How to tell the difference between a food intolerance and an allergy

There is an increasing recognition of allergies in the food industry; plenty of restaurants, supermarkets and suppliers are now providing an ever-growing variety of product substitutions for allergy sufferers.

But it seems that a large number of people are mistakenly claiming to have a food allergy when it may actually be a food intolerance.

So what is the difference between an allergy and an intolerance?

Occasionally, the symptoms of food intolerance may resemble those of food allergies, which is why the two are often confused.

The difference, though, is that food intolerance does not involve the immune system.

This means that an intolerance will not cause anaphylaxis – a severe allergic reaction – nor will it show up during allergy testing.

A food allergy occurs when the immune system responds to something harmless (such as foods, pollens or animal hair) as if that substance were toxic.

An intolerance, on the other hand, is a chemical reaction that occurs after some people eat or drink certain foods.

And even though the symptoms may appear similar, one of the main differences is that reactions to a food allergy usually occur instantaneously, while food intolerance symptoms may not become obvious for 12 to 24 hours.

In most cases, too, reactions to a food intolerance may be related to the amount of food consumed, and once a certain threshold (which varies from person to person) is reached, the symptoms may appear.

In fact, food intolerance is still a murky area that can be difficult to understand, even for medical professionals; in some circumstances, it may actually be substances within the food that can cause symptoms such as migraine headaches, rashes, upset stomachs or irritable bowel.

If you believe you may suffer from a food allergy, it is important to have it professionally diagnosed and confirmed by a medical professional.

If you require a gluten-, egg-, or dairy-free diet, we have plenty of delicious recipes that will make meal times a little bit tastier. Check out our vegan earl grey and chocolate cheesecake or our gluten-free pizza dough, or click through the gallery below for even more allergy-friendly recipes.

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