Mar 5, 2023

Food Allergies vs. Food Sensitivities

Understanding the Difference

Food allergies and food sensitivities are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but they actually refer to two different types of reactions that the body can have to certain foods. Understanding the difference between food allergies and food sensitivities is important, as the treatment and management of each condition can vary significantly. In this article, we'll explore the difference between food allergies and food sensitivities and discuss how to manage each condition.

Food Allergies

A food allergy is an immune system response to a particular food. When someone with a food allergy eats that food, their immune system perceives it as a threat and releases antibodies to fight it off. These antibodies cause the release of histamine and other chemicals, which can cause a range of symptoms, including:

  • Hives
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, and throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Anaphylaxis (a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction)

Food allergies are relatively common, affecting around 6% of children and 4% of adults in the United States. Common allergenic foods include peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, milk, eggs, soy, and wheat. Diagnosis of a food allergy typically involves a skin prick test, a blood test, or an oral food challenge.

Treatment for food allergies involves strict avoidance of the allergenic food. People with food allergies may also carry an epinephrine auto-injector (such as an EpiPen) to use in case of accidental exposure.

Food Sensitivities

A food sensitivity, also known as a food intolerance, is a non-immune system response to a particular food. This means that the body doesn't produce antibodies to fight off the food. Instead, the symptoms of a food sensitivity are caused by a problem with digesting or metabolizing the food. Food sensitivities can cause a range of symptoms, including:

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Skin rashes

Food sensitivities are more common than food allergies, affecting up to 20% of the population. Common foods that people are sensitive to include dairy products, gluten, and certain fruits and vegetables. Diagnosis of a food sensitivity can be more challenging than diagnosing a food allergy, as there is no specific test for food sensitivities. Instead, people with suspected food sensitivities may need to keep a food diary and undergo an elimination diet to identify the problematic food.

Treatment for food sensitivities involves avoiding the problematic food or reducing its intake. People with food sensitivities may also benefit from taking digestive enzymes or probiotics to improve their digestion and reduce symptoms.

In conclusion, while food allergies and food sensitivities may seem similar, they are two distinct conditions that require different approaches to management. If you suspect that you have a food allergy or food sensitivity, it's important to seek medical advice and get a proper diagnosis. With the right treatment and management, people with food allergies and food sensitivities can live healthy, fulfilling lives.

With Dishare, you'll never have to worry about food allergies or sensitivities. Make your profile, create your foodprint and you will never again have to worry what to order or where to dine out. 

Written by Lucía Suster, Nutritionist