and Vitamin D Articles

So cow’s milk is a good source of Calcium and Vitamin D, but what about non-dairy milks?
Despite fortification with calcium and some other nutrients, plant-based dairy alternatives lack many of the important nutrients naturally and uniquely provided by milk.