Do you know the difference between food allergies and food intolerance?

Food reactions are common. Calling a food intolerance an allergy is a common misnomer, as the symptoms are similar. The differences however, are critical. A food intolerance is a non-allergic food hypersensitivity that can be delayed and involves the digestive system. In contrast, a food allergy involves the immune system and the reaction is immediate and possibly fatal. Many individuals suffer from one or the other. If we personally do not have a food intolerance or allergy, it is likely that we know people who do. Its time to understand the differences and importance of each.

Immune system versus digestive system

According to the Mayo Clinic, food allergies can cause a severe and immediate reaction to trace amounts of food. Food allergies can cause anaphylaxis (pronounced an-a-fi-LAK-sis), a life-threatening allergic reaction. This is why many airlines no longer serve peanuts on planes; eating a microscopic amount, or simply touching the food can cause anaphylaxis.  It is also noteworthy that a food allergy can be life-threatening, even if previous reactions have been mild (www.aaaai.org). This is why learning to  identifying food allergies and symptoms is so important. Individuals with food allergies, teachers, and parents may need to carry an emergency epinephrine shot for emergency treatment.

Food allergies can cause such extreme reactions due to its involvement with the immune system. The immune system mistakes a food allergy as an invader, and begins to release antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE), which in turn transmit chemicals that cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction.  

Symptoms of food allergies are contingent of the systems affected. Allergy symptoms can be seen on the skin, such as tingling mouth, hives, and swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat. It can involve the digestive system, with symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea.  Food allergies can affect the respiratory system as well, but generally occurs with other symptoms on the skin or through digestion. Anaphylaxis happens very quickly, and can cause dizziness, breathing trouble, dangerously low blood pressure, and/or loss of consciousness. Anaphylaxis could be fatal if not treated immediately (www.aaaai.org). If you have a food allergy, you must completely avoid the offending food.

Food intolerances can cause significant distress on the digestive tract, but they are not fatal. An intolerance to food occurs when you are unable to breakdown food properly. Our digestive system is unable to break down food for a variety of reasons:

  • enzyme deficiencies (such as lactose intolerance)
  • sensitivity to food additives
  • reactions to naturally occurring chemicals in foods
  • Food poisoning
  • Recurring stress or psychological factors
  • Irritable bowel syndrome


Symptoms of food intolerances may include one or more of the following: diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and cramping. Unlike a food allergy, it is possible to have small amounts of an offending food without causing difficulty for a food intolerance.

The future

Many questions about intolerances and allergies remain. Both are on the rise. According to Prevention Magazine, “in the last fifteen years, there has been a 50% increase in the number of children with food allergies. About 1 in 20 U.S. children have food allergies.” Food scientists and researchers are increasingly investigating both, and new research is forthcoming daily. If you suspect a food allergy or a food intolerance, talk to you doctor. They may recommend steps to aid digestion of certain foods or treat an underlying condition if you have a food intolerance.  

Kay’s naturals is designed especially for individuals with a food intolerance or allergy to gluten. Our entire line is made in a completely  gluten free facility. If you are interested in learning more about Kay’s Naturals, visit our website.

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