The difference between Food Allergies and Food Intolerances is the severity of the immunological reaction in the body. Food allergies are very severe and sometimes life threatening. This is the body’s reaction to a perceived foreign invader that requires an immune response. The immune system is a complex network of tissues and organs that harbor cell whose function is to identify and eliminate foreign threats that enter the body. This is great news for when bacteria, viruses, or parasites are quickly neutralized by these cells, but unfortunately the body can sometimes get confused and label a certain food as a threatening invader. Once this process occurs once, the body memorized the actions it took to deal with the attacker (food component) and it employs this defense every time this food enters the body in the future – that’s how permanent, reoccurring food allergies are formed.
Food intolerances, however, are less noticeable and are chemical reactions rather than an immune reaction. An individual may go their whole life without being aware of a food intolerance. Although food intolerances do not pose an immediate threat, it is worth looking into to reduce the irritation that these dietary components may be causing. Food intolerances may cause symptoms similar to allergies, but less severe, such as nervousness, sweating, headaches, diarrhea, swelling of the skin, burning sensations on the skin, and asthma-like breathing trouble once enough of the food is consumed. It may not be necessary to cut out these foods entirely, as someone with a peanut allergy might, but perhaps knowledge about an intolerance could spur you to cut back and only indulge on occasion therefore reducing the amount of inflammation these foods promote.
Common Food Intolerance foods:
- Flavor enhancers
- Strawberries, citrus, tomatoes
- Wine (particularly red wine)
How to go about diagnosing an intolerance?
Diagnosing an intolerance is not as easy as diagnosing an allergy. Because a food allergy causes an immunological response in the body, the proteins that are created as a reaction can be identified in blood tests and the allergy can be confirmed. Since intolerances lack this immune reaction blood tests have yet to be developed to identify them. Instead, a common practice is to go on an elimination diet to allow the body to heal from any possible food intolerances. Then, possible food irritants can be added back into the diet slowly while bodily reactions are noted and recorded to determine whether this reintroduction sets off any symptoms of irritation. Read more about Elimination Diets here and here!