Food Allergy VS Food Intolerances

Written by Ashvini Kunalan
Posted on March 14, 2019

Same source, different cause.

Food allergy and food intolerance are both linked to how our body reacts to certain food. However, they are not the same and these two terms are often confused with each other.

Is it an allergy or intolerance?

What is food allergy?

Food allergy is the body’s immune reaction to certain protein in food. When your body thinks that the protein from a food is a threat, your immune system is triggered as a response to the “threat”. Your immune system then makes too much of antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies fight against the “threat”, which results in symptoms of allergic reaction. Allergens are food that causes allergic reaction.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction include:

  • skin rashes or hives
  • swollen tongue and lips
  • vomiting
  • wheezing
  • stomach cramps
  • nausea and/or diarrhea
  • difficulty breathing

Allergic reactions can happen very quickly and can be life threatening.

Anaphylaxis is a sudden onset of severe respiratory symptoms such as the throat closing up immediately. It is severe and life threatening, so someone with food allergies should be cautious about the food they are eating.

What is food intolerance?

Food intolerances is the body’s inability to absorb or digest certain food properly. Unlike food allergies, the symptoms of food intolerance is milder and are not life threatening.

Symptoms include stomach ache, bloating, gas, or diarrhea.

Some of the possible causes for food intolerance are:

  1. Deficiency in the enzymes needed to digest certain foods like lactose
  2. Problems processing certain chemicals such as caffeine
  3. Sensitivities to particular additives in foods

It’s possible to have more than one food intolerance, and it’s possible to have both severe and mild food intolerances.

Identifying the culprits

Here are the 8 common food that are responsible for food allergies:

8 common food that causes allergies

Meanwhile, here are the common food intolerances:

Lactose intolerance is caused by a deficiency in the enzyme our bodies use to digest lactose, which is a type of sugar found in dairy products. If you suffer from lactose intolerance, you may be able to relieve symptoms by taking an over-the-counter enzyme replacement such as Lactaid.

Gluten is a protein found in the grains wheat, barley, and rye. Some people has celiac disease, which is an autoimmune condition, not a food allergy or a food intolerance.

In other people, the grains seem to cause symptoms of food intolerance, but not the intestinal damage that characterizes celiac disease.

Histamine is a chemical that is naturally found in aged foods, such as certain wines, cheeses and smoked or preserved meats. People who are sensitive to histamine-containing foods can suffer from a variety of symptoms, including stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting and skin rashes, when they consume these foods.

Managing food allergies and intolerances

  1. Read the label. Make sure to read through the ingredients label in the food before you purchase or consume as it may contain ingredients causing allergic and intolerance reactions. 
  2. Prevent cross-contact. Cross-contact happens when allergen food comes into contact with a safe food and their proteins mix. Avoid sharing utensils so that you don’t expose your food with other food that may cause any allergies or intolerances.
  3. For serious allergies, always carry your epinephrine auto-injector. If you have severe allergic reactions like anaphylaxis, you should carry epinephrine auto-injector with you wherever you go and also ensure that they are not expired.

Because of the food allergies or intolerances, you will need to avoid certain food. Thus, this could put you at risk for certain nutrient deficiencies. Therefore, it’s best to discuss your diet with your family doctor or a registered dietitian.


  1. Shin, M., 2015. Survey on Food Allergy in Elementary School Children; Relationship Between Food Allergy and Other Allergic Diseases. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 135 (2), AB254.
  2. Food Intolerance Versus Food Allergy | AAAAI [online]. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Available from:
  3. Food Allergy vs. Food Intolerance. Available from: 

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