It seems like every second person I meet, whether it is a client I am consulting, a friend or an acquaintance – complains about having some sort of allergy or intolerance. It’s common to hear the claim “I’m allergic to milk”, where in fact it is more likely to be ‘lactose intolerance’.

You might be thinking: What’s the difference, isn’t an allergy and an intolerance virtually the same thing?

The two are actually very different. They vary in the cause of the reaction, the types of food that may cause the allergy or intolerance and the body’s response to the food.

 I’ll start by briefly explaining each term. A food allergy is a fast response by the body’s immune system to a perceived ‘invader’. The common signs of a food allergy happen immediately – coughing, migraines, watery eyes, itchiness, rashes and swelling. In the most severe cases, an allergy could result in anaphylactic shock which could be fatal and requires immediate attention. 

A food intolerance (or food sensitivity) on the other hand is a slower reaction, where the body is unable to process a certain food or food component. A food intolerance usually isn’t immune-related. Sometimes the gastrointestinal tract is unable to produce certain enzymes to break down a food chemical, such as lactase (which breaks down lactose – found in milk). This means the food passes straight though our digestive tracts into the gut where it ferments and produces excess gas.

Have you ever had that bloated feeling after eating a lot of onions or cabbage? These are common foods that contain components that are unable to be completely digested, resulting in that bloated feeling. The symptoms of food intolerance are usually bloating, constipation, diarrhea and may also come up as nutrient deficiencies later on. While food intolerances often appear later on in life, allergies are usually noticed earlier on in childhood. Seeing as there has been a huge increase in the awareness of food intolerances, I’ll go into more detail on this another time.

Common foods that people are allergic to include wheat, milk, shellfish, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts. In contrast, common food intolerances are lactose, fructose, fructans and sorbitol.

 Are there any foods that you’re allergic or intolerant to? Did you think you had a food allergy, but found out that it is actually food intolerance? What are some symptoms that you experience after eating a food you are allergic or intolerant to?

For some more information you can have a read on this website: http://www.foodreactions.org/intolerance/index.html

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