Food is meant to provide the nourishment that the body needs to survive. There are many people who can eat any type of food they desire with no problems at all but there are also people who develop an adverse reaction after eating a particular food. This can lead one to believe that they have a food allergy but they may actually have a food intolerance instead. Is there a difference? Yes, there is, although some symptoms of food allergies and food intolerances can be similar.
What’s the difference?
A food allergy is an immune system response to a food or a particular substance in food. The body makes antibodies and every time contact is made with that particular food, the body mounts an attack against it which can cause a range of symptoms. A reaction can appear as soon as a food is eaten (immediate response) or it may not show for a few hours to a few days (delayed response). Some responses can be mild causing skin issues such as redness, itchiness or welts on the skin or digestive discomfort whereas some responses can cause major issues such as wheezing, difficulty breathing, itchy mouth and throat and swollen airways. Food allergies can be so severe in some people that it can cause life-threatening symptoms. There are allergy tests available that can support a food allergy diagnosis, please see your healthcare practitioner if you suspect you have a food allergy.
A food intolerance is an adverse response to a food but it is not caused by the immune system. Symptoms of food intolerances are usually felt in the digestive tract such as nausea, stomach cramps, constipation, gas, bloating, diarrhoea but they can also show up on the skin or in the respiratory tract. The onset of symptoms may be either delayed or immediate; an individual may eat a food one day but not have any symptoms until the next day. Some substances can also build-up in the body; one could eat a certain food every second day and not notice anything but if they eat the same amount of that food every day, then the body doesn’t get time to process it and clear it from the body. Tolerance levels vary from person to person. Food intolerance tests are not as simple. A useful tool would be to do an elimination diet and then re-introduce the foods slowly to see which ones cause a reaction. This is always best done under the guidance of a healthcare practitioner.