Food Intolerance

food intolerance

Food intolerance is a reaction to trigger foods that, unlike food allergies, typically doesn’t involve the immune system and isn’t life threatening like an anaphylactic reaction.

What is the difference between a food intolerance and a food allergy?

It can be difficult to determine the difference between a food intolerance and food allergy because they are both reactions caused by food. While difficult, it is important to determine, with the help of an allergist, gastroenterologist, or dietician, what kind of reaction you are having so it can be properly treated. Proper diagnosis is important to prevent eliminating foods out of your diet that are important sources of nutrients. Below are some differences between food intolerances and food allergies.

Food Intolerance
Onset of Symptoms:
Can be gradually
Amount of food needed to cause a reaction:
May not have a reaction unless a large portion has been eaten
Small amount will cause a reaction
How often does it happen?
May only happen if eaten in large amounts or eaten frequently
Every time the food is eaten
Cause of the reaction:
Various causes
Immune system response
Is it life-threatening?

What are the symptoms of a food intolerance?

Food intolerances, unlike food allergies, are not caused by an immune response. Thus, food intolerance symptoms are mostly limited to digestion and stomach-related reactions. Food allergies can cause a wide-range of reactions ranging from skin reactions to stomach-related reactions to breathing problems. Some of the symptoms that food intolerances and food allergies share are:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

But they also have many different symptoms, some of those symptoms are:

Food Intolerance
Food Allergy
Stomach cramps
Rash or hives
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Weight gain
Chest pain
Lip, mouth, and/or throat swelling
Trouble swallowing

What causes a food intolerance?

Unlike food allergies, food intolerances can be caused by various reasons. Some of those reasons include:

  • Disruptions or missing components needed for digestion (such as digestion enzymes)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Food poisoning. Typically caused by bacteria found in spoiled foods.
  • Food sensitivities
  • Stress

Are there different kinds of food intolerances?

There are different kinds of food intolerances and some common types are:

  • Lactose intolerance. This happens when your body doesn’t produce enough of the enzyme that breaks down lactose (the sugar in dairy products, like milk and cheese) for digestion.
  • Gluten intolerance. This is most commonly called Celiac Disease. With this intolerance, when you eat gluten the body responds in such a way to prevent proper digestion and absorption of the nutrients in the gluten products. Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats.
  • Food additive intolerance. This reaction is to the products added to foods during processing. These additives may be added to foods for taste, color, or extend shelf-life. A common food additive that causes an intolerance reaction is monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor enhancer.
  • Fructose Intolerance. This is a sugar found in juices, honey, and corn-syrup.

How is a food intolerance diagnosed?

Determining the difference between food intolerances and food allergies can be difficult. If you think you might have a food intolerance keep a food diary to help keep track of which foods in your diet are causing what symptoms. This food diary will be used by the doctor or dietician to help decide whether you are having a food intolerance or allergy. Following an evaluation of your medical history and food diary, the doctor may suggest an elimination diet. Other tests to help determine if you are experiencing an intolerance or allergy are: skin tests, blood tests, or oral challenges.

How is a food intolerance treated?

Treating food intolerances can be difficult, especially when unable to determine the “hidden” ingredients used in processed foods. But, with the help of a doctor or dietician it can be possible to help treat your unpleasant symptoms. Some treatments include:

  • Avoiding the trigger food. This is the most common treatment. Many stores may also provide alternative food products such as lactose-free milk or gluten-free bread.
  • Digestion medications. It may be possible to take medications that can help your body digest the trigger food. In the case of lactose intolerance, lactase enzyme pills (e.g. Lactaid) can be taken.
  • Other medications. If your intolerance is caused by a health condition (such as IBS) it may be possible to take medication for the health condition to relieve the symptoms.

Remember:  Always consult a doctor or dietician before making any changes to your diet.



Disclaimer: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition. Click here to read the full disclaimer.
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