Food Intolerance? Food Allergy? What Is the Difference?

I have many clients who come to see me with various stomach discomforts. Some of the common ones are queasy, stomach ache, acid reflux or heartburn. Clients ask me what causes these discomforts and what can they do to help alleviate symptoms. Many discomforts can be avoided if you know what your triggers are. In this post I am focusing on what is food intolerance and what is food allergy? What is the difference?

Your stomach was built to be your lifelong friend; unfortunately this isn’t always the case. There are many situations that can cause stomach distress. In many cases, people have food intolerance or food allergies that they are unaware of. You are probably scratching your head asking yourself what is the difference?

What is Food Intolerance?

Food intolerance is different from food allergy. Food intolerance is when you have problems with digesting certain foods such as dairy products, gluten or grains contain gluten, beans, and cabbage because they can cause gas buildup. The food usually sits in your stomach trying to digest longer than normal. Food intolerance is more common than food allergies.

What are Food Allergies?

This is the biggie! This is when the body’s response to allergens in food (such as eggs, tree nuts, milk, shellfish, strawberries and tomatoes) cause the immune system to have an allergic reaction, raising the level of histamine in the blood. The proteins in the food cannot be broken down during the cooking process, or by the acid in the stomach or intestinal digestive enzymes. The allergens enter into the gastrointestinal lining, then the bloodstream and cause allergic reactions throughout the body and attack the immune system. For some people, these foods can cause them to go into anaphylactic shock. About 3% of adults and 6-8% of children have clinically proven allergic reactions. Children may grow out of their food allergies, but adults do not. Most food allergies are genetic and usually both parents have food allergies.

Subtle, Painful Symptoms

Do you have any of these symptoms, especially after you drink milk or eat wheat?

•An urge to eat too much and/or too fast
•A craving for chocolate, fatty, and/or spicy foods
•Cravings for excessive caffeine, alcohol, and/or carbonated drinks
•Acid Reflux

It may take weeks or months to detect food sensitivities. Some long-term signs are subtle and easy to overlook or blame on other things going on in our lives:

•Brain fog
•Lack of concentration
•Hives, Eczema rash, etc
•Being overweight

Another sign of food sensitivities is being overweight. Did you know that people who have a food intolerance can easily gain excess weight? Most people don’t realize that they have food sensitivities. It usually starts off with food cravings; sugar, wheat, corn, dairy, nuts, sugar, etc. Food intolerance causes weight gain that won’t come off until the person eliminates the problem foods from their diet.

Medical Intervention

An easy food allergy test can be obtained at your doctor’s, allergist’s or immunologist’s office. A small amount of food extract, usually starting with the most common allergens – wheat, dairy, soy, corn, and nuts – is injected into the skin. If the skin reacts in the form of hive, this is an indication of a food allergy. For a more extensive testing, blood is drawn to look an antibody called immunoglobulin E. This antibody indicates a wide range of food sensitivities.

Your doctor will ask you a number of questions such as:

•What foods are making you feel uncomfortable?
•How much time after eating do you feel discomforts?
•How much food do you eat before there is an allergic reaction?
•Is there a family history of food allergies?
•Which reactions do you have after eating the suspected food allergy?

And your doctor may recommend some diagnostic tools, such as:

•Food diary
•Elimination diet
•Skin tests
•Blood tests
•Food challenge
•Bowel biopsy

Getting started

You can start to pinpoint your food triggers by creating a food diary. Chances are good your doctor want you to keep a food diary for approximately two months. By keeping a food diary is simple; all you need is a small notebook and a pen or a mobile app.

Record everything you have eaten including quantity, ingredients, brand names, beverages, (including alcohol), fats, additives, condiments, and garnishes. It is best if you record after your meal, but if you are the one preparing the meal, you may find it easier to record while making the meal. It’s always best to make your meal with as few ingredients as possible so that you can pin point food culprits more easily. If you start to have stomach discomfort after a meal, record all symptoms and how long after eating they occurred. If you do have a food intolerance, the doctor may recommend trying to eliminating one food at a time for two to three weeks and slowly reintroduce it back into your diet.

It all starts with conscious eating and really being aware of what you are eating, without being paranoid. It is the start to healthy eating.