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Food Allergy or Intolerance?

How do you know if you have a food allergy or food intolerance? It is a question of the immune system. A classic food allergy involves an immune response to a food protein. This can lead to an allergic reaction involving hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, and anaphylaxis (among other symptoms). Food intolerance typically involves the GI system feeling disrupted. Intolerance to food leads to non-immune responses like bloating, cramping, constipation, or diarrhea.

A perfect example highlighting the difference between the two conditions is when we take a look at lactose intolerance versus cow's milk allergy. Cow's milk allergy can ignite the immune response and a person might get hives or redness on his/her face, swelling of lips, tightness of the throat, or difficulty breathing. This immune response causes an allergic reaction due to the protein in milk. Lactose intolerance is classified by the body's inability to digest the sugar in milk called lactose. This inability to digest lactose can lead to bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Lactose intolerance is very uncomfortable, but it does not pose the risk for anaphylaxis (a potentially life-threatening condition) the way a cow's milk allergy does.

But, here's the really important thing...don't guess, don't self-diagnose. Visit an allergist for food allergy testing to see if you have a food allergy. This is critical to avoid unnecessary food eliminations from your diet. After a diagnosis, it is very helpful to meet with a nutritionist or dietitian for a full nutrition assessment of your needs, potential nutrition gaps, and high-quality nutritious food swaps when avoiding allergens.

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