Difference between food allergy and food sensitivity

food allergy food sensitivity

In recent years there has been a rise in many gut-related problems. A lot of people tried avoiding gluten, dairy, carbs and other foods out of the fear that they are the cause of their unpleasant symptoms.

It also doesn’t help to have many health ‘gurus’ and nutrition coaches promoting diets eliminating certain foods with claims they are bad for you. Remember Gwyneth Paltrow stating that nightshade vegetables are bad and should be avoided???

In this brief post, I will explain the difference between a food allergy, food sensitivity, and food intolerance. And will explain further why you could be experiencing gut-related problems such as abdominal bloating and discomfort, excess flatulence, lack of energy or even skin problems.

You might be wondering what’s the difference between those terms?
  • Food allergy is related to our body’s immune system.
  • Food sensitivity or intolerance is related to our body’s digestive system indicating that there is a dysfunction in our digestive system.

In food allergy, the symptoms become evident within seconds or minutes after ingesting or getting in touch with the allergen and can be life-threatening. Symptoms of food intolerance are not life-threatening, just uncomfortable and embarrassing to live with.

What is Food Allergy?

Our immune system is our defence against harmful invaders like bacteria and viruses. Sometimes our immune system gets confused and confuses certain foods as an invader and responds by producing antibodies to destroy them. A food allergy occurs when our immune system reacts to food by producing IgE antibodies after eating or, in some severe cases even touching allergens. The symptoms of a food allergy may develop anywhere between a few seconds up to 2 hours.

The common symptoms of food allergies include:

• Skin reactions like swelling, itching, and hives.
• Anaphylaxis: A life-threatening allergic reaction that causes difficulty in breathing, wheezing, fast heartbeat, anxiety, and losing consciousness.
• Gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting, diarrhoea, and bloating.

Eight common foods accountable for 90% of allergic reactions are dairy, eggs, shellfish, fish, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds and wheat. If you are allergic to any of those be careful when eating out. Look carefully at the ingredients list when buying packaged foods.

Food allergy tends to run in a family. Individuals with asthma, hay fever or eczema are more likely to also experience a food allergy. Anyone suffering from food allergy should be prepared and have an Epi-pen with them. Antihistamines can also be used to help manage accidental ingestion of the allergen. Besides immunotherapy, there is no other treatment available for food allergies. 

What is Food Sensitivity?

Food sensitivities can occur due to the inability to digest a certain food. They are not life-threatening. But can be disruptive, often uncomfortable, and sometimes embarrassing. Remember that moment when you ripped a stinky one and blamed it on someone else? Or felt soo bloated that you had to unzip your jeans type of embarrassing.

The symptoms of food sensitivities are not mediated by our immune system and IgE antibodies like a food allergy. They are linked to the way our digestive system breaks down, absorbs, and utilized food. Symptoms develop after 2 hours of ingestion and are less severe than food allergies.

Common symptoms of food intolerances include:

• Diarrhea
• Bloating, gas, abdominal discomfort
• Stomachache
• Nausea
• Constipation
• Cramping
• Skin problems (acne, eczema, psoriasis)
• Headaches
• Anxiety
• Weight gain and water retention

The best treatment is the 4 R’s treatment:

-Remove food that is causing sensitivity.
-Replace what is missing. In case of low stomach acid try and eat spinach and rocket salad before your meal. If that doesn’t work try HCL supplements. Using digestive enzymes and supplements containing B-group vitamins can also be helpful.
-Repair or improve digestive function and rebalance gut bacteria.
-Reintroduce the foods that caused sensitivity. This is the most crucial step that most people miss.

SIBO, bacterial infections, sensitivity to some naturally occurring sugars in food, reactions to food additives and chemicals in food, fatty liver and imbalance in our microbiome can represent themselves as food sensitivities or food intolerances.

Tips to Live with Food Allergies and Food Intolerances

Living with complications like food allergies and food intolerances can be difficult. and depressing for some but not impossible.

Anyone with a food allergy needs to completely avoid the allergen and be ready. Epi-pen and/or antihistamines need to be kept nearby for emergency situations.  

Instead of self-diagnosing and eliminating foods or whole food groups from the diet, there is a better solution.  Work on your digestive system!

An experienced practitioner is able to help you identify the causes of your discomfort, and implement and modify your nutrition whiles treating the underlying issue.

For a person suffering from SIBO or any other bacterial infection implementing an appropriate regimen of nutrition and supplements to treat those is a way to go.

If you are having fatty liver and/or gallbladder problems addressing those and implementing an appropriate nutritional and supplementation regimen is a must.

The elimination diet can also work in some cases. Try to eliminate all foods that you think might cause the problem for one week and after one week introduce yourself to each food one by one every week to find out which specific food triggering the complication.

Paying for expensive IgG or other food intolerance tests in most cases is not needed since an experienced practitioner will be able to recognise and identify the problems.

When living with food allergies and intolerances it is necessary to learn how to read the labels and know what you are eating. Never ignore to check condiments and seasonings as they may contain MSGs and other additives that can cause problematic symptoms. 

If you are reading this post I can assume that you have been experiencing some digestive problems…maybe they are abdominal swelling and bloating, changes in your stool, excess flatulence or event fatigue I could be of help. If you are ready to receive guidance, support and assistance please click here to book an Initial nutritional session.

Mirela Simic, Nutritionist and PT