Food Allergies vs. Intolerances


There is a difference!

Do you know the deal with these two terms? There is a lot of confusion between the two, so it’s my job to educate you, especially because someone’s life could be on the line!

Food Allergies

When your immune system reacts to a substance in the food you eat (most likely a protein) and seen as a threat. This reaction then starts to affect other organs in the body. It depends on the person, but symptoms could be super mild (itchy eyes, running nose) all the way to life-threatening and it can all happen in a matter of moments.

Food allergy symptoms will happen every time you eat the food and sometimes it doesn’t matter the amount.

“More than 170 foods are known to cause food allergies. However, eight foods account for 90 percent of all food-allergic reactions in Americans” (

What are the 8 most common food allergens, you ask?

  1. Eggs
  2. Milk
  3. Wheat
  4. Soy
  5. Peanuts
  6. Tree nuts (walnuts, cashews)
  7. Shellfish (crab, shrimp, lobster)
  8. Fish (salmon, cod, tilapia)

Food Intolerances

It is NOT the same! Being intolerant of a food means you cannot digest a certain food correctly. So if you have issues (by issues I mean diarrhea, bloating, upset stomach) when you eat gluten products, please don’t diagnose yourself with a gluten allergy – only an intolerance. I’m sure anyone with an actual wheat allergy would appreciate it 🙂

These unpleasant symptoms are usually not long-lasting and are not life threatening. Usually, with a food intolerance, you can eat a small portion of that specific food and with no effect to you. With an allergy, even the slightest amount of an allergen can cause a reaction. Causes of food intolerances vary: IBS, lacking digestive enzymes, sensitivity to food additives, food poisoning or even stress can cause intolerances.

Common food intolerances:

  • lactose
  • sulfites/food additives
  • gluten

Eating With Food Allergies or Intolerances

You can still eat (and eat well!) with food allergies or intolerances. It’s all about educating yourself.

  • Make sure you are reading labels and ingredient lists.
  • The FDA is with you! Did you know that it is mandated that manufacturers must list any of the 8 major allergens on the ingredient list? You can rest assured that if eggs are in the product, it will be listed in the list, right underneath the Nutrition Facts Food Label.
  • With that being said, make sure you stay up to date on label reading. Food manufacturers can change ingredients. It will be listed on the ingredient list, but make sure you check that milk isn’t added with their newest recipe change.
  • Talk to and RDN! Registered Dietitian Nutritionists can help steer you in the right directions when trying to avoid certain allergens. Allergy Centers are all over the country and they do allergy therapy to help/attempt to tolerate allergies
  • Educate! If you or a family member has a major allergy – make sure it’s known. Schools, doctors offices, daycares, workplaces – they should all be aware of any allergy so its presence can be downplayed. You will see a lot of day care centers and schools that have strict “no peanut” policies due to the rise in severe, light threatening peanut allergies in children.