Food allergy vs food intolerance: which is more dangerous?

Categories: allergen-free

According to, 32 million Americans have food allergies, where 1 of every 13 is a child. Food allergies have greatly changed celebrations and lunches at schools as well as food handling in other public places over the past few years. But even if you have escaped food allergies, this doesn’t mean you should eat whatever you want. You need to know the facts about a food allergy vs food intolerance. Then you may want to be even more mindful of what you eat.

Defining food allergy vs food intolerance

When you experience a food allergy, your immune system sees the food as an enemy and launches an attack on it with an antibody. This can result in hives, an itchy throat, difficulty breathing or in severe cases, anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening.

A food intolerance occurs in your digestive system when you can’t properly digest the food, due either to lack of enzymes or a sensitivity to additives and chemicals in the food. Symptoms can take longer to surface and can be more subtle – such as congestion, headaches, stomach pain, joint pain or irritability, just to name a few.

Understanding why food tolerance could be more dangerous than a food allergy

Because your body reacts to a food allergen immediately, it’s difficult to ignore or mistake the symptoms as something else.

But because your symptoms can be subtle or ambiguous with a food intolerance,:

  • you could suffer from a food tolerance for years before realizing it, overworking and weakening your body, slowly but steadily.
  • if damage has set in over many years, that damage is harder to undo.
  • your damaged immune system can make you more vulnerable to other sicknesses, and it can cause loads of other issues – even asthma, hyperactivity or skin issues – to be more extreme.
food allergy vs food intolerance headache
Photo by Mikael Blomkvist

So with a food intolerance, you could generally be feeling OK, with a little nagging chronic symptom – like outdoor allergies or headaches – and simply chalking it up to allergies or weather patterns. But if you linked those outdoor allergy symptoms or headaches to a food, you could find relief from those symptoms and give your body time to heal by avoiding that food for a while.

How can you diagnose a potential food intolerance?

Of course, you can get the typical IgE test for food allergies. Or if you request, the physician might do the IgG test, which is more accurate for determining food intolerances, in addition to allergies. But these tests are not as reliable as it is to simply listen to your body.

If you suspect a food intolerance, don’t be discouraged or afraid you’ll have to give up that food forever. Instead:

  1. Eliminate the suspect food(s) for 3 weeks.
  2. Add one food back in to your diet at a time, eating a reasonable amount of it in small doses over 1-2 days. Wait 3 days before reintroducing another new food. Record any symptoms in a food journal (this can simply be a notebook tracking the right data).
  3. If you don’t notice any symptoms, try adding the food back into your rotation moderately. If you do have symptoms, avoid that food and find a replacement for it if needed. Just search online for recipes or foods without your culprit. Also research alternate names for that culprit and make sure it’s not in any of your other cosmetic products (like yellow 5 = tartrazine).

Below is a food journal and list of common symptom-causing foods I compiled from various resources for my book, Digested – eating healthier made easier 3 ways. Some of the symptoms may surprise you!

food allergy vs food intolerance food journal

To recap, when considering food allergy vs food intolerance, the allergy is actually easier to detect. But if you have chronic symptoms of any sort, take a closer look at the foods you’re eating. You could potentially get relief, give your body a chance to heal and feel better than you have in a long time!

*This blog is intended for use as a source of information and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. 

Related Post

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *