Find Out if You Have a Food Sensitivity

Monday, April 15, 2013

Learn how to tell the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance, and how to manage them.

A loaf of wheat bread and stalks of wheat

Wondering if you have a food sensitivity? The term “food sensitivity” encompasses both food allergies and food intolerances, and it has received a great deal of attention in recent years. Here is a brief description of the two conditions.

Food Allergies

Food allergies occur when your body mounts an immune response to something that you ate. The body treats a certain part of the food item (often a protein) as a foreign invader, and the immune system overreacts in an attempt to fight off the attack. Signs and symptoms of food allergies include:

  • Wheezing or nasal congestion
  • Rash, hives or itching
  • Tingling or swelling of the tongue, lips or throat
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • In serious cases, anaphylactic shock

Food Intolerance

A food intolerance is an adverse food reaction that does not involve the immune system. A person may be intolerant of milk not because of an allergy to a milk protein, but because he or she cannot digest the lactose in the milk. Signs and symptoms of food intolerance vary greatly depending on what is causing the intolerance, but may include:

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or abdominal pain
  • Headaches or migraine headaches
  • Hives, rash or itching
  • Asthma
  • Flushing

Some of the symptoms of food allergy and food intolerance overlap, making it difficult to distinguish between the two conditions. For a diagnosis and management options, consult a health care professional such as a licensed nutritionist or primary care doctor. They can provide various allergy tests to determine if the immune system is involved and determine if the symptoms are related to an allergy or intolerance. For more information, visit Food Allergy Research & Education at www.foodallergy.org.

By Ashley Saffle, Bastyr dietetic intern, and Debra Boutin, MS, RD, chair and dietetic internship director, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University.

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