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Food Intolerance and Sensitivity vs Food Allergy: Do you know the difference?

Kim Shapira
April 17, 2023
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I want to help you learn how to decipher the way you feel, come check out the information on Food Sensitivities and Intolerance vs Food Allergies. . .

Let's dig right in and talk about gut health again. And why everyone should know the difference. Food intolerance (aka food sensitivity) is not the same thing as having a food allergy. Food intolerances are temporary, and the symptoms can improve when you repair the lining of your gut. One suggestion I always make to my clients, is to remove the food or foods for a short bit, and add in omega 3's, probiotics, fruits and vegetables and whole grains that you can tolerate. These foods and nutrients repair the lining of your gut. Check out my blog from a few weeks ago for more information. (Your Gut Health)

Most people can simply manage symptoms if they reduce or cut out foods that cause digestive problems, but managing symptoms is not my goal. My goal is for your gut to be healed, healthy and fighting for you not against you. There are tons of things you can add right now to get you on your way. Rule 2 says to "Eat What You Love", and to make sure the foods love you back. Some foods you think may be "good" for you just aren't. So even if you love them, it's not worth eating. The foods don't change their behavior even though we love them. It's up to us to advocate for our body.

Food intolerances may be an inconvenience (and the symptoms slightly unpleasant), but thankfully they aren't a life-threatening problem like a food allergy. Food allergy affects the body’s immune system. This occurs when your immune system mistakes a protein or other ingredient in a food as a threat- your immune system then releases antibodies or proteins called Immunoglobin to fight the threat. Thus, causing an allergic reaction such as hives, swelling, shortness of breath, or wheezing. Symptoms can appear within seconds of consuming even a small amount of an allergy inducing food. Allergies tend to get worse over time and may cause a life threatening reaction called anaphylaxis.

Food Intolerances & Food Sensitivities

Common types of food sensitivities include lactose, histamine and gluten. For example, lactose: people who are lactose intolerant don't make enough lactase enzyme to breakdown the lactose a sugar found in milk and dairy products this food intolerance is the most common. Histamines: are naturally occurring chemicals in foods like cheese, pineapples, bananas, avocados, and chocolate, red wine and some white wines, also have histamines and people who have histamine intolerance don't make enough diamine oxidase enzyme to breakdown this chemical. Gluten: is a protein found in wheat or rye, and barley. Having a gluten sensitivity, isn't the same thing as having celiac disease. Celiac disease is a type of autoimmune disease, and when you have gluten it damages the small intestine, if you have non-celiac gluten sensitivity your body has a harder time digesting gluten.


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Food intolerance symptoms include abdominal belly pain, diarrhea, gas, and bloating, headaches or migraines, heartburn, nausea, an upset stomach plus many other symptoms. There are different tests you can take to find out how you are impacted. I usually recommend starting with Everlywell food sensitivity test.  Everlywell doesn't test sugars, so lactose won't be included, it tests proteins. And usual reactions to proteins occur 2-4 hours after you have eaten it and can affect you for up to 3 days. So, it's kind of a big deal. A headache on Friday can be from breakfast on Wednesday. There are so many different gut conditions and many time people have more than one thing going on. You can also see a gastroenterologist and do a hydrogen breath test (H-Pylori, SIBO) if your symptoms are not 100% gone after  elimination.

Food Allergy

Food allergies are not only potentially life-threatening, but they’re also life-altering. People with food allergies must always be vigilant to ensure they avoid reactions.

A food allergy is more than just an itch or a stomachache. As I mentioned food allergies can cause symptoms from hives and a stuffy nose, to vomiting, difficulty breathing and loss of consciousness. If an allergic reaction is severe enough or involves several parts of the body, it becomes anaphylaxis and can be life-threatening requiring emergency intervention.

If you experience a true allergic reaction, your immune system sees the food you have eaten as an enemy. The body will respond with a real natural defense mechanism that protects your body from the invasion.

Suspected food allergies should always be evaluated, diagnosed and treated by a qualified medical professional. Do not diagnose a food allergy on your own. Self-diagnosis can lead to unnecessary dietary restrictions and inadequate nutrition, especially in children. FARE will remind you that “no single food allergy poses a greater threat than another. While nine foods (milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, shellfish and sesame) account for the vast majority of food allergies, virtually any food can cause an allergic reaction. And even a very small amount of the problem food is enough to cause a reaction.”

Here is important information and a link to for those living with a food allergy.

“Good to know: According to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA), the eight most common allergens must be labeled on packaged foods sold in the U.S. These allergens are milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. This federal law, which took effect January 1, 2006, states that these ingredients must be listed if they are present in any amount. They should be featured clearly and in plain language, even if they appear in colors, flavors or spice blends. However, people can be allergic to foods other than the eight most common. These allergens can appear in surprising places, and they may not be listed on food labels.

Always read food packaging labels and ask questions about ingredients before eating a food that you have not prepared yourself.”

Stay smart and make good choices,

Xx Kim

Reach out if you have any questions or concerns.

Kim Shapira

Kim Shapira

dietitian and nutrition therapist.

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