What’s the Difference Between Food Allergy and Food Intolerance?

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What’s the Difference Between Food Allergy and Food Intolerance?

What's the Difference Between Food Allergy and Food Intolerance?If you have ever wondered what’s the difference between food allergy and food intolerance, or if you weren’t aware that there was a difference, then please read on.

I love food. Period. But alas, some foods do not like me. And that is annoying, especially because most of the ones that don’t like me are the ones I like best. One more of life’s trials. Not that this is a comfort but we food finics are not alone. (Do you like that word I just made up)? Anyway an estimated two out of five people have some sort of allergy to or intolerance of at least one food.

First let’s learn the technicalities. As explained by renowned author Joy Bauer, food allergies are the overreaction by the body’s immune system. This is usually triggered by protein foods such as cow’s milk, nuts, soybeans, shellfish, eggs, and wheat.

On the other hand, food intolerance or sensitivity is a general term used to describe any abnormal response to food or food additives. They can cause some of the same signs and symptoms but are generally less serious and are mostly limited to digestive problems. Hint: Both ginger and peppermint are a huge help for stomach upset. You are welcome.

The Causes of Both Food Allergy and Food Intolerance

Now that we’ve defined the difference between food allergy and food intolerance, let’s talk about the causes of both food allergy and food intolerance.

Causes of food intolerance include:

  • absence of an enzyme needed to digest a certain food.
  • irritable bowel syndrome.
  • sensitivity to food additives.
  • recurring stress.
  • celiac disease

Good doctors will usually recommend steps (and natural ways) to aid digestion of the culprit foods or will treat the underlying condition.

What are food allergies caused by?
What Are Food Allergies Caused By?

It can be very difficult to trace the cause of a food allergy. But generally, a food allergy is something you develop, due to your immune system’s generating Immunoglobulin E, or “IgE”, which warns your cells that protection is needed from a foreign threat. A person with an allergy produces high levels of IgE against a particular allergen.

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If you suffer from an actual food allergy you could be at risk of a life threatening allergic reaction, otherwise known as anaphylaxis. Learn how to recognize a severe allergic reaction and know what to do when it occurs. The symptoms usually occur within from a few minutes to two hours after consuming the nasty culprit.


Common Food Allergies: Symptoms

The most common food allergies symptoms present as tingling or itching mouth, hives, swelling, usually of the mouth, lips, and tongue but can appear on other body parts, wheezing or nasal congestion, diarrhea or vomiting, or dizziness or fainting.

With the above mentioned anaphylaxis, the symptoms are not only more serious but can be deadly. Constriction of the airways, a swollen throat, a sudden drop in blood pressure, rapid pulse, or loss of consciousness are the flashing lights. Emergency treatment is required immediately.

Food Allergy Diagnosis

A true food allergy can be properly diagnosed with scientific testing. Your physician should take a thorough medical history, do a complete physical with the most focus on the areas presenting the symptoms, followed by food elimination diets.

Skin tests, where an extract of a particular food is placed on the skin and scratched into the skin to look for a reaction of itching or swelling will be next.

The final test is a RAST (radioallergosorbent) (whew). Small samples of your blood will be mixed with food extracts. If you are allergic to the food your blood will produce antibodies to fight off the food extract.

After your physician or dietician have pinpointed which food allergy you are suffering from you will need a guide like the following to avoid that culprit. Once again we owe this information to Joy Bauer’s book: Joy’s Simple Food Remedies: Tasty Cures for Whatever’s Ailing You.

A List of Common Food Allergies

Cow’s milk – avoid all foods containing milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, custard, casein, whey, ghee, curds, sodium caseinate, lactoglobulin, lactalbumin, milk chocolate, buttermilk, cream, including sour cream, and butter. Read labels carefully!

Wheat – avoid all foods containing wheat, wheat germ, all purpose flour, durum flour, cracker meal, couscous, bulgur, whole wheat berries, cake, gluten, pastry, and graham flours, semolina, bran, modified food starch, and farina.

Corn – the following foods are a no-no: fresh, canned, or frozen corn, hominy, corn grits, cornmeal, baking powder, corn syrup, corn starch (you get the idea, any food with the word corn in it), dextrin, maltodextrins, dextrose, fructose, lactic acid, corn alcohol, vegetable gums, sorbitol, vinegar, and popcorn.

Nuts – Unfortunately people with nut allergies not only must avoid nuts and nut butters but must be diligent about making sure any of the foods you eat do not have nuts in the ingredients.

Eggs – regular eggs, powdered or dry eggs, egg substitute, eggnog, albumin, ovalbumin, ovomucin, ovomucoid, vitelline, livetin, globulin, and ovoglobulin egg albumin. I know….just read the labels.

Shellfish – avoid shrimps, lobster, prawns, crab, crawfish, crayfish, clams, oysters, scallops, snails, octopus, squid, mussels, and geoducks.

Lactose Intolerance

A well known bad guy for some people is lactose. Here is a very helpful thing to know: Do not confuse a lactose intolerance with a milk allergy. Lactose intolerance involves difficulty digesting the milk sugar lactose. A milk allergy involves an allergic reaction from the protein components in cow’s milk.

And another precaution: Some products sold online may not meet all applicable legal requirements. This can cause serious health risks. Therefore when shopping online take heed of the resources available to avoid allergic reactions. Worldwide food misrepresentation is reported most often in olive and other expensive oils, honey, dry spices, fish, fruit juices, and organic products. Be very careful.

How to Control or Avoid Food Allergies and Intolerances

Ok, that is enough of that. Now lets explore the things that can help control or avoid food allergies and intolerances.

Vitamin C boosts the immune system and acts as a natural antihistamine. These are substances that block histamine activity in the body. Vitamin C is present in bell peppers, broccoli, cantaloupe, cauliflower, citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries, tomatoes, and winter squash. If it is impossible to get two grams daily from these foods, supplements are available in health food stores, drug stores, and online.
Control or Avoid Food Allergies and Intolerances


is an enzyme found in the core and juice of pineapples and available as a supplement. If you happen to be allergic to pineapples, avoid this one. This is a popular remedy for inflammation of the sinuses and can help to reduce allergic airway disease. Again, obtain these supplements online or in health food stores.

boost your immune system to help the body fight off allergies.

is an antioxidant flavonoid found in many plants and can have anti-allergy and antihistamine properties. Besides supplements quercetin is present in foods such as apples, berries, black tea, broccoli, grapes, buckwheat tea, green tea, peppers, red onions, and red wine.


Knowing what’s the difference between food allergy and food intolerance will surely help to narrow down the measures you need to take.

Learning the causes of both food allergy and food intolerance will hopefully also help you to understand the dreaded allergy and intolerance maladies and give you some insight into ways to deal with them. If dealt with sensibly you can control or avoid food allergies and intolerances, and they will not need to take over your life.


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8 thoughts on “What’s the Difference Between Food Allergy and Food Intolerance?”

  1. I’m happy to hear that you take care of yourself. 

    Yes, I have known people too, who who have those severe allergies. Like you I am very fortunate, as well.

    And vitamin C is SO important!

  2. Excellent article. Love it!

    I consider myself lucky as I have no issues with pretty much any food.

    I do, however, eat very healthy, and I limit dairy products: I only use half and a half for my coffee and 1/2 cup daily for my oatmeal.

    I remember a few of my friends had severe food allergies. One was highly allergic to shrimp and told us that he ended up at the hospital because of it. So, food allergies can be pretty bad.

    You mention Vitamin C in your post. Isn’t it amazing how beneficial Vitamin C is, and you can take as much as you want, and the body will adequately regulate it?

    I remember having Quercetin at one time but can’t remember the reason.

  3. Hey Daniel. 

    An intolerance is usually a digestive thing, where an allergy is more of an immune system response.

    I hope that explains it for you…

  4. As far as I am concerned, food allergy and food intolerance are both bad so I would, by all means, stay away from the foods that I am allergic to. I have a question. The food you are allergic to, are they also food that you cannot tolerate? Be cause I am a bot confused between the two. 

  5. Hey great article, this was definitely an interesting read for me!

    I thought they sounded quite similar but now I’m glad that I’m aware they are a little different in the sense that one can be potentially fatal. Food allergies should for sure be noted down to help avoid serious complications. Thanks for the tip by the way, better keep ginger and peppermint in my house!

  6. Sorry about that, JarieLyn. I’m glad you brought it to my attention. I have fixed the link.

    Thanks for your response.


  7. Great article. I really like that you added ways to avoid food intolerances and sensitivities.

    I was interested in learning more about the Wild West Coast Reishi Mushroom Tincture but when I clicked on the photo, the link took me to Dr. Fredda Branyon’s website. (I’m sure is good) but I wanted to get the price for the Mushroom Tincture.

    Thanks for this article.

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