Food Intolerance vs. Allergy: Important Differences You Need to Know (2023)

The food we eat is supposed to provide our bodies with the fuel and basic building blocks it needs. But what happens when the food we eat becomes the enemy, making us feel sick and even threatening our lives?

Unfortunately, this is the reality for millions of people who suffer from food allergies or intolerances. What's even scarier is that food allergies and intolerances are on the rise, with more and more people being diagnosed each year.

While food allergies and food intolerances involve a negative reaction to the food we eat, there are some crucial differences between the two that you should be aware of.

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

Since food allergies and food intolerances can have overlapping symptoms, people often confuse the two. But there are some clear and important differences between them.

A simplified way that many people differentiate the two is: [1]

  • Food allergies involve an immune system response
  • Food intolerances are a response that involves the digestive system

The human body is complex and interconnected, so this is an oversimplification of exactly how food allergies and intolerances work. So let's take a closer look at what exactly happens in your body when you have a food allergy or intolerance.

What is a food allergy?

Your immune system is your body's defense mechanism. It is a complex system made up of a network of organs and cells that work together to protect and defend your body against invading substances.

When your body detects an invader, it releases an army of specialized chemicals, proteins, and cells that target and attack the identified pathogen. This reaction is known as the immune response or inflammatory response.

When you have a food allergy, your body signals a certain food as a foreign invader that needs to be attacked and eliminated. This hypersensitivity leads to an overresponse and sends your immune system into full-blown attack mode in an attempt to rid your body of ingested food.

common food allergies

Food Intolerance vs. Allergy: Important Differences You Need to Know (1)

Any food can create an allergic reaction and it depends a lot on each person. But there are eight common foods that cause 90% of all documented food allergies. They are: [2]

  • Leche
  • Eggs
  • Wheat
  • Military
  • Pez
  • Seafood
  • Misery
  • Nuts (cashews, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, etc.)

What are the symptoms of a food allergy?

The symptoms of a food allergy can be life-threatening and should be taken very seriously. The most severe form of an allergic response to food is called an anaphylactic reaction or anaphylaxis.[3]

When your body has an anaphylactic reaction, it has an extremely exaggerated response to the allergen, causing the immune system to go into overdrive and flood the body with chemicals that can cause the body to go into shock. Blood pressure drops and the airways narrow, making it a life-threatening situation.

Fortunately, anaphylactic reactions are rare. But knowing the signs and symptoms of a food allergy is crucial because repeated exposure to a food allergen can further exaggerate the body's immune response and eventually create an anaphylactic reaction.

Symptoms of a food allergy can include: [4]

  • Skin reactions such as hives, itching, or swelling
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Swollen throat and tongue

Symptoms can occur within minutes of ingesting the allergen or take up to 30 minutes. If you notice any of these symptoms, it's important to seek emergency treatment immediately.

Food allergy tests

It is important to identify the exact foods that cause an allergic reaction. Sometimes when symptoms appear within minutes of eating, this can be an easy task. But often, it requires a deeper approach to figure out what's causing the reaction. A food allergy is often identified by using a combination of diagnostic tools including: [5]

  • Keep a food diary and record any symptoms to check for patterns.
  • Eliminate all suspect foods over a period of at least two weeks and then slowly reintroduce them one at a time to control reactions. This must be done under medical supervision and is not safe for those who have had an anaphylactic reaction.
  • A skin prick test in which small drops of liquid extract from foods containing potential allergens are placed on the skin. The skin is then "pricked" and monitored for a reaction, which is usually a small red bump.
  • A blood test in which blood is drawn and sent to a laboratory where it is tested for indicators of a food allergy.

Food Allergy Treatment

The main treatment for a known food allergy is complete avoidance of contact with food. Once the body has identified a particular food as an invader and has created antibodies to attack it, it continues to elicit an immune response each time it is eaten.

For severe food allergies, some people even have to avoid being around foods that trigger their immune response. For example, due to the increase in peanut allergies, many school cafeterias have gone "peanut free" in an attempt to accommodate students with allergies.

If you have an identified food allergy, it's also important to have epinephrine auto-injectors available in case of an emergency. Epinephrine is the drug administered in case of anaphylactic shock. Having an auto-injectable dose can save your life and buy you valuable time until emergency services arrive.

What is a food intolerance?

A food intolerance, also known as a food sensitivity, is not life-threatening and does notdirectlyinvolve the immune system. Food intolerances yesindirectlythey involve your immune system, and some, like celiac disease, are associated with an autoimmune disorder. But the difference is that intolerances don't elicit the immediate, exaggerated response seen in a true allergy.

The body's response to a food intolerance is triggered by your body's inability to break down something that was eaten. Some reasons why your body cannot properly break down an ingested food can be: [6],[7]

  • Lack of certain digestive enzymes that are needed to break down a certain food: lactose intolerance, or the inability to properly break down dairy products, is a common example.
  • Sensitivity to certain food additives: Some people's bodies respond negatively to additives such as MSG, sulfites, dyes, or preservatives added to processed foods.
  • Difficulty digesting components of certain foods: For example, many people have difficulty breaking down gluten, a protein found in wheat.
  • Inability to properly break down certain sugars: Some people are sensitive to certain naturally occurring sugars found in common foods such as onions, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and high fructose fruits.

Food intolerance and inflammation

Remember when I said food intolerances?indirectlyprovoke an immune response?

Food intolerances do not cause a complete and immediate immune response like an allergy. But the frequent introduction of foods that your body can't properly digest creates a vicious cycle of low-grade inflammation.

When you frequently eat foods that your digestive system can't break down properly, it can cause increased intestinal permeability, also known asleaky gut syndrome. This means that the cells lining your digestive tract are compromised and tiny "gaps" develop between them.

These tiny spaces allow food particles and bacteria to "seep" into the bloodstream. The body marks these particles and launches an immune response, causing low levels of inflammation.

This creates a vicious cycle because as inflammation increases, food intolerances worsen, causing even more damage to the intestinal lining and allowing even more particles to filter through.

Common Food Intolerances

Your body can become intolerant to any food. But there are certain food intolerances that are commonly seen and may be to blame if you suspect you're experiencing sensitivity symptoms.

Lactose intolerance

Lactase is an enzyme found in the digestive tract that breaks down lactose, the sugar found in milk and milk products.[8]Lactase is normally found in adequate amounts in infants and young children, probably due to their need to digest breast milk, but many adults do not maintain lactase levels high enough to break down dairy.

Without adequate lactase, lactose passes through the body undigested and can cause significant digestive upset.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is often confused with a wheat allergy. But it is, in fact, an autoimmune disease.

When someone has celiac disease, their body has an immune response to gluten and the proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye.[9],[10]This overreaction of the immune system can cause severe and widespread effects that affect the entire body.

Non-celiac gluten intolerance

Non-celiac gluten intolerance is similar to celiac disease in that the body responds negatively to the introduction of gluten and proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye.[11],[12]The tests used to confirm celiac disease only test for antibodies against a handful of components found in gluten. But there are many additional components found in gluten that can cause potential reactions.

Non-celiac gluten intolerance is not yet well understood, but it is well documented as a food intolerance that resolves when gluten is removed from the diet and worsens when gluten is reintroduced.

FODMAP intolerance

FODMAP meansoligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and fermentable polyols.[13]FODMAPs are a type of carbohydrate or sugar found in certain foods such as:

  • Onions
  • it
  • Beans
  • Wheat
  • Beer
  • High fructose fruits like apples and nectarines

In FODMAP intolerance, the digestive system has difficulty breaking down these sugars, causing them to ferment in the intestine, leading to gas and fluid movement into the intestines.[14]

What is a late food intolerance?

Food intolerances can be difficult to identify because they can appear days after eating the food and can have vague and unrelated symptoms. A reaction that occurs a significant amount of time after eating such a food is known as delayed food intolerance, or more accurately identified as IgG or IgA-mediated food intolerance.[15],[16],[17]

So what the heck does that really mean?

It simply means that certain foods trigger an immune system response that triggers the release of IgG or IgA antibodies. These are the antibodies associated with the low levels of inflammation created by frequent exposure to foods that your body cannot properly digest.

This low-level immune response is exactly why food intolerances are hard to identify. Because chronic low-grade inflammation affects the entire body, not just the digestive tract. And this can cause widespread and seemingly unrelated symptoms.

What are the symptoms of a food intolerance?

When it comes to food intolerances, the easiest symptoms to spot involve your digestive system. But since a food intolerance indirectly triggers an immune response by causing inflammation, it can also cause vague symptoms that seem unrelated or aggravate other conditions.

Some examples of symptoms that can be caused by a food intolerance include: [18],[19]

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Gas
  • swelling
  • nausea
  • abdominal discomfort
  • Worsening of autoimmune disorders such as eczema or asthma.
  • eruptions
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • joint pain

In fact, many people have found that eliminating foods that their bodies have a hard time digesting can lead to significant improvements in their quality of life. Low-level health issues like IBS, frequent headaches, or fatigue are often ignored because we learn to ignore them and accept them as the norm. But sometimes, addressing food intolerances can improve your health in ways you don't expect, as low-level inflammation can sneak up on you and affect you on many levels.

Food intolerance tests

Food intolerances can be particularly difficult to diagnose for a number of reasons:

  • Symptoms can be vague or unrelated and vary significantly from person to person.
  • Some people can be intolerant of numerous foods or certain types of foods (such as FODMAPs), making it difficult to determine which foods are to blame.
  • There are no reliable, accurate, or validated tests to identify food intolerances.

The gold standard when it comes to identifying food intolerances is the elimination diet. Foods known to be common intolerances, as well as foods that may be suspect, are excluded from the diet for a minimum of two weeks (although it is recommended to eliminate them until all symptoms have resolved).

If the symptoms start to resolve, then it's time to identify the culprit. Excluded foods are slowly reintroduced one by one, leaving enough time between introductions to monitor for an adverse reaction.

Since no one knows your body better than you do, this trial-and-error method is often the best way to gauge whether or not your unique body can tolerate certain foods.

It is important to note that following an elimination diet is meant to be short term and is used as a tool to help identify food intolerances. An elimination diet should always be completed under the supervision of an experienced healthcare professional, such as a doctor or nutritionist.

Food intolerance treatment

Identifying which foods cause a negative reaction and eliminating them is the easiest and most effective way to address food intolerances. Some people can even tolerate very small amounts of trigger foods without having a reaction.

Certain food intolerances, such as lactose intolerance, can take supplements to aid digestion. For example, if you are lactose intolerant, you can buy a supplement that contains the enzyme lactase to help your body digest dairy.

Many people assume that if they have a food intolerance, they will stay with it for life. But the good news is that unlike food allergies, you may be able to do something about a food intolerance.

Curing food intolerance

Since food intolerances are caused by the inability to properly digest certain substances, they are generally related to overall gut health.

Many times, addressing gut health and taking steps to heal your gut can produce impressive results when it comes to your body's ability to tolerate the foods that previously triggered it. In addition to avoiding trigger foods, here are some ways you can start to heal your gut:

Take a collagen supplement

collagenis a protein that essentially helps "seal the gaps" in your intestinal lining by giving your body the building blocks to heal damaged cells and grow new tissue. Look for a collagen supplement that does not contain any ingredients commonly associated with intolerances such as dairy, soy, or gluten.Native Path Collagen PeptidesThey never contain any cheap additives, fillers or substitutes and we are 100 percent transparent in our labeling.

eat fermented foods

Fermented foods go through a process known as Lacto fermentation during which starches break down and create byproducts that are beneficial to the gut, such as enzymes and beneficial bacteria. Fermented foods include:

  • sauerkraut
  • kombucha
  • kimchi
  • Yoghurt

While all of these foods are good for your gut, it's a good idea to introduce them slowly. Flooding your gut with enzymes and flora, even the good kind, can cause unpleasant side effects like gas, bloating, or indigestion.

Restore your intestinal flora

Your gut contains trillions of bacteria that are designed to maintain a certain balance. When it comes to food intolerances, leaky gut syndrome, and low-level inflammation, you can bet your bottom dollar that your gut flora has gone out of balance.

An important part of healing your gut is restoring your gut flora to its optimal, balanced state. Take oneprobioticFormulated to repopulate your gut with the right types and amounts of microbes it can give your gut the boost it needs.

NativePath 10-Strain Custom Blend ProbioticIt is specifically designed to give your gut the support it needs to maintain healthy digestion.

Food Intolerance vs. Allergy: Important Differences You Need to Know (2)

Are you struggling with food intolerances?

Dealing with food intolerances can be miserable. They can affect the quality of your life and even influence the longevity of your life.

The low-grade inflammation created by food intolerances affects the entire body and, over time, can have serious consequences. Chronic inflammation has been linked to almost every chronic disease known to man.

But the good news is that you are not a victim or a helpless passenger when it comes to food intolerances. You have the power to give your body the tools it needs to heal and restore itself to a vibrant state of health. All you need is the right guide to unlocking the natural health that Mother Nature encoded for each and every one of us to experience.

A new approach to health

Addressing the root cause of your food intolerances and any other health concerns requires a personalized and comprehensive approach unique to your individual biological makeup. It requires addressing all facets that affect your health:

  • the food you eat
  • The way you move your body
  • the quality of your sleep
  • The environment in which you spend your time

And that's exactly why we've created our flagship program.Reset native body.

It's not a quick-fix fad diet or one-size-fits-all approach to health. It's a 100 percent personalized lifestyle program that teaches you how to tune into your own body and realign with the choices that create thriving health.

Reset native bodyis a 30-day roadmap designed to help you realign with your ancestral roots through the rediscovery of a way to eat and move, supporting naturally radiant health unique to your biological blueprint.

If you're ready to take the driver's seat when it comes to your own health and experience lasting transformation,Reset native bodyis for you.Click here to learn more or start your own 30 day reset today!

Food Intolerance vs. Allergy: Important Differences You Need to Know (3)


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