Food Intolerance vs. Food Allergy. What’s the Difference?

I must admit that I am a little nervous about publishing this post. I’m sure I’m going to get some flack because of it haha! So I’m just gonna get into it.

I think it’s a load of crap that everybody and their mother are now “intolerant” or “allergic” to everything. It seems now that everyone claims to have some form of food allergy. Now this is NOT to say that people do not have food allergies, because there are people that truly do.

This post is mainly here to distinguish food intolerance vs. food allergy. Just because a person has a hard time tolerating something does not mean they are allergic to it. An allergic reaction is way different than a substance causing you gas.


There are some similarities between food intolerance and food allergy symptoms. The latter has more severe life-threatening symptoms that’s what makes it different than just an intolerance. It estimated that 4% (9 million) of the  U.S. population (320.29 million) have a genuine food allergy. Around 15% (46.2 million) think they do.


What happens when you consume a food that you are allergic to say peanuts, there are proteins in the peanuts your body is sensitive to. What happens afterwards is your body’s send to all these different types of signals to try and rid you of the substance that you ingested.

Common food allergens. Source.
Common food allergens. Source.

What happens is your body has mistakenly identified whatever food substance you consumed as ‘harmful’. what it does then is create antibodies called immunoglobulin E so the next time you encounter peanuts your system is ready to fight it off.


So, say you eat peanuts again. What happened then is your body would be ready to attack this ‘harmful’ substance and send out all these antibodies to the site try and rid your body of it. At this time your body is releasing other chemicals as well as the antibodies such histamine which is a inflammatory chemical in our body.(It causes stuffy noses, and sore throats). It’s usually not a big deal, more of a nuisance, but in the case of an allergic reaction it’s inflammation on steroids.

Great picture explaining anaphylaxis. Source.
Great picture explaining anaphylaxis. Source.

Food allergies can take a little while to develop, and at any age . People  often have no idea that they are allergic to say peanuts then they eat peanut butter one day and face swells up like a balloon. it was probably dismissed as something else until either a parent or the person that is experiencing problems may have made a connection  and are now going to the doctor to have tests done. if there is a suspected allergy, the doctor may prick your skin and put a little bit of the potential allergen on and wait to see if your body produces a reaction.


Skin allergy test Source
Skin allergy test Source

If no reaction is immediate they may increase the dosage of the substance to see if it just needs to be done at higher levels. I’m not sure what the exact dosing limits are but they have a cap were if there’s no reaction with X milligrams of substance than you do not have an allergy to it. if you do have a reaction at some point between 0 and X milligrams then you are allergic to that substances and you need to do what you can to avoid it.

One of the most common food allergens for many. Source.
One of the most common food allergens for many. Source.

One of the main reasons food allergies can be fatal and why it can be so serious for people is because you can end up suffocating. Your airway is affected by the food think about it, when you go to eat something you put it in your mouth you chew it, you’re using saliva & your tongue to break it down and it’s spreading that substance all over your oral cavity and down your throat. They have come into contact with this substance that your body does not like for some reason or another. So thats what is going up swell up. Your mouth is gonna be swelling, your throat, your tongue, your cheeks everything that that substance came into contact with its going to be swelling up. The airway can only swell up so far and the swelling is a big deal called anaphylaxis. this means is your airway is  becoming compromised from the narrowing pathway. If not treated with epinephrine your airway will completely close off and you end up suffocating. Genuine allergic reaction from a food allergen happens within minutes it’s not something that “oh I think I might be allergic to it” its more immediate than that and it is a big deal.

Epipen used to stop allergic reactions. Source.
Epipen used to stop allergic reactions. Source.

So on to food intolerances. People use food allergy and food intolerance together quite often because to a certain degrees note; a degree they have some of the same symptoms. They can cause mild stomach problems, usually diarrhea, nausea, upset stomach and gas. They may also cause runny nose or stuffy nose or just general crappy feelings.


The big thing missing from this with food intolerance is a severe reaction like anaphylaxis and rashes. Food intolerance is just your body doesn’t like that food, it has a hard time digesting it hence all the stomach problems. Your body hasn’t encountered a ‘harmful’ substance so it hasn’t produced antibodies against it. Yes you can consume it, yes your body can break it down to the best of its ability, but it rather not as it has a hard time with it.


Actually if you look up food intolerance it will tell you that it is a non allergic reaction due to you body lacking the necessary enzyme to digest that food. So that right there should to tell you that food allergy and a food intolerance are not the same thing. An easy way to remember the difference between intolerance and allergy is intolerance is a digestive problem it causes a digest of reaction in a way were is a allergy is an immune reaction to it attacks your immune system rather than just your gut. this of course leads to gluten intolerance and what that actually means.

This is where people are going to get pissed.

While there are people such as those with celiac disease that cannot digest gluten and there are people that are gluten sensitive I don’t believe it applies to everybody and their mother the way it seems to now. Silly act disease is a genetic disorder that affects about 1 in 135 people. Main symptoms of it are digestive problems, weight loss, iron deficiency, growth problems, seizures, and muscle cramps. It is diagnosed by performing I blood test to see everybody has a certain type of antibody in higher levels versus other people. They can also do stool test to see if there are nutrients in your stools and have not been absorbed as that is one of the bigger issue is a silly act disease, it makes it difficult for your body to absorb nutrients. They can also take a biopsy of your small intestine to check for damage. Is treated by removing gluten from your diet and in doing so patients usually feel better within a week or so.

Various gluten sources. Photo credit.
Various gluten sources. Photo credit.

They may also check to see if you have a wheat allergy  or celiac disease if you think you have some form of gluten intolerance. If these tests come back negative, the doctor will likely say that you have non celiac gluten intolerance. Which pretty much means “we didn’t find anything, nothing came back positive but we’re going to call it something.” now don’t get me wrong there are people out there that don’t have celiac disease or a week sensitivity allergy but do actually having a hard time digesting gluten and do feel better when they eliminated from it from their diet. No problem I have is nearly everybody claiming that they have some form of gluten disorder just because they can say it and no one can really do anything about it.

Gluten disorder tree. Photo credit.
Gluten disorder tree. Photo credit.

Maybe it’s just the way some of them state that they can’t have gluten that really irks me. The main people I have encountered like this are usually high and mighty people “can’t have gluten, can’t have soy, can’t have milk, can’t have meat, can’t have sticks, can’t have bricks, can’t have anything other than a celery stick.”  you know the ones, these are the people that make the legitimate people look very, very bad. They’re the ones that are using it more as a fad diet for weight loss. And I can’t stand them, because of the fact that they take legitament diseases and turn them into something they’re not. Rant over.


Now that I got that out of my system, there is a difference between food intolerance and food sensitivity as well. Food intolerance like I’ve been discussing, is when your body lacks a certain enzymes to digest a certain food. Food sensitivity typically is when the food causes less than desirable reactions such as nausea and acid reflux or cramping.

In case of cases of lactose intolerance means your body can’t digest lactose which is a natural sugar that is found in milk. When it goes to your body without being digested it causes… disastrous effects. Leonard Hofstadter from the Big Bang Big Bang Theory pops in to my mind when I think of lactose intolerance haha! Or this…


So? What did you think? Tell me your thoughts below!

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