Food intolerance is not an allergy. How to distinguish them correctly?

June 30th, 2023

If you read these lines, you probably also feel difficulties after eating. You may have a headache, you may suddenly feel terribly exhausted, or you may have bad indigestion. Of course, you will be asking yourself if this is an allergy, intolerance, or something else.


Well, the body definitely signals to you that it can’t handle certain foods. The number of people suffering from similar allergic symptoms is constantly growing.

It is currently estimated that nearly every 10th child suffers from food allergies! Fortunately, this can be improved with age, however even in adults, it is still at least three percent. Different sources show that 45-60% of people suffer from intolerance to some food, which is actually a very high number.


How do we distinguish between food allergies and intolerances?

The answer is simple: food allergies have a faster onset. For example, you eat a pineapple, and you immediately feel puffing, and you start breathing with difficulties.

That is because your body has registered “unsatisfactory” substances and triggered a defense. With the help of the IgE antibodies, the body excretes many defense substances (e.g., histamine), and these are manifested by allergic reactions like: indigestion (diarrhea, flatulence, vomiting), rhinitis, watery eyes, itching, and in rare cases, even by a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction.

On the other hand, intolerance can manifest itself after a few days, so many do not even associate it with food. Sometimes it arises only after a long-term consumption off certain food. This exactly shows the tricky nature of it. It is manifested by indigestion, but also headaches, exhaustion, or even mental problems.


How do food allergies and intolerances arise?

When it comes to food allergies, it is mainly genes to blame. Of course, when both parents are allergic, it brings a higher risk for the child.

The bad news is that if an allergy develops, the most effective way to prevent it is to avoid the allergens in food. Nevertheless, it must be said that this is a predisposition that may or may not manifest itself at all.

There is also a so-called “hygiene hypothesis” that can help build a child’s immunity: children whose parents tend to exaggerate about personal hygiene and do not let their children come into contact with microbes – are more prone to allergies. Children’s immunity is best developed by staying outside, in nature or in the village, where they can encounter various stimuli.

Intolerance occurs with increased intestinal permeability, which can also be caused by stress, antibiotics, celiac disease, or histamine intolerance. Therefore, it is good to exclude them by doing a blood test for histamine and celiac disease. With increased intestinal permeability, larger parts of food can pass through the intestine, so the body perceives those as a foreign substance and starts fighting them with IgG antibodies – here we are talking about food intolerance (these are the antibodies that are monitored by testing).


Which foods should you watch out for?

If you have experienced an immediate reaction after eating certain foods – allergies – you might know that one of the most common triggers is whey and casein, found in cow’s milk. Eggs and wheat can also cause significant problems, as well as honey, nuts, peanuts, and even soy.

Other allergens include fish and crustaceans, pine, mustard, sesame, and celery. If you are planning to consume seafood on your vacation, you could prevent an unexpected allergic reaction by testing yourself for food intolerances beforehand.

Many intolerant foods are identical to those that also cause allergies: milk, eggs, cereals, yeast, seafood, nuts, and legumes. More and more people suffer from various types of indigestion or allergic reactions on their face, such as itching or swelling. Unfortunately, better or more advanced types of testing we have today cannot improve this – they can only help us understand better where the cause is and how we can deal with it.