Food Intolerance Vs. Allergy: What’s the Difference?

The FoodLama

The FoodLama

4 min read



It seems like every time you want to throw a party or have guests for dinner, someone has a food allergy. You need to be careful about and pay some attention to the types of biscuits and crisps you set out or the meal you prepare. 

Two of the major allergies that you hear about most relate to dairy and gluten. However, one thing you might not realise is that most people unknowingly use the terms “food allergy” and “food intolerance interchangeably”, but there’s a big difference between them. 

As you prepare food or offer snacks to your party or dinner guests, you want everyone to enjoy them. You definitely don’t want someone having an allergic reaction to your gift of hospitality. We put together this simple guide to help you better understand the differences between a food allergy and intolerance:

What Is Food Intolerance? 

When you have a food intolerance, it’s difficult or challenging for your body to properly digest the food item. As a result, your body causes you to experience an unpleasantness when you consumer food you cannot tolerate. Symptoms that follow your consumption of such foods can vary from severe to mild with some of the most common ones including:

  • Build up of excess gas
  • Bloating
  • Generally not feeling well
  • Runny nose
  • Stomach pains that can be mild or extremely painful
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Diarrhea

4 Signs You Have a Caffeine Intolerance

When it comes to the symptoms and their severity with food intolerance, it’s directly related to how much you eat of the food that your digestive system is intolerant to. For example, a favorite snack of ours that we recommend as a gluten-free alternative is Proper Chips.

Depending on how much of the food item that you ate, you might experience symptoms for a few hours or a couple of days. In some cases, people have food intolerances that they are very well aware of, but because they enjoy such food so much, they still opt to eat it anyway and endure the accompanying symptoms. Not our favorite recommendation for anyone but inasmuch as you are informed about your intolerances and attendant inconveniences, you should be fine.

However, with a food allergy, choosing to consume a food you are allergic to isn’t an option for you, because it’s a much more serious condition, and can be sometimes life-threatening. 

What Is a Food Allergy?

A food allergy is when the body’s immune system reacts in an unusual manner to specific food and food ingredients. Although allergic reactions are often mild, they can be much more serious than food intolerance reactions. Symptoms of a food allergy can affect different areas of the body at the same time as the response comes from your body’s immune system. While some symptoms can be similar to that of food intolerance, they can also be much more severe. 

The most common food allergies include:

  • Milk
  • Egg
  • Peanut
  • Tree nuts
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Fish
  • Shellfish

Allergies 101: Can Adults Develop a Peanut Allergy?

Thankfully with food allergies, having a good knowledge about substitutes and alternatives is critical when shopping for you and your household. For instance, if someone in your family is allergic to tree nuts or wheat, a Creative Nature Free From Brownie mix is a wonderful option for desserts.

A severe enough food allergy can lead to death if the person goes into anaphylactic shock and can’t breathe. Here are a few signs of anaphylactic shock:

  • Hives, paleness, and other skin reactions
  • A tingling feeling in the scalp, mouth, feet, or hands
  • Feeling flushed or too warm
  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Swelling of the lips or tongue
  • Rapid or weak pulse

Many people with food allergies travel with an EpiPen to treat anaphylactic shock. If you or someone else shows symptoms of an allergic reaction to food, it’s best to call emergency services. 

What Are the Most Common Differences Between Food Allergies and Intolerance? 

Since a food allergy can present with life-threatening symptoms, you need to know the main differences between an allergy and an intolerance. Here are a few of the major differences:

  • With food intolerance, the severity of your symptoms directly relates to the amount of food you ate. However, you only need to ingest a small amount of food you’re allergic to for a severe reaction. 
  • Food intolerance is an issue with the digestive organs while an allergy is an issue with your immune system. 
  • Symptoms of a food allergy begin almost as soon as the food is eaten. It can take several hours for symptoms of food tolerance to begin. 
  • A food allergy can become a life-threatening illness, while an intolerance doesn’t usually cause such a reaction. 

Milk Allergy Vs. Lactose Intolerance provides an example of a clear difference between food allergy and intolerance. It is essential to understand the difference between food allergies and intolerance, especially if you are the one responsible for shopping for your household, as you might have diverse allergies and intolerances in your household which you need to accommodate. For instance, you might even have a family member that doesn’t have an intolerance or allergy but prefers a vegan diet (by the way, we recommend Boundless Nuts & Seeds as a great source of protein snacking for vegans). You have to therefore ensure that you are able to find food that works for all which is where a platform like Foodlama becomes a useful assistant.

Online grocery sites don’t cater well to people who shop with dietary restrictions or preferences. Tedious reading of individual ingredients list of products and poor recommendations leaves consumers tired, frustrated, and stuck with what they are used to. Foodlama helps you easily discover what you or your household can or can’t have at your favorite grocers and makes the best substitute recommendations for what you cannot have. You can learn more about Foodlama here.

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