Understanding the Difference between Food Allergies and Intolerances

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Have you ever had a stomach ache or felt nauseous after eating a particular food but couldn’t quite put your finger on why? Or have you experienced an allergic reaction to something you ate and wondered if it was just intolerance instead? Understanding the difference between food allergies and intolerances is crucial for not only identifying what’s causing discomfort, but also preventing potentially life-threatening reactions. In this blog post, we’ll break down everything you need to know about these two conditions so that you can make informed decisions about your diet and health.

What are food allergies and intolerances?

A food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system reacts to a particular food protein. The reaction can be mild, such as hives, or it can be severe, such as anaphylaxis, which is a potentially life-threatening condition.

Food intolerances occur when the body cannot properly digest a particular food. The symptoms of a food intolerance can vary and may include gas, bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Unlike a food allergy, a food intolerance does not involve the body’s immune system.

There are many different types of food allergies and intolerances, and it is important to work with a healthcare professional to determine which one you may have.

The difference between food allergies and intolerances

There are a few key differences between food allergies and intolerances that are important to understand. First, food allergies involve the immune system, while food intolerances do not. With a food allergy, the body believes that a particular food is harmful and produces antibodies to attack it. This can lead to a severe reaction, such as anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening. On the other hand, with a food intolerance, the body has difficulty digesting a particular food. This can cause symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, but it is not life-threatening. Additionally, food allergies tend to develop early in life, while food intolerances can develop at any age. Finally, while there is no cure for food allergies, they can be managed by avoiding trigger foods and carrying epinephrine. Food intolerances, on the other hand, can often be resolved by making dietary changes or taking digestive enzymes.

Symptoms of food allergies and intolerances

There are a few different types of adverse reactions to food. A true food allergy, which is caused by an immune system reaction, is relatively rare. Food intolerances, on the other hand, are much more common. Here’s a closer look at the symptoms of each:

Symptoms of a food allergy can range from mild (hives, itching, and swelling) to severe (trouble breathing, chest pain, and anaphylaxis). They usually occur within minutes to two hours after eating the offending food.

With a food intolerance, symptoms are generally less serious and may include gastrointestinal issues like gas, bloating, diarrhea, and nausea. These tend to develop more gradually and may not appear until several hours or even days after eating the problem food.

How to manage food allergies and intolerances

If you have a food allergy, your body’s immune system overreacts to a specific protein in that food. Even a tiny amount of the allergy-causing food can trigger signs and symptoms such as digestive problems, hives or swollen airways. In some people, an allergic reaction can be severe or life-threatening.

A food intolerance is different from a food allergy. An intolerance occurs when your digestive system has trouble digesting a particular food. The signs and symptoms are usually less severe than those of an allergy. You might get gas, bloating, diarrhea or headaches after eating foods that contain the offending ingredient.

There is no cure for either condition, so the best way to manage food allergies and intolerances is to avoid the foods that trigger your symptoms. If you have a severe allergy, you will need to carry an epinephrine auto-injector with you at all times in case you accidentally eat something that contains the allergen.

If you have a food intolerance, you might be able to eat small amounts of the offending food without triggering symptoms. Or you may be able to manage your symptoms by avoiding problem foods altogether or making sure to eat them with other foods that help digestion.


Knowing the difference between food allergies and intolerances is important in order to ensure that you are taking necessary precautions when it comes to your diet. While both can cause uncomfortable symptoms, they require different approaches when managing them. By understanding which one you have and the best ways of avoiding triggers, you can take steps towards improving your health and well-being.

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