If you always feel ill after eating a certain food, you probably attribute it to a food allergy. But are you actually allergic to the food? As it turns out, it is more likely to be a food intolerance. Although the symptoms have some similarities, food allergies and food intolerance are actually two different conditions with separate causes.
A food allergy indicates that the immune system is attacking a protein in the food that it mistakenly identifies as harmful. The symptoms are wide-ranging, affecting the digestive system, the respiratory system, and the circulatory system.
Meanwhile, a food intolerance is usually accompanied by less severe symptoms, concentrated on the digestive system. These symptoms are not caused by the immune system reacting to the food. Possible causes include absence of an enzyme needed to digest the food – such as the case with lactose intolerance – or sensitivity to an additive in the food, such as artificial colors or MSG. Some doctors consider both irritable bowel syndrome and Celiac disease to be food intolerances.
Although both allergies and intolerances cause similar symptoms, it is important to determine which you are dealing with. See your doctor for testing to determine whether you have a food allergy or an intolerance. Severe food allergies can be life-threatening. Those with a true food allergy should not ingest even a small amount of the food. On the other hand, those with a food intolerance may be able to consume small portions of the food without experiencing ill effects. In addition, there may be ways to prevent a reaction caused by a food intolerance, such as taking lactase enzyme pills like Lactaid if you are lactose intolerant. If you have a true food allergy, there is no comparable way to prevent a reaction.