What’s the difference between food allergy and food intolerance?

Food allergies and intolerances are often confused, as their symptoms can seem similar.  In fact, the two are quite different:

A food allergy involves the immune system, and happens when the body reacts to a protein in specific foods, which are usually harmless. Reactions are usually immediate and can occur after being exposed to very small amounts of the food.

The most common food allergies include eggs, peanuts, soy, milk, wheat, fish and shellfish.

Food allergies affect around one in 20 children, and two in 100 adults. Up to 10% of babies may suffer from food allergies, but most of these will grow out of the allergy early in life.

Food intolerance, on the other hand, is a chemical reaction, and does not involve the immune system.  They can be in response to some of the naturally occurring chemicals in food and to common food additives such as preservatives, artificial colours and flavourings. Reactions are dose dependent and different people will tolerate different amounts of any given chemical.

If you have a food allergy or intolerance, it may mean you eliminate certain foods from your diet. It’s important to make sure you are replacing these foods with other alternatives, so that you’re not missing out on any important nutrients.

It is essential that food allergy or intolerance be properly diagnosed and that an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) is consulted in the development of a healthy eating plan.