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Food Allergies vs Food Intolerance: What’s The Difference?

April 29, 2021 2 min read

The prevalence of food allergies has increased dramatically in the last decade affecting nearly six million children in the US. But food intolerances, also known as sensitivities, are much more common. 

Depending on the body’s response, it can be hard to decipher the difference between a food sensitivity and true food allergy. But understanding the key signs of each is essential in your little one’s overall health and nutritional development. 

What Are Food Allergies

When you have a true food allergy, your immune system causes the reaction. Your immune system targets the food protein as being harmful, and overreacts by producing antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies travel to cells that release chemicals, causing an allergic reaction. 

Food allergy reactions can be life threatening. It’s important if you suspect your child has a food allergy to contact their doctor immediately for further testing.

Common Food Allergies

Some foods are more likely to cause an allergic reaction than others. Here are the most common food allergies in babies to watch out for. 

What Are Food Intolerances

Often having a delayed response, food intolerances or sensitivities can be difficult to pinpoint unless you know what you are looking for. 

If you have a food sensitivity or intolerance, the reaction is triggered by the digestive system. It occurs when you are unable to properly breakdown the food. This could be due to enzyme deficiencies, sensitivity to food additives or reactions to naturally occurring chemicals in foods.

Symptoms of food sensitivity or intolerances will vary by individuals depending on the type of food eaten and amount eaten. Often, symptoms will include gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain or cramping, heartburn, and nausea.

Unlike food allergies which can be easier to diagnose, food sensitivities are much harder to isolate. A food elimination diet is often recommended to pinpoint the intolerances your little one may be experiencing.

For an elimination diet, try to entirely avoid feeding your child that food for a period of 2-4 weeks. Then, reintroduce it in smaller amounts. If there continues to be a problem, the food may need to be avoided permanently.

Common food intolerances

  • Milk
  • Gluten
  • Fructose
  • Natural chemicals
    • Salicylates (found in fruits, vegetables, teas, coffee, nuts, spices and honey)
    • Amines (found in bananas, pineapples, avocados, citrus fruits, and chocolate)
  • Artificial chemicals to enhance color or flavor or preserve
    • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
    • Sulfites