Food Intolerance vs Food Allergy

The term food intolerance and food allergy are often confused to be the same thing. They both result from a specific food and often produce similar symptoms. However, food allergies involve the immune system while food intolerance involve the digestive system.

The broad term of food allergy involves any adverse food reaction that involves the immune system. This can further be broken down into a food allergy or food sensitivity depending on the specific immune response.

Food allergies are a type of immune response specifically mediated by an immune response mediated by a specific class of antibodies known as IgE. It affects only about 1-2% of the population but is also the most dangerous. Skin or blood tests are both used to help identify food allergies.

The most common food allergies include dairy, soy, wheat, shellfish, fish, peanut, tree nut, and egg products. Symptoms of a reaction or often sudden and occur every time the allergic food is ingested.
Symptoms of a food allergy:

  • Tingling in mouth
  • Itching, hives
  • Swelling of lips, tongue, face, or throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain
  • Dizziness, light-headedness or fainting

Food sensitivities are non-IgE mediated immune responses. They are more common than food allergies and affect about 20-30% of the population. The onset of symptoms can occur anywhere from minutes to days and is dependent on the amount of sensitive food consumed.

Food sensitivity symptoms are specific to each individual and often go misdiagnosed or undiagnosed. A blood test, such as the MRT (Mediator Release Test) is the most accurate test available to identify food sensitivities.
Symptoms of food sensitivities include:

  • Muscle aches, joint pain
  • Headaches/migraines
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of concentration
  • Arthritis
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
  • Asthma
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Depression and mood/attention disorders

Food intolerance occurs when the body is unable to digest a certain food. Specific enzymes needed to break down certain foods are lacking. The mal-absorption leads to uncomfortable symptoms such as bloating and pain.

The most common type of food intolerance is lactose intolerance, in which individuals lack the lactase enzyme needed to properly digest the food.
Symptoms of food intolerance include:

  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Gas/bloating

Food intolerance and food sensitivities are easily managed by modifying the diet. A proper diet designed by a registered dietitian will help eliminate symptoms and bring sufferers back to full health. Food allergies are managed by completely avoiding the allergic food.

Always consult a registered dietitian if you believe you may suffer from an allergy or intolerance.

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