Often, the words “food allergy” and “food intolerance” are used interchangeably - but are they really the same thing? And if they’re not, how can you tell the difference? Click the link below to find out.
Food allergies and food intolerances are very different, and the reason why boils down to the type of response they elicit in the body. Food allergies cause an immune response, whereas food intolerances/sensitivities cause a gastrointestinal (GI) response.
The effects from food intolerances can be unpleasant, but are not life threatening. GI responses from food intolerances include stomach cramps, bloating, increased inflammation, skin rashes like eczema, diarrhea or constipation, etc. (1). Unlike those with food allergies, people with food intolerances can often consume a small amount of the food they are intolerant to without symptoms. For example, those with lactose intolerance might be able to eat a scoop of ice cream without feeling any negative symptoms. It’s estimated that up to 20% of the worldwide population suffers from food intolerances, and those numbers seem to be on the rise. Common examples of food intolerances include: gluten, dairy, eggs, and soy. The most prevalent food allergies (among the 4% of the population that has food allergies) are peanuts, shellfish, gluten (Celiac’s disease), and shellfish.
Food allergies, on the other hand, are far less common - only 4% of adults are estimated to have food allergies according to the CDC (1). Unlike food intolerances, food allergies impact the immune system and trigger an immune response in the body. The symptoms of an immune response include: hives, anaphylaxis, swelling of the tongue, lips, or face, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting (2). Peanut allergies are a common example of this: all of the moms reading will be familiar with being unable to send your kid to school with peanut butter or peanut snacks due to the allergies of another child in the classroom. Unlike food intolerances which typically cause the same symptoms every time an intolerant food is eaten, eating a food that you’re allergic to can cause life-threatening symptoms, even if the symptoms were more mild in the past.
If you need help identifying any food intolerances that you may have, or if you suspect you are truly allergic to a food, come visit our knowledgeable physicians for food allergy testing.
O'Brien, A. (2019, July 8). What's the Difference Between a Food Allergy, Sensitivity, and Intolerance? Retrieved from https://www.oregonclinic.com/about-us/blog/what’s-difference-between-food-allergy-sensitivity-and-intolerance
Food Allergy vs Food Intolerance. Cleveland Clinic. (2015, May 5). Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10009-food-problems-is-it-an-allergy-or-intolerance