Food Allergy vs. Food Intolerance: Know the Difference

People have different physical reactions to certain foods, but most are caused by food intolerance rather than food allergy. Knowing the difference between the two will help you determine what to do.

The difference between a food allergy and intolerance is the body’s response. A food intolerance response takes place in the digestive system, and occurs when an individual is unable to properly break down food. The following are causes of food intolerance:

  • Enzyme deficiency
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Sensitivity to food additives
  • Recurring stress or psychological factors
  • Celiac disease

Food allergy, on the other hand, involves the immune system, which is the body’s primary defense. For example, when you’re allergic to peanuts, the body identifies it as an invader or allergen. It then overreacts by producing antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE), which travels to cells that release chemicals, causing an allergic reaction. Each type of IgE has a specific radar for each type of allergen.


With food allergy and sensitivity, the onset of symptoms is different. Food allergy symptoms appear soon after eating the food while food intolerance symptoms appear later. If someone has food allergy, he or she cannot tolerate even small amounts of food that they are allergic to while someone with food intolerance can eat a small amount without adverse effects.

Symptoms of food intolerance are all digestive-related:

  • Intestinal gas and bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Cramping
  • Nausea

Symptoms of food allergy include:

  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Itching
  • Dizziness
  • Anaphylaxis


A person with known allergy is advised to carry an epinephrine injection in case of an allergic reaction, or adrenaline, in case of a severe reaction. With food intolerance, it starts with an exclusion diet. It is a process in which the person avoids the foods that are suspected to cause problem, then reintroduced after about 2 to 6 weeks. There are instances where the person does not get a reaction after the food is reintroduced. It may be that the person has developed a tolerance, or that a small amount of food does not cause a problem.

All comments.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: