What's the difference between food allergies and food intolerance?

An estimated 1-2% of people are estimated to have a food allergy, but many more have a food intolerance. Whilst it’s common to get the two confused, they’re actually caused in different ways and have different severity of the symptoms.

What are food allergies?

If you eat something you’re allergic to, your body incorrectly identifies it as a threat and releases antibodies to protect itself. These antibodies then attack the gut lining and cause an allergic response. Symptoms can include swelling face and tongue, a nettle like rash called ‘hives’, breathing problems, nausea and stomach pain.

An allergic reaction can occur very quickly in response to even a tiny amount of allergen. Common foods people are allergic to are peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish.

What’s food intolerance?

Now more commonly known as ‘Non Allergic Food Hypersensitivity’, food intolerance is where the body is unable to breakdown or digest food properly. Unlike an allergy, it can take hours for an adverse reaction to occur.

The symptoms of food intolerance can include migraines, bloating, aches and pains. Whilst not as serious as a food allergy, food intolerance can still adversely impact daily life when you don’t know what’s causing the symptoms.

If you suffer from any adverse symptoms after meals it’s a good idea to start keeping a food diary. Keep track of what you’re eating and whenever you get an adverse reaction after your meal. This enables you to then pinpoint what’s causing you problems and then you can adjust your diet accordingly.


Article contributed by All About Health – a resource of health advice and information that aims to spread awareness on the health services (such as weight management, stopping smoking and cholesterol screening) available in your local pharmacy.