Food intolerances and food allergies: approaches to diagnosis, therapy, and prevention


In the last few years, people have started being more conscious about what they put on their plates. We have started to recognize the need to optimize our diets to sustain our general well-being. Each year 200,000 Americans require emergency medical care for allergic reactions to food.

Many people have faced allergic reactions to certain foods, or have experienced general malaise after consuming specific ingredients. Both food intolerances and allergies start with an inflammatory action throughout the body. These can later develop into full-blown allergies or your body can start countering this with a severe immune response.

But there are several ways to lessen the potential allergies or intolerances by controlling your diet. People often use these terms interchangeably, as the symptoms are quite similar for both. In this article, we will take a look at how to diagnose the actual problem and the various prevention methods you can take.

Food Allergy & Food Intolerance: Are Both of These Same?

The terms “Food Intolerance” and “Food Allergies” are often confused by many people. The factors characterizing both diseases are very similar, so it comes down to the immune response that your body has to certain foods.

Most of the time, food allergies are defined as the immunological response by the body to certain food antigens. However, food intolerances don’t involve the immune system as far as we know and don’t cause Anaphylaxis (severe allergic reactions) in the body.

The substances present in the food you eat can cause issues with your digestive system, giving rise to food intolerances. This can be due to a lack of certain enzymes or reactions to specific chemicals in the food.

The best way to differentiate between these two terms is to get yourself professionally diagnosed for allergens. If any specific allergens are not found, then the diagnosis usually points towards food intolerances.

Symptoms of Food Intolerance

In most cases, food intolerance shows up soon after consumption of certain foods. The afflicted person initially faces discomfort, but things can get worse in proportion to the amount of food consumed. Common symptoms of food intolerance can present themselves in the form of:

  • Headaches
  • Bloating of the stomach
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased intensity of Migraines
  • Runny nose
  • Gastric Disorders
  • Breathing Problems

The symptoms of food intolerances may take 12 to 24 hours to show up, while some of them are immediate. In case you face any of these symptoms after consuming your favorite foods, it is generally a good idea to get yourself diagnosed professionally.

If you regularly experience bloating and abdominal discomfort after eating, then you can try the home food sensitivity kits. If you are interested, you can learn more in this article. These simple at-home tests use a small sample of your blood, or saliva to determine what foods are causing your reactions.

Symptoms of Food Allergies

Normally, the symptoms of food allergies present themselves much faster than food intolerances. The effects are almost instantaneous and can worsen depending upon the time passed and the amount of the antigen in the food that has been consumed. Check yourself for these symptoms of food allergies:

  • Eczema (skin rashes) or formation of inflammation of the skin
  • Localized swelling of different body parts
  • Abdominal discomfort and cramps
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Wheezing or runny nose
  • Sensations of itching or burning on the skin
  • Asthma or general breathing problems depending upon the intensity.

Food allergies can be life-threatening in a few cases. Within moments of exposure to the allergen, the patient can require urgent medical care. So, it is always better to get yourself checked at the earliest if you think you have any kind of allergies.

Causes of Food Allergies & How They Are Diagnosed

In theory, every food out there can cause allergic reactions in the body depending on the individual. But some foods are seen to be much more responsible than others. Here are some of the common foods that many people associate with their allergies:

  • Dairy-based products
  • Wheat
  • Soy and Peanuts
  • Fish and Shellfish (Lobster, Crab, Prawn)
  • Fruits like cherries, plums, apricots, peaches

Diagnosis of Allergens

Till now, there is no perfect test that can give guaranteed results to confirm or disregard any food allergy. But there are indeed several factors that can give your doctor a good idea before making a diagnosis. Here are a few of the factors your doctor takes into consideration to rule out or confirm a food allergy:

  • A Skin Test – In this procedure, the skin is pricked with trace amounts of the suspected allergen to check if there are any reactions or raised bumps.
  • Family History of allergies – Allergies are often passed down generations, and it is a good idea to verify this.
  • A blood test – With a blood test, the doctor can measure the allergy-related antibodies called immunoglobin E (IgE).
  • Food Elimination Diet – You may be asked to refrain from the suspected allergen for a few weeks, and then slowly add them back to your diet to narrow down the actual allergy-causing food.

Causes of Food Intolerance

It is still often unclear to medical professionals, why some people are sensitive to certain foods. But generally, food intolerances arise when the digestive system is not able to process a specific food. The reasons for this could be due to reactions with different chemicals or a lack of digestive enzymes in the body. There are many common food tolerances and a few of them are listed below:

  • Lactose Intolerance – In this case, the body lacks the enzyme that is essential to digest the lactose present in milk products. The enzyme Lactase, present in the gut breaks down the lactose in milk so that the body can absorb it.
  • Fructose Intolerance – Fructose is mostly present in vegetables, fruits, and honey. In the case of fructose intolerance, the body lacks a specific protein that enables it to absorb the sugar in the intestine.
  • Gluten Intolerance – Gluten is commonly found in wheat, barley, rye, and other grains. It is also considered to be associated with other non-digestive symptoms that are experienced once gluten is consumed.
  • Salicylate Intolerance – This compound is mostly found in plants, fruits, herbs, spices, and many other plant-based foods. It can also be found in toothpaste, candies, and more.

Prevention of Food Intolerance & Food Allergy

Even with increasing cases of both food allergies and intolerances, there are several steps you can take to prevent the potential to develop these problems. Here are a few changes that you can make to your lifestyle and diet to avoid these sensitivities in the future:

  • Curb Genetically Modified Foods from Your Diet

Genetically modified foods are becoming more common every day. With food is genetically modified, there is a potential to increase the number of immunologically active proteins. Also, genetically modifying foods can introduce new allergens.

Some common foods that are highly genetically modified include wheat, corn, soy, and a few other grains. It is always a good idea to reduce the consumption of these foods and look for “non-GMO” labels before buying your food.

  • Don’t Stick to a Single Diet

It is normal to eat the same food every day, but this repetition can affect your gut health and give rise to a few food intolerances and allergies. Eating less varied foods can build up immunological responses to certain products, as the intake increases day by day.

Also, most common foods are mass-produced in factories that process other nuts and allergy-causing products. You should plan ahead for what you buy and look at the labels before making a purchase.

  • Focus on Your Digestive Well-Being

Maintaining your digestive health is a critical step to prevent food intolerances and a few allergies. You can start by taking probiotics to help increase the good bacteria present in the digestive system. Also, it is a good idea to have apple cider vinegar before your meals to help with gut health. Staying hydrated is also equally important and should not be ignored.

  • Switch to Organic Foods

Eating mass-produced foods can introduce you to pesticides, and other chemicals used to maintain the huge crops. Organically grown food is sometimes a little more expensive, but due to the negligible amount of pesticides used, it is often healthier and has a much less chance of triggering food allergies and intolerances.