Food Allergies vs. Food Intolerances - Which One Is It?

Food allergies and food intolerance are two distinct categories of food sensitivities. Food sensitivities are becoming more understood and studies indicate they have a wider and more varied impact on our health than previously realized.

Food Allergies Generally speaking, food sensitivities are the result of toxic responses to food. Symptoms may not show up for up to two days after food is consumed, so diagnosis can be difficult.

Food Allergies

Allergies involve a food reaction that affects the immune system and numerous organs in the body. It can be severe and even if past reactions have been mild, you may be at risk of a life-threatening reaction (anaphylaxis).

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that 90% of food allergies are associated with 8 food types:

  • Cow's milk
  • Hen's eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Soy foods
  • Wheat
  • Fish
  • Crustacean shellfish (such shrimp, prawns, lobster, and crab)
  • Tree nuts (such as almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, and chestnuts)
  • Food Intolerance

    Food Intolerance is not an immune system reaction but is a digestive system response when something in a food irritates a person's digestive system or their body is unable to properly digest or breakdown a food. The most common food intolerance is lactose, which is found in milk and other dairy products.

    Even if you suffer from a food intolerance, you may be able to eat small amounts of the food without any trouble.

    According to Dr. James T C Li of the Mayo Clinic, causes of food intolerance include:

  • Absence of an enzyme needed to fully digest a food. Lactose intolerance is a common example.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome. This chronic condition can cause cramping, constipation and diarrhea.
  • Food poisoning. Toxins such as bacteria in spoiled food can cause severe digestive symptoms.
  • Sensitivity to food additives. For example, sulfites used to preserve dried fruit, canned goods and wine can trigger asthma attacks in sensitive people. Intolerance to monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor enchancer, is a common type.
  • Recurring stress or psychological factors. Sometimes the mere thought of a food may make you sick. The reason is not fully understood.
  • Celiac disease. Celiac disease has some features of a true food allergy because it does involve the immune system. However, symptoms are mostly gastrointestinal, and people with celiac disease are not at risk of anaphylaxis. This chronic digestive condition is triggered by eating gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains.
  • Symptoms

    Food sensitivity symptoms that involve allergies include vomiting, diarrhea, blood in the stool, eczema, urticaria (hives), skin rashes, wheezing and runny noses.

    Food sensitivity symptoms that are more commonly traced to food intolerance may also cause fatigue, gas, bloating, mood swings, nervousness, migraines and eating disorders.

    Because a food intolerance can cause some of the same symptoms as allergies, people often confuse the two.

    See your doctor to determine whether you have a food allergy or food intolerance. This is usually through a blood test.

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