Nov 16, 2015

Food Intolerances Versus Food Allergies: How to Know the Difference

As you all know, we have quite a few food allergies and intolerances in our family, so today I have asked guest writer Sally from Health Insurance Comparison to explain the differences between Food Intolerances and Food Allergies.

Feeling ill after eating certain foods can be a sign that your body isn’t able to deal with them but it isn’t always easy to know whether this is due to a food intolerance or food allergy. The two are often confused for one another, which isn’t helped by the fact there can be some overlap in their symptoms. They are actually completely different reactions. Many people therefore mistakenly believe that they have a food allergy when they may actually be experiencing an intolerance to a particular food.

What is a Food Allergy?

Food allergies are an autoimmune response that happen after the body reacts against substances (often proteins) and treats them as though they are toxic. This triggers antibodies, which lead to a range of unpleasant symptoms.

Food allergies are actually relatively uncommon for adults but they are seen more widely in children. Experts suggest that children can be much more likely to develop a food allergy if at least one family member has an “allergic” condition such as eczema. Children can be anything from 20 to 80 per cent more likely to have a food allergy in this situation but they can also occur with no family history of allergies at all.

Symptoms of a Food Allergy

Symptoms of a food allergy can include hives (a raised, red and itchy rash), a runny nose, eczema, stomach cramps, diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea and breathing problems.

What is a Food Intolerance?

Unlike allergies, food intolerances are not related to the immune system. Instead, it happens if the body cannot properly digest enzymes (such as lactose) or reacts against substances found in foods. This won’t show up in an allergy test due to the difference in why it happens.

Symptoms of a Food Intolerance

A food intolerance may not be autoimmune but this doesn’t mean that symptoms are necessarily any less intense. They can include rapid breathing, tremors, palpitations, migraine, headaches, diarrhoea, a tight feeling in the face and chest, asthma-esque breathing difficulties, mouth ulcers and bloating.

There can be some crossover between food allergies and intolerances, which can further confuse the difference between the two. Coeliac disease is not actually classed as a food allergy even though it does involve an autoimmune reaction to gluten.

What If You Suspect a Food Allergy or Intolerance?

For both allergies and intolerances, the key is to avoid the food(s) in question to banish the unpleasant effects and symptoms. This is simple if you know what is causing the problem but this isn’t always the case. If you’ve not been able to pinpoint this, things can be a lot more difficult as you could inadvertently consume the problem food(s) without realising that they are to blame.

An elimination diet is one of the best ways to find the culprit. Most people are allergic to one of a handful of foods such as gluten, eggs, soya, and milk, and eliminating the most likely candidates and gradually adding them back into your diet should help to work out which foods are causing symptoms and which aren’t.

Health Insurance and Food Allergies

If you’re not sure whether an allergy or intolerance is the culprit for health complaints, you will probably want to look at the possibility of getting this confirmed through allergy testing. Food allergies will show up in this but intolerances will not.

Seeing a private dietitian can be reasonably expensive but you’ll be pleased to know that some of the costs can be covered by Extras health insurance. Not all health funds offer Nutrition/Dietetics related services and for those that do, you will usually need to have mid or top level Extras cover for it to be included. If you're looking for more information about dietetics and health insurance, we wrote a guest post for Aanika earlier in the year about accessing dietetics/nutrition advice through health insurance.

If you'd like any further information about health insurance and food intolerances, please feel free to leave your question below so that Sally can get in touch.

1 comment:

  1. There's a lot of focus at NatMed, Naturopath Perth on food intolerance, and eating what's right for your gut, if you're looking for at home resources look here:


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