Which is it? How can you tell? Food allergy, Sensitivity or Intolerance?
What’s the Difference?
Do you think you have a food allergy, sensitivity or intolerance? What’s the difference between them? Why are some symptoms clear and severe? And others take you ages to figure out?
The body reacts differently depending on whether you are actually allergic to something, have an intolerance, or are merely sensitive to a food. Let me explain the difference.
Allergies prompt your immune system to go into high alert.
As someone who gets sick from some foods, I pay closer attention to avoiding the one food (soy milk) that gives me an immediate, hyper-response than I do to other food issues. The reaction I had one time was enough to make me say, “Never again!”
If you have that kind of reaction—one that makes you take medicine, such as an antihistamine to control your symptoms, or requires a trip to the hospital—that’s an allergy.
Food sensitivities also involve the immune system, but the symptoms are delayed and often harder to figure out. After eating, you may be sleepy or unable to think. Or you may have a wide variety of problems, and you simply can’t identify the source(s).
My mother had trouble with eczema. I get foggy brained. My joints hurt and my skin becomes hypersensitive. Some people get acne, headaches, bad breath, gas and bloating, or stinky feet. I know, weird, huh?
Others become anxious, aggressive, hyperactive, or depressed. And, of course, these are only some of the ways a body reacts.
Food intolerances do not directly involve your immune system. That is, your immune system doesn’t act as if you have been invaded by a virus or bacteria. With a food intolerance—for instance, lactose intolerance—only the digestive system is involved, with all your problems happening in the digestive tract. You are unable to properly digest a food without problems. It may go through your system wholly undigested or induce an inflammatory response only in your digestive tract, causing gas, pain, constipation, and/or diarrhea.
What Are the Most Common Food Culprits?
There are many foods that can cause myriad reactions in people who are allergic, sensitive, or intolerant to them. Sometimes the response is immediate, which suggests you are allergic to it. Sometimes you have a delayed response which can last from ten minutes to up to six days, according to Dr. Doris Rapp, M.D., noted allergy expert and author of Is This Your Child? Discovering Unrecognized Allergies in Children and Adults (affiliate link).
According to the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), the nine most common food allergies in the U.S. are:
- Tree nuts
- Shell fish
Food Reactions & Medical Signs of Issues
According to Dr. Rapp, a variety of medical problems, such as hyperactivity, ear infections, muscle pain or weakness, joint tightness, asthma, headaches, recurrent infections, and more, can actually be symptoms of food allergies.
Some immediate—and more serious—signs and symptoms of a food allergy might include:
- Anaphylactic shock
- Itching of eyes or face
- Varying degrees of swelling of the mouth, throat, & tongue that can make breathing & swallowing difficult
- Abdominal pain
- Mental confusion or dizziness
Other Concerning Symptoms
But what if you simply have to clear your throat frequently? Or you feel bloated after eating? Are these food reactions? They can be. In fact, Dr. Rapp says you may experience many symptoms that you do not recognize as food allergies or sensitivities. Some include:
- Skin problems, like eczema, acne, odd bumps, itchy skin, or ticklishness
- Red ears and/or bright red cheeks, which are not related to being hot or sunburned
- Chronic ear or throat infections
- Unproductive coughing, sneezing, or clearing the throat
- Stinky feet
- Having an abnormally pale face
- Excessive saliva
- Weight gain or an inability to lose weight
- Joint pain or stiffness
- Emotional or behavioral changes, such as anxiety, hyperactivity, irritability, or depression
And there are many more odd symptoms you may not recognize as food-related problems. I personally experienced the weight gain and inability to lose weight, even though I tried many different diets. In my opinion, it ain’t just the diet that made me hang onto the pounds. Since I kept giving my body foods that it could not use because it was allergic or sensitive to them, my body thought it was starving. And a starving body is going to hold onto every pound it can, right?
IT AIN’T JUST THE DIET
I’m here to tell you it ain’t just the diet that is making you hold onto all those extra pounds. At least, it wasn’t for me. I couldn’t keep weight off for love nor money. When I stopped eating the foods that caused my food sensitivities and seasonal allergies, I lost more than 40 pounds. The weight just slipped off and stayed off.
I tell you my story, explain exactly how to test yourself for food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances, and give you the tools to do it in my new book, It Ain’t Just the Diet™ Food Journal | A Daily Guide to Finding & Managing Your Food Allergies, soon to be published. For updates and to get your own copy, subscribe to our email announcement list.
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Disclaimer: The author is not a health professional or nutritionist. She is offering her research and personal reflections about her health journey and is not providing any type of medical or nutritional advice. This post is for informational purposes only. It is offered as a tool for people to discover their own suspected food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities. Readers are highly encouraged to read, write, and reflect on the ideas presented. Consult your healthcare professional before initiating any dietary or exercise program.
This post was originally published on Recipe Idea Shop March 18, 2021.