Food Allergy vs Sensitivity

Food Allergy vs Intolerance

Many people do not know the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance or sensitivity. Food allergies are quite rare thankfully as they can be life threatening.  Food intolerances are milder and hard to pinpoint, although their effects are troublesome and many times attributed to other things and possibly sometimes as diseases.  I hope after reading this article you will know the difference between food allergy vs intolerance, so you can start your healing journey.

Food sensitivities and food allergies are not digestive issues. People erroneously believe that the stomach is implicated with sensitivities and allergies. Food sensitivities and food allergies are immune system reactions.

Our spleen is responsible for characterizing threats to the human body and send out the white blood cells needed to deal with the threat.  Most threats are handled quickly and efficiently by our immune system.  With food allergy and intolerance, the immune system is confusing some foods as foreign invaders.


Our immune system reacts to a certain food as a threat and creates a histamine response that can be life-threatening.  Food allergies are more common in young children, but adults can acquire a food allergy at any time.

Symptoms of a food allergy can be mild to severe. Reactions to the specific food can range in severity. One exposure may trigger a mild reaction and the next can be severe, so avoiding the food altogether is the only solution unless under the care of a qualified allergy specialist.

The most severe type of allergic food reaction is called anaphylaxis which is a life threatening condition. This type of reaction can come on within minutes and can be fatal.

Which brings me to my next point.  Food allergies come on sudden where there is usually no doubt what the trigger food is.

90% of most food allergies are caused by these foods:peanuts

  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Fish
  • Shellfish

Typical Allergic Responses:food allergy

  • Vomiting and/or stomach cramps
  • Hives
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Cough
  • Tight throat, trouble swallowing
  • Swelling of the tongue, affecting the ability to talk or breathe
  • Weak pulse
  • Pale or blue coloring of skin
  • Dizziness or feeling faint
  • Anaphylaxis, a potentially life threatening condition.


Food sensitivities or intolerances are used interchangeably, but there is no difference in meaning.  Food sensitivities can take days to appear and their symptoms can be many things. Food sensitivities do not trigger a histamine reaction like food allergies, so none of the reactions listed for allergy above will be the same for a sensitivity/intolerance.  There is an immune system reaction however due to the body believing the offending food to be a threat.

People have a hard time believing that a food sensitivity can take so long to appear because they confuse sensitivities with allergies.  Again, allergies take seconds to minutes to appear, and food sensitivities can take days.

Because a food sensitivity can take days to appear, it is often very difficult to know what the trigger food is. If you suffer from any of the below, it’s time to take food sensitivity seriously.

  • Chronic headaches/migraineheadaches
  • Brain fog
  • Joint pain/arthritis
  • Bloating
  • Excema
  • Depression/anxiety
  • Weight gain
  • Post nasal drip
  • Tight muscles
  • Canker sores
  • Heart racing
  • IBS
How To Determine If You Have A Food Sensitivity/Intolerance

Elimination Diet – Is the gold standard in determining if you suffer from food sensitivities.  The best way to do an elimination diet is to work with a qualified practitioner to keep you accountable and to make sure you are completely eliminating the food. Food labels can be confusing to read and misleading, a professional knows what to avoid. But you can surely do it yourself as long as you understand how to do it. I recommend this program to start you off.  Always do an elimination for a period of 4 weeks with no more than 2 two foods at a time with 100 percent cold turkey elimination. Absolutely no cheating. Then introduce one food at a time back leaving a couple of days before introducing the next.

IgG or IgG4 Food Testing – No blood test is completely accurate when determining food sensitivities. The body has many ways in which it can react to food and some do not include antibodies.  But food testing is a great way to find out those foods that you have a high reaction too. A total IgG food antibody panel is essentially measuring when the immune system is reacting to a common (and perhaps quite healthy!) food as though it were a foreign invader. You can order your own blood tests here.

There are other blood tests available that measure IgE and IgA.  These tests are not necessary for basic food sensitivity extension food sensitivity test

You Have A Food Sensitivity, Now What?

When your test results come back and you find you are sensitive to a couple of foods or maybe even many foods, what is the next step?  Eliminating the food(s) is obvious but is there anything else you can do and do you have to eliminate the food forever?  Yes, there are ways you can heal your gut and as a result, heal your sensitivities.  Food sensitivities are not forever. Once you heal, you can add the offending foods back in if desired.

Healing your gut involves healing the lining of your stomach. The lining of your gut can become inflamed due to medicines, food sensitivities, bacteria overgrowth among other reasons. When the lining is inflamed or irritated, the tight junctures of the lining become less tight and as a result, it allows big particles of food and other substances to get into the bloodstream where there is an immune system reaction. This is called Leaky Gut or Increased Intestinal Permeability. Nothing other than nutrients and tiny particles should be passing through the gut and into the bloodstream.

Supplements to heal the gut:

The supplements listed below should be taken in order to heal intestinal permeability and recover from food sensitivities.

  1. Vitamin D. The first step is to make sure your vitamin D levels are optimum. Sub optimum or a deficiency in D causes intestinal permeability.
  2. L-Glutamine. L Glutamine has been shown in studies to heal the lining of the gut and tightening up the junctures.
  3. Probiotics. Probiotics help balance the ratio of good to bad bacteria resulting in less irritation to the lining of the stomach.
  4. Quercitin. Another supplement with healing properties for the lining of the gut.
  5. Curcumin (Meriva formula) Helps with inflammation
  6. Vitamin E

Foods To Heal The Gutbone broth

There are definitely food choices that can help to heal leaky gut.

  1. Bone broth. Homemade or purchased is a fantastic food for healing your gut.
  2. Vegetables include prebiotic fiber that good bacteria will feed on to balance the ratio of good to bad bacteria.
  3. Okra
  4. Chia seeds
  5. Flaxseeds.

Eliminating your trigger foods is important. Even if gluten did not show up on your IgG food panel, it is wise to eliminate all gluten foods while healing your gut.  Gluten is an inflammatory food and should be avoided.

In conclusion,

Food allergies are different than food sensitivities. Food allergies are immediate responses that include the release of histamine. Allergic responses can be mild to severe or life threatening. The non-tolerated food is normally easy to figure out. IgA panels are for food allergy determination.

Food sensitivities can take days to appear and pinpointing the offending food can be tricky.

Food elimination is the gold standard in determining food sensitivities, but food panel testing such as IgG and IgG4 can be very valuable. Once a food sensitivity is determined, healing the gut is the course of action to take to eliminate food sensitivities. Food sensitivities are not lifelong afflictions.

I hope this article gave some clarity on food allergies and sensitivities.

Please comment below, I love to hear your results and feedback.


Linda is a Certified Functional Health Coach



14 Comments Add yours
  1. I’ve been pretty luck in the fact that I’m not allergic to any foods that I know of but my sister however only has to walk into a room that has had fish cooking near it and she swells up like a balloon, it’s not a pretty sight!

    1. Thanks for your comment Matthew! Your sister is a perfect example of a food allergy, which is not to be confused with a food sensitivity or intolerance. Seafood is one of the top ten foods that can be allergenic for people.

  2. Hi Linda,
    I had this kind of blood testing done years ago and I was sensitive to just about everything. I had a mild sensitivity at least to so many foods. I am kind of weird and have no sensitivity to some foods like shellfish and strawberries that are more common triggers for others.

    I seem less sensitive now than in the past and have thought about getting tested again. I have heard these sensitivities can change over time. I also take L-glutamine, Vit D and a good probiotic like you recommend.

    I have many mysterious health conditions that seem to be tied to an auto-immune condition that is yet to be diagnosed. I suspect it is psoriatic arthritis or reactive arthritis or both.

    Thanks for this great information!

  3. The first thing I thought when I read the title of your post is “I didn’t know there was a difference between allergy and intolerance”. Apparently I am not alone! You have a ton of great information here. I had no idea that intolerance can take days to appear. I also didn’t know that most allergies are caused by what looks like a handful of items. I know there are a lot of people who are allergic to nuts and shellfish because I hear about that a lot. It seems like more and more people are allergic to dairy products as well. Do you know why this might be a growing trend? Or maybe I am not categorizing that correctly and it’s actually intolerant. Maybe you can set me straight here!! Anyway, thank you for sharing, this is great. I will check back soon for more.

    1. Hi Steve, you are not alone in your confusion. It’s a mystery why people are becoming more allergic to common foods. Many believe it has to do with processing of foods like adding genes to food that shouldn’t be there in nature (GMO’s) or the lack of certain enzymes due to the American diet, or a bad balance of gut bacteria due to the American diet. We are the only country that exists on over 60 percent of our diet being simple carbs. We don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables and our gut bacteria suffers and our immune system goes on high alert when we eat foods not known to the human body.

  4. Thank you so much for the article Linda. I discovered some things about my gut that I didn’t realize before. I’m going to take a look at at some of the foods and supplements you recommend in the consumption of my daily diet. Thanks again!

  5. This was very interesting post, As I get older this worries me about the different allergy that can affect my immune system, so far so good I haven’t had any of the symptoms mention in the your article. I think you really made so easy to understand, thanks you so much.

    1. Thanks for your comment Anthony! I’m glad you don’t have any allergies or intolerances. It’s always good to be aware that our diet in so many ways can affect our immune system and so many health conditions. I always go to the gut first when people work with me with any chronic issue they are experiencing.

  6. Suffering from both an allergy to dairy products and gluten, I find your article interesting in offering a few suggestion on how to make gut feel better, really like the bone broth idea.
    Think I might just have to give that a try.

  7. Thank you Linda for this very informative post. My friends’ baby is only 2 months old and suffers from colic, do you think it’s a food allergy or an intolerance for milk?

    It’s been few weeks my friend can’t get asleep nor her baby… would appreciate your thoughts
    Thank you for your time

    1. Hi there, colic in babies is so hard for the parents. And yes, it most certainly can be food sensitivities to what the mom is eating.Stay away from infant formulas that contain soy, chemicals, and any synthetic ingredients.
      Some good foods for the mother to try for colicky
      Top Foods for Colic

      Breast milk – Infants who are exclusively fed breast milk tend to have less colic.
      Natural Formula – If you must use formula, switch to goat or coconut based instead. You may also try a predigested milk protein formula.
      Steamed or cooked vegetables for the mother – These tend to cause less gas and bloating in infants.

      Also, infant probiotics can help too.
      I hope this helps!

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