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There’s nothing like getting together with friends and family to enjoy one of your favorite meals.

Whether it be burgers, hot dogs, chicken, or a plant-based meal, few things are more satisfying than settling down to sink your teeth into a treat to satisfy your craving. 

Eating the food is half the battle (and the best part, we might add) but it’s exactly that – half.

The next thing you know, you’re in discomfort on the couch, feeling like something is wrong – or having to excuse yourself from the social fun for reasons that are often hard to explain. For others, it’s the concerned anticipation of how bad they may feel in the coming hours or days as their meal works its way through their system. 

You COULD have a food intolerance, or even food allergies. But how do you know if that’s really it? Which is which? What’s the difference between a food allergy vs intolerance? And what can you do to make sure you never experience this discomfort again?

Luckily, we’ve taken the guesswork out of things for you. So sit back and relax with your favorite food while we explore the world of food sensitivities. 

Food Allergies vs. Food Intolerance: What’s the Difference?

So, you now find yourself in a world of total discomfort, wondering how on earth you ended up this way. What’s next?

Hopefully you’re never in this situation, but if you are, it’s helpful to know the big differences between food allergies and food intolerance.

Of course, the only way you can really know what’s affecting you for sure is by visiting a doctor or working together with a licensed nutrition coach to get to the bottom of the bowl, or in this case the root of your illness (pardon the food puns, we couldn’t resist).  

So then, let’s get into the basics.

Food Allergies

If you’re one of the unlucky readers dealing with food allergies, take solace in the fact that your struggle isn’t alone! As a matter of fact, food allergies are on the rise – researchers estimate that nearly 32 million Americans suffer from some type of food allergy, and that number has increased by more than 50 percent among children during the last decade plus.  

Food allergies cause an immune system reaction that will affect numerous organs throughout your body. Most with food allergies cannot tolerate even a small amount of the food in question. This can be one way to distinguish between a food allergy vs intolerance. Of course, this comes along with a whole host of symptoms, including:

  • Tingling or itching in the mouth
  • Hives and/or itching
  • Swelling of the lips, face, and tongue
  • Wheezing accompanied by congestion
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

In many cases, food allergies can be life-threatening, and symptoms are usually quick to occur – typically within a few minutes or hours. 

Every three minutes, food allergies result in a trip to the emergency room for some unfortunate patients. If you suspect you’re feeling the effects of a food allergy, ESPECIALLY if it hasn’t yet been diagnosed, you should seek medical attention immediately

Food Intolerance 

Food intolerance is a different type of problem entirely, but is often confused for a food allergy. 

Approximately 15 to 20 percent of the population deals with some sort of food intolerance, but that number can jump to as high as 50 percent in people that are already dealing with gastrointestinal issues such as irritable bowel syndrome. 

Food intolerance vs. food allergies differ in a couple of ways. First, a food intolerance doesn’t necessarily mean your former favorite is off limits entirely. In fact, you may even be able to eat small amounts of the food without encountering any problems – go ahead and enjoy your dessert, but only in moderation. 

People suffering from food intolerance may also be able to prevent reactions entirely. For example, someone dealing with lactose intolerance can usually take some Lactaid before a dairy-heavy meal to make sure they aren’t suffering after the fact. (However, many people who choose to avoid dairy entirely experience a host of benefits.) 

The confusion comes when encountering symptoms, as food intolerance symptoms also largely impact the respiratory, skin, and digestive systems, including:

  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Rashes
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Digestive pain
  • Flushing of the skin

While most of these symptoms go away on their own, they can be extremely uncomfortable in the interim. It’s important to schedule an appointment with your doctor, or a consultation with a nutrition coach to figure out just what your body doesn’t agree with. 

What’s Causing All This?

Chances are you’ve probably been on the receiving end of one or more of these unpleasant symptoms in your lifetime. The question is – why?

The broad answer here is inflammation, the all-too-familiar root of many problems, but the truth is a bit more complicated than that. 

Inflammation in and of itself is a healthy response by the body to tissue damage. The problem occurs when dealing with constant inflammation, to the point where it eventually becomes an autoimmune issue. 

So, what’s causing all this?

Standard American Diet 

The number one cause? Your diet! You are what you eat, after all. 

The Standard American Diet is abbreviated as SAD, and for good reason! 

As delicious as so many of the delicacies here at home are, many of them can cause your body to have adverse reactions like food allergies or food intolerance.  

The SAD diet is extremely nutrient deficient – it’s high in calories and low on “real food.” In fact, much of what many of us put into our bodies on a regular basis are loaded with preservatives, additives, and toxins. 

Prescription Drugs 

Unfortunately, many drugs people take for unrelated reasons may actually impact their food intolerances and allergies alike. The most common of these are antibiotics. 

Why? Because antibiotics do a good job of killing pretty much everything that might be ailing you. The other side of that equation, though, is that they also do a great job at annihilating all of the healthy bacteria (aka probiotics) in your gut. 

That’s right, that harmless little Z-pack your doctor prescribed you isn’t so harmless after all! 

Stress

Ah stress – who amongst us isn’t stressed to one degree or another?

Stress impacts nearly EVERYTHING relating to your well-being, so it should come as no surprise that it also does a number on your food sensitivities. 

Prolonged stress causes thinning of the lining in your stomach, which leads to immune system dysfunction, which can eventually lead to leaky gut. 

In short, find healthy ways to de-stress that work for you and your schedule – your digestive system will thank you for it. 

What Can You Do?

Luckily, it isn’t all gloom and doom when it comes to eating. There’s a few things you can consider to help get your digestive tract back on the right …well, track. 

An Elimination Provocation Diet is an extremely effective method when done properly. However, it’s difficult to do on your own. Your best bet is to consult with a nutrition coach to eliminate foods and then gradually reincorporate them into your diet. 

A professionally administered test is also useful in figuring out just what it is that’s bothering you. Now, we are NOT talking about those gimmicky boxes that anyone can buy online. These tests aren’t diagnostic, and are extremely unreliable for a number of reasons. 

The best route is to consult a doctor or nutritional coach that will administer a professional test, conducted in private research facilities. This allows for the most accurate result, as well as more thorough testing between both raw and cooked foods. 

You can also simply go gluten-free or dairy-free, but without knowing exactly what it is that’s at work, it’s tough to generalize the solution. As always, the BEST way to get to the root of the problem is to schedule a consultation with a licensed, professional nutritional coach that will work with you towards your goals.