There are two different kinds of food sensitivities – food allergy and food intolerance. Often times they are confused because they are both reactions to foods that we eat and some of the symptoms can be very similar. However, it’s worth taking a moment to distinguish their differences.
It is an immune system response – the body thinks that the food you ingested (most likely a protein in the food) is a harmful substance and it creates antibodies to defend against it. Symptoms depend on where the antibodies and histamine are released, and they can include rash or hives, nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea, itchy skin, shortness of breath, chest pain, swelling of the airway and even anaphylaxis.
Our intestines are designed to be impermeable to large protein molecules that our body may mistake as “invaders” and launch an “attack” – resulting in allergic reactions. Our diet, lifestyle and medications often times compromise the permeability of our digestive tract, creating what is known as the “leaky gut” syndrome. When the intestine becomes permeable to larger protein molecules, these molecules can get into our bloodstream and trigger an immune response.
Food allergies can be triggered by even a very small amount of food, and occurs every time the food is consumed. If you suffer from food allergy, you are most likely advised to avoid the trigger food altogether. However, if you work with a qualified professional, you may be able to resolve the root cause of the allergic reaction (e.g. leaky gut), allow time for the antibodies to clear up (usually 2 – 4 weeks), and then you may be able to ingest a small amount of the food every 3 to 4 days without triggering allergic reactions.
Peanuts, tree nuts (such as walnuts, pecans and almonds), shellfish, milk, eggs, soy products, and wheat are the most common triggers for food allergies. People who are allergic to aspirin can also be allergic to foods that contain salicylates – such as many fruits, vegetables, nuts, coffee, juices, beer, and wine.
It is a digestive system response – the digestive system is unable to properly digest some substance in the food, or the food irritates the digestive tract. Most symptoms of food intolerance are confined to the GI tract, including nausea, stomach pain, gas, cramps, bloating, vomiting, heartburn, and diarrhea, with the exception of headache and irritability or nervousness.
In most cases, food intolerance is caused by the lack of certain enzymes and the body becomes unable to digest certain substances in the food.
Food intolerance, in most cases, is dose related. For example, some people who are lactose intolerant can use milk in their coffee, eat a moderate amount of yogurt (in which some of the lactose is pre-digested by the probiotics) or hard aged cheese (which has a lower amount of lactose).
The most common food intolerance is lactose intolerance, in which the person is unable to digest dairy products due to the inability to produce the enzyme lactase. However, food intolerance can also be caused by chemicals such as food colorings and additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) or sulfites.