Food Allergy vs. Food Intolerance

A food allergy is when the immune system is unnecessarily triggered from a protein in food.  A food intolerance is when the body has trouble digesting a certain food normally.  Some people are surprised to know that, according to the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) group, a significant amount of minor food allergy symptoms affect the gastrointestional system.  Symptoms like nausea or vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain can be a part of a food allergy reaction along with the more recognizable symptoms like eczema, hives, and anaphylaxis.  This can be confusing because nausea, vomiting, diarrhea along with bloating, headache and heartburn are common food intolerance symptoms.  Common foods or additives that people have intolerances to are lactose (milk sugar), gluten (protein in wheat, rye and barley), sulfites and monosodium glutamate (MSG).
If you know that food makes you feel sick, it is time to talk to your doctor about it.  Keep a food log with symptoms to help direct your food allergy testing.  If your allergy test results do not resolve the problem, then you may have food intolerances.  This is where a dietitian could help you with an elimination diet to determine which food or foods are making you sick.  The treatment for food allergy is avoidance of that food.  A food intolerance can sometimes be improved by an enzyme, like taking lactase supplements when you drink milk, or just smaller quantities of that food.  Some even do well on a rotation diet, which is where you can still eat some of the food but only once every 3 days.
-MK
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