Allergic vs. Intolerant

Food intolerances and food allergies – both mean you should steer clear of the irritant, but what’s the difference between the two? Here, we break it down.

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Difference 1: The part of your body that reacts.

Allergy2A food allergy is an immune system response to a certain food. When someone has a food allergy, the body mistakes a food ingredient as an invader and creates antibodies to fight it, resulting in an allergic reaction.

A food intolerance is a digestive system response to a certain food. It occurs when a food irritates the digestive system or can’t be properly digested. Sometimes, a food intolerance is called a “sensitivity.”  


Difference 2: The amount of food it takes to cause symptoms.  

If you have a food allergy, you’ll have symptoms any time you consume the offending food, even if it’s a small amount. Sometimes allergic reactions are mild, but that doesn’t mean they always are. For some people, eating even the tiniest bit of the food can cause anaphylaxis – a potentially life-threatening reaction.

If you have an intolerance, you may not have symptoms unless you consume a lot of the food or consume it frequently. Intolerances are often found through trial and error, and they are treated by avoiding or reducing your intake of the irritant. In most cases, symptoms will clear after you stop eating the offending foods.


Difference 3: The type of symptoms you experience.

While both issues can cause nausea, stomach pain, or diarrhea, certain symptoms typically won’t overlap.

If the issue is food allergies, symptoms may include rash or hives, itchy skin, shortness of breath, chest pain, a drop in blood pressure, or swelling of the airways. Food allergy symptoms usually come on suddenly. 

If the issue is food intolerance, symptoms may include gas, cramps, bloating, heartburn, headaches, or even irritability and low mood. In general, food intolerance symptoms are less serious and they come on gradually. 


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