food allergies vs. food intolerances

It took me a surprisingly long time for someone who was rather obsessed with food to figure out that I did, in fact, have an intolerance to gluten.  My entire life I had experienced stomach pains and would get bloated after eating even the tiniest meal.  My digestive system was incredibly weak, and I knew that if I were to enjoy the taste of a “normal” meal, my energy and body for a few hours to a few days following the meal would suffer.  I went to a gastrointestinal doctor, who advised that I probably had a sensitivity to gluten.  I did not buy it.  Or, at least, I did not want to.

Because for me, things not to eat are things that kill you — not something that made my face and stomach simply swell.  Turns out it wasn’t just allergies I needed to avoid.

Our bodies are all built differently, and that’s why it’s important to listen to the signs it sends you.  If you’ve cut out allergens to survive and are still in pain, try cutting out gluten, dairy, corn, soy, and/or eggs (the most common intolerances).  If you are still experiencing problems, try eating all natural and hormone/antibiotic-free, as our bodies surely were not made to digest chemicals and things that are not, well, food.

My heart does a tiny sigh when someone says they are “allergic” to dairy or gluten when they are simply have trouble digesting these things — there is a huge difference between the two.  It stems to our cells and what system is reacting to what we eat.

Here’s a little breakdown of the differences between food allergies and food intolerances, to help you get your mind and stomach right.

food intolerances

  • triggers a response from the digestive system to either proteins or sugars found in food item
  • reaction occurs anywhere from a few hours to a few days after ingestion
  • symptoms include bloating, flatulence, eczema, nausea, constipation or diarrhea, weight gain or weight loss, dehydrated skin, blemishes, and fatigue (amongst many — sounds fun, non?)
  • damage is done to the small intestine and digestive tract, as well as an overall loss of absorption of nutrients and energy — it is extremely unlikely to see an immediate death as a result of a food intolerance, but the long term damage of repeatedly eating foods you are sensitive to is tangible in overall health
  • treatments for food intolerances vary — for lactose intolerances, supplements of lactase exist to aid the body in naturally breaking down the sugar “lactose” that exists in milk.  For gluten or corn sensitivities, I’ve found that when I’ve “slipped” and am suffering, doing some yoga or getting some exercise strengthens my body’s system to more quickly alleviate the bloating and digestive discomfort
  • no cure has been proven for food intolerances, but many do claim that after eliminating the offending ingredients for a long period of time, returning to eating them is easier in moderation afterwards

food allergies

  • a response of the immune system to certain proteins found in food item
  • the most common reaction time to food allergies is immediate (your IgE antibodies react instantaneously), delayed reactions (T4 cells) occur hours to days later
  • symptoms include itching of the tongue and mouth, hives, burning of the throat, swelling of all body parts, vomiting, red skin, difficulty of breath, loss of consciousness, loss of motor function
  • damage is done to the immune system and very sadly if an allergy is severe, anaphylactic shock can lead to death
  • treatment involves avoiding food items containing allergen or cross-contamination of allergen, antihistamines for minor reactions (Claritin for non-drowsy, Benadryl for nighttime), an EpiPen for more severe anaphylactic reactions (this gives you time to get the hospital), hospitalization*
  • there is no proven cure for severe food allergies, but many doctors are playing with the use of small doses of the allergen to build up immunity to it

*if you, your child, or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, get them to the hospital as quickly as you can and if there is any antihistamine lying around the house give them the maximum recommended dosage immediately.  This actually saved my life!

5 thoughts on “food allergies vs. food intolerances

  1. Love this attitude. Yes, I stay away from food that come in boxes, bags, or cans. I shop around the perimeter of the store. And I’m married to a “gourmande,” who also loves to cook. Looking forward to reading more!

  2. Thank you so much for posting this! I become interested in your videos after discovering that I have a sensitive stomach. I have trouble digesting gluten, meat, and dairy. I have a hard time explaining this to people and you’ve done it so nicely! I love your videos! They are inspiring 🙂

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Karina, and I’m so glad they can help. It’s not easy having those issues, but life does get easier once you learn how to work around them. And it feels great.

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