Food Allergies, Sensitivities and Intolerances – What are the differences?
There is a common myth that food sensitivities, allergies and intolerances are all the same and the terms are often used interchangeably but there are very clear differences between allergies, intolerances and sensitivities. You, as a food consumer, should know the differences between all three in order to make better food choices and enjoy better health.
Food Allergies Food allergies are severe reactions that can even be life-threatening. The body releases a large amount of histamine and other chemicals which causes wheezing, swelling of the throat and can even lead to an anaphylactic reaction. Some people can die within a few minutes if not given the proper treatment, even if they ingest one molecule of food.
Food allergies affect 1 – 2% of the population and the most common allergenic foods are nuts, shellfish, or foods containing sulfites.
Food intolerances can sometimes be mistaken for food sensitivities. An example of a food intolerance is lactose intolerance.
A person with lactose intolerance lacks the ability to produce enough of the enzyme lactase in order to break down the milk sugar, lactose. As a result, the person develops bloating, gas, diarrhea, and other digestive symptoms. A food intolerance is dependent upon the amount ingested (a small amount may not produce symptoms), and an individual can ingest foods with lactose if the food contains a lactase-containing enzyme, or use a product in which the lactose is already broken down such as fermented foods (yogurt and some cheeses). If milk does not agree with you, substitutions are almond, hemp and coconut milk.
The difference between food intolerances and food allergies is that food intolerances do not involve the immune system.
Food Sensitivities/Delayed Food Allergy
Like food allergies, food sensitivities also cause the immune system to react.
When the offending food is consumed, your immune system triggers the release of antibodies (IgG, IgA, IgM). These antibodies attach to foreign substances so the immune system can destroy them. In addition, the immune system also releases over 300 different chemical mediators such as histamine, cytokines, prostaglandins, etc. to help destroy the offending substance.
Because the immune system is on attack the result is tissue inflammation which causes damage and leads to symptoms such as sinus pain, congestion, sore throat, joint pain, edema, “brain fog,” depression, insomnia, GI distress (gas, bloating, diarrhea, Irritable Bowel Syndrome), headaches including migraines, skin rashes, itchiness, etc.
Not only does sensitivity to certain foods cause unrelenting symptoms, but over time this can be detrimental to your immune system and will impair the body’s ability to fight illness and disease.
It can be very difficult to pin point a food sensitivity because the reaction of symptoms is delayed. When the offending food is consumed, symptoms may not appear for 45 minutes or up to three days. Because of this, food sensitivities can go undiagnosed or even misdiagnosed for many years and when addressed, the protocol only masks the symptoms instead of addressing the root cause.
Food sensitivities affect 20 to 30% of the population in children and adults.
The most common foods sensitivities are sugar, wheat, corn, soy, eggs, nightshades, dairy and sugar. There are also many types of chemicals that are put in processed and packaged foods that also have a high incidence of food sensitivity and I’ve highlighted a few below.
Nitrates and nitrites are mostly used to cure hams, corn beef, bacon, etc. Nitrate and nitrites provide a longer shelf life and when ingested can produce headaches, drowsiness and fatigue.
Sodium Sulfites are another chemical used in food as a preservative. Foods that contain sulfites are syrups, frozen apples, dried fruit, peeled potatoes, wine. Reactions can include migraines or headaches, diarrhea, nausea, skin rash, swelling and wheezing.
Food Colorings are a big contributor to hyperactivity especially in children. Other reactions include asthma, eczema, stomach issues, migraines and itching.
Food colorings can be identified on labels as
- Blue #1
- Blue #2
- Red #4
- Yellow #5
All these food colorings can be found in dairy products such as yogurt, ice cream, baked goods, puddings, cereals, macaroni and cheese.
Do I have a food sensitivity?
There are several ways you can find out if you have a food sensitivity:
- Elimination/Provocation Protocol
- Food Sensitivity Testing
The elimination/provocation protocol involves eliminating the major allergens (corn, soy, dairy, sugar, wheat, nightshades and eggs) for three weeks and then re-introducing those foods back into your diet in a very methodical and timely manner. Although it does take willpower and is a lot of work (and food preparation), it is the best and most accurate way to identify food sensitivities.
Food sensitivity testing is a blood test that analyzes up to 150 foods. As part of the test you receive a comprehensive report on foods you are most sensitive. The results categorize the foods by green, yellow and red. “Red” and “yellow” being the foods that you must eliminate from your diet and “green” which are foods you can continue eating.
In my personal experience and with clients, eliminating foods which cause you distress is a real eye opener. It can finally explain “unexplained” ailments and symptoms. If you are an athlete, it can increase endurance and performance because you have less aches and pains, more energy and stamina. Another benefit of eliminating those offending foods is the possibility of weight loss. Some people retain water and when eliminating those foods, the water bloat goes away. You feel lighter and so much better.
Once you have identified the foods you are sensitive, it is important to know how to read food labels. These days you practically have to be a scientist to understand what is in your food. It’s a shame that so many chemicals are in our foods and how negatively our body responds to what I call “Frankenfood.”
For example, gluten can be identified with various other names such as:
- Artificial flavoring, natural flavoring
- Caramel color
- Food starch*, gelatinized starch, modified starch, modified food starch, vegetable starch
- Glucose syrup
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)
- Monosodium glutamate, MSG
- Soy sauce, shoyu, tamari, teriyaki sauce
- Textured vegetable protein
- Vegetable gum
Sugar is also a major ingredient in processed and packaged food. Most of the time sugar can be identified on labels as having the suffix of “ose” but sugar can also be hidden under the names below.
- Cane Juice
- Beet sugar
- Buttered syrup
- Corn Syrup
Again, food sensitivities are tricky and very hard to pinpoint in comparison to a food allergy or intolerance. Again with an intolerance it is usually lactose and with an allergy the reaction is very immediate. Food sensitivities need investigation.
For questions on food sensitivity or if interested in the elimination/provocation protocol or food sensitivity testing, feel free to email me at email@example.com.