Food Allergy vs Intolerance – what's the difference?

Jan 30, 2016


The term food allergy is often confused with food intolerance. It is important to highlight that food allergy is only one of the many possible reasons for food intolerance.

Food intolerance is defined as a condition in which harmful effects occur after eating a food or cooking ingredient.

Genuine food allergy occurs when there is a specific immune reaction in the body in response to the ingestion of a certain food. Allergies manifest themselves in a group, so that people that are allergic to certain foods may also be allergic to other environmental factors such as dust, animal hair or pollen.

The cause of food allergies is related to the production by the body of a kind of allergen substance called antibodies.

Although many people suffer from food intolerance, food allergies are less common. With a real food allergy, the immune system produces antibodies and histamine in response to the specific food.

Any food may cause an allergic reaction, but only a few are the main culprits. The most common food allergies in children are to:

  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Peanuts
  • Seafood (shrimps, crab, lobster, snails, clams)
  • Soy
  • Nuts
  • Wheat

A food allergy often starts in childhood, but it can begin at any age. Fortunately, many children outgrow their allergies to milk, soy, eggs and wheat by 5 years of age if they avoid the consumption of these foods when they are little. Allergies to peanuts, nuts and seafood tend to be life-long.

In older children and adults, the most common allergies are to:

  • Fish
  • Peanuts
  • Seafood
  • Nuts

Symptoms usually begin immediately or within two hours after eating. Rarely symptoms may begin hours after eating the food causing the allergy.

The only proven treatment for food allergy is avoidance of the food. If you suspect that you or your child has a food allergy, you should consult with an allergist.