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Food Allergy Vs. Food Intolerance

Physical reactions to certain foods are very frequent, but most are caused by food intolerance rather than a food allergy. Many people often confuse food intolerance with food allergy since food intolerance can cause some of the same signs and symptoms as a food allergy… So what’s the difference?

Food allergy
Food allergy causes an immune system response, which affects many organs within the body. These reactions can contrast from moderate symptoms, like developing a body rash or hives to critical symptoms, such as anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening condition caused by a severe reaction of the immune system that needs to be treated right away. This will cause you to go into distress. Further symptoms of food allergies include:

•Swelling of feet, hands, mouth or tongue
•Tingling of face, tongue or lips
•Fainting
•Rapid pulse or arrhythmia
•Wheezing or problem in breathing
•Blurred vision

Food intolerance
Food intolerance usually has less serious symptoms and is related to the gastrointestinal tract. The most common food intolerances are lactose intolerance and food additive intolerances, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG). Food intolerances with digestive tract symptoms include:

•Nausea
•Vomiting
•Excess gas
•No bloody diarrhea
•Abdominal bloating
•Abdominal pain or cramping

Tips for food intolerance
Tests can verify food intolerance for certain foods or substances. Yet, for many foods, there is no test. Try keeping a journal of what you eat, and monitor the symptoms so you will avoid consuming these foods in the future. Since dairy products contain phosphorus, calcium, and other important minerals and vitamins, lactose avoidance is inadvisable unless the intolerance has been confirmed with testing. In this case, taking a multivitamin or additional calcium and vitamin D supplementation is recommended.

Christelle Bedrossian
Dietitian-Nutritionist
Beirut, Lebanon

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Dietitian Christelle Bedrossian