Food Allergy Vs Food Intolerance – What’s the difference?
Food has become the center of everyone’s attention, be it about eating habits, taking pictures of daily meals or just trying to understand how what we eat affects our bodies. In the process of understanding the effects of food on our body, we can often find ourselves thinking that we have an allergy after reacting badly to something we have eaten.
Food allergies and intolerances are often confused, as their symptoms can seem very similar. Truth be told, the two are very different and it is important to be able to identify one from another.
What is a food allergy?
A food allergy involves our body’s immune system reacting badly to a food protein that is otherwise harmless. When food is eaten with a particular type of protein, the immune system releases a large amount of chemical rapidly, which triggers immediate symptoms that can affect a person’s skin, gastrointestinal tract, heart and breathing in no particular order.
Some of the most common food that the causes allergies include:
- Cow’s milk
- Tree nuts
- Fish and Shellfish
While these foods cause 90% of allergic reactions in Australian, any food can cause an allergic reaction as well as other non-foods including dust, pollen, animals and medication.
Signs and symptoms of food allergies can range from mild reactions in the skin, to moderate and severe life threatening reactions. It is important to be aware of these signs and symptoms. An allergic reaction can cause:
- Hives or rashes (eczema)
- Swelling of the lips, face and eyes
- Abdominal pain and vomiting
- Difficulty breathing due to swelling of the throat
- Persistent coughing and wheezing
- Dizziness and collapse
- Pale skin and floppiness (in children)
Allergies are very common in Australia affecting 1 in 5 people at some stage of their life. Food allergies occur in around 1 in 20 children and 2 in 100 adults. They can occur at any stage of life. Children with food allergies may outgrow them over time; conversely, adults who previously did not suffer any allergies could develop one later in life. The severity is often unpredictable, therefore taking appropriate care and caution for people with known food allergies is important.
What is food intolerance?
Food intolerance is generally a chemical reaction occurring in the body, that does not involve the immune system. This can occur in response to naturally occurring chemical in food and to common food additives such as preservatives, artificial colors and flavorings. Reactions are generally dose dependent with each individual having a different tolerance level.
The exact mechanism of how food intolerance affects our body is not fully understood and is an area of growing research. However, some common signs and symptoms include itchy rashes, gastrointestinal issues such as bowel irritability and migraines.
If you are experiencing a food allergy or food intolerance, it may mean that you have to eliminate certain foods from your diet. It is important to make sure that eliminated foods are replaced with other alternatives, so that you are not missing out on important nutrients.
It is essential that an allergy or food intolerance is appropriately diagnosed by your GP or allergy specialist and an Accredited Practising Dietitian is consulted to ensure nutritional adequacy, appropriate management of food allergy and growth monitoring in children.