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There are three different types of food that your body can have a food adverse reaction to. There are three main categories: food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances. What is the difference between the three types of adverse food reactions?

Food Allergy

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases define allergies as an adverse health effect arising from a specific immune response that occurs reproducibly on exposure to a given food (Ask the Dietitian: Food allergies, 2021). The top eight food allergies are: dairy, eggs, fish, gluten, peanuts, soy, shellfish, and tree nuts..

What happens to your body when you eat something you are allergic to? Your body ‘s immune system kicks into gear. Whatever particular food you have eaten is seen as harmful to the body.  The allergy  antibody causes the cell it has attached to, to release mostly histamine (Ask the Dietitian: Food allergies, 2021). When this immune response is triggered it causes physical reactions to occur. Some reactions can be mild while others are very severe. These reactions are included but not limited to: hives, shortness of breath, diarrhea, and even death!

Since allergic reactions can vary so widely it is important to go to the doctors as soon as possible and get tested. Testing is done by blood, skin reaction and food, or oral food challenge.

Some Things To Keep In Mind About Testing For Allergies

Many people look into getting tested and think that getting your IgG or IgG4 provides the most accurate results and in this case it is not true. The IgG / IgG4 is not recommended for allergy test results by the American Canadian and European Academics of Allergy,  Asthma and Immunology. The testing that you can get online is often not done by a medically trained allergist and is also not FDA approved. The IgG and IgG4 test can show multiple “supposed allergies” which consist of 90-100 foods. The IgG test reflects a “memory” antibody which means that you have been exposed to that food at some time in your life (Ask the Dietitian: Food allergies, 2021). This results that it wouldn’t be unusual for a person to show “reactions” to a multitude of foods.

A lot of people who know they have an allergy often carry an epipen-auto injector. These special pens are not just for food allergies but also are insect bites / stings, drugs or other substances. Those who have allergies should have an epipen-auto injector with them at all times. Especially when going out to eat and the chance of cross contamination. For example if you don’t know if they are cooking the food with peanut oil and you are allergic to peanuts. Or if you are allergic to egg and they made something that contains egg, cut it on a cutting board and forgot to properly sanitize before prepping your dish. An epipen-auto injector should also be kept around the house in case any food products that are bought from the store and were cross contaminated. For example, if a product states that it is gluten free some product post on the back of their package will state that their product is made in a facility that contains gluten. So always remember to check the back of food labels and to keep the epipen-auto pen with you!

Food Intolerance

Having a food intolerance is different from food allergy. It is when your gastrointestinal tract is having difficulty digesting the food that you just consumed. In results it casuses gas production (can cause pain) and diarrhea. A great example of a food intolerance is lactose intolerance. When someone who is lactose intolerant drinks milk or a dairy product that heavily contains lactose they get gastrointestinal discomfort. People who are lactose intolerant often have to limit how much or certain types of dairy products that might be triggering for them.

Food Sensitivity

Sometimes people get food intolerance and food sensitivity confused. Food sensitivity is not a life threatening immune reaction. However there are still some side effects that people can experience as a result of eating particular types of foods.  Some of these symptoms include but are not limited to: fatigue, rashes, brain fog, and joint pain (Ask the Dietitian: Food allergies, 2021). In some cases there are people that are sensitive to gluten but can easily be confused with Celiac Disease and with restriction of gluten when not needed cause malnutrition and GI issues.

Both food intolerances and sensitivities are not considered life threatening but can decrease quality of life. Often what can be done is an elimination diet.  How does it work? You take out the foods that are most likely to cause symptoms of intolerance / sensitivity. To cover all bases I typically recommend eliminating the foods that are the top eight allergy foods: dairy, eggs, fish, gluten, peanuts, soy, shellfish, and tree nuts. The first goal is to diet without these foods for about two weeks. After that you will add one food group at a time per week.

If you have any questions or concerns don’t hesitate to reach out as I would be more than happy to answer any questions. Remember if you feel that you possibly have a food allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity don’t hesitate to talk to your family physician right away to get properly tested and diagnosed!