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What is the difference between a food intolerance and food allergy?

Updated: Sep 11, 2022

Food allergies

Food allergies occur when the body’s immune system identifies a protein in food as an “invader” and creates antibodies (like IgEs) to fight against it. These reactions can vary in severity, ranging from mild symptoms to severe, life-threatening ones. Interestingly, 90% of food allergies come from milk, peanuts, eggs, fish, wheat, soybeans, tree nuts, and shellfish.

Some key symptoms of food allergies include:

  • Anaphylaxis

  • Severe gastrointestinal issues

  • Hives

  • Swelling

  • Itchiness

Unfortunately, food allergies can’t be cured, but you can learn to recognize and manage food allergies by identifying which foods they should avoid to prevent serious health consequences.

Food intolerances

Unlike food allergies (where it affects your immune system), food intolerances are far less severe and not life threatening. This is defined as having difficulty digesting certain foods and experiences an unpleasant physical reaction to them. It also causes symptoms that happen a few hours after eating the food in question, and only if you eat a large amount of it (whereas with an allergy, even a small amount would have instant results).

One example of a food intolerance would be dairy; if you have digestive issues with dairy products, it could be that you are lactose intolerant (meaning that your body lacks the enzyme lactase needed to break down lactose). Other common culprits of food intolerances include wheat, gluten, caffeine, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, and MSG.

Some common symptoms seen in people with food intolerances include:

  • Diarrhoea

  • Gas

  • Nausea

  • Cramping

  • Constipation

  • Bloating


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