Allergies Vs Intolerances

The word allergy is sometimes used by people to describe the feeling of discomfort or pain after eating certain foods – when actually, this might be a response to an intolerance. There are some key differences between food allergies and food intolerances and it’s all about the body’s response.

In a nutshell: when you have a food allergy your immune system causes the reaction, whereas if you have a food intolerance the reaction is triggered by the digestive system.

Population studies in the UK using conventional testing procedures suggest that between 1 and 2 people in 100 (1-2%) have a food allergy that can be diagnosed reproducibly, whereas as many as 30 in 100 (20-30%) believe themselves to be allergic or intolerant to one or more foods.

British Nutrition Foundation
Food Intolerances

Food sensitivities and intolerances are more common than food allergies, according to the British Allergy Foundation. This is when your digestive tract can’t properly break down a food, which can cause a variety of symptoms such as gas, cramps, bloating, constipation and even diarrhoea. For example, lactose intolerance is when your body can’t break down lactose, a sugar found in dairy products.

The reason you may be intolerant to a food could be that you are lacking the enzymes needed to digest it. Common foods that people are intolerant to include onions, broccoli, and sprouts. Other common substances are food colouring and caffeine.

Food allergies

Your immune system is your body’s defence against invaders like bacteria, fungus, or the common cold virus. If you have a food allergy, your immune system identifies it as an invader, and reacts by producing masses of antibodies to fight it.

Symptoms of having a food allergy include skin reactions such as itching and swelling, digestive problems, difficulty breathing, dizziness, and in the worst cases even death.

The main foods that cause allergic reactions are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, and soybeans.

That concludes my brief overview of these two conditions. For more on this topic, visit the British Nutrition Foundation. If you have any questions about this post, or anything else on The Wellness Hub, please get in touch by sending an email to

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