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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What’s the Difference Between Food Allergies and Intolerances and Where Does Coeliac Disease Fit In?

What is the difference between a Food Allergy and Food Intolerance?

These days, there is so much talk about food issues – food allergies, food intolerances, sensitivities, different diets, you name it. But there is also a lot of confusion.

I often get asked what the difference between food allergies and food intolerances are and whether coeliac disease means you are allergic to gluten, intolerant to gluten or something different altogether, so I thought I’d help to clear things up a little bit by sharing what I’ve learnt through my own allergy/intolerance/coeliac journey.

First, let’s start with the difference between food allergies and intolerances. They’re both easy to confuse as they can both irritate your body and make you sick, but there are some huge differences between the two. 

What is a Food Allergy? The difference between food allergies and intolerances

A Food Allergy is an abnormal immune response to a particular food (the allergen). Generally speaking, you will have a reaction to the protein in that particular food. The body recognises that you’ve ingested a foreign substance and produces antibodies that cause inflammation and other reactions in your body. 

Common food allergy symptoms - The difference between food allergies and intolerances

Food Allergy Symptoms can include anything from stomach upsets, hives, swelling or a dry throat to a serious anaphylactic reaction which can be potential life threatening. 

The most common food allergies and allergens - The difference between food allergies and intolerances

The Most Common Food Allergens include;
  •  Crustacean/Shellfish (eg: Crabs, Prawns/Shrimp, Lobster)
  •  Cow’s Milk/Dairy Products
  • Peanuts
  • Soy
  • Tree Nuts (eg: Almonds, Brazil Nuts, Cashews, etc)
  • Wheat

Those with a diagnosed food allergy will likely have these allergies for life and must completely avoid the allergen in order to avoid getting sick.

What is a food intolerance? - The difference between food allergies and intolerances

A Food Intolerance can occur for two reasons;
  • An Enyzme Deficiency – where the body cannot digest a particular food protein as it doesn’t make enough enzymes (or doesn’t have any at all).
  • Irritation – Where natural chemicals and/or additives found in certain foods will irritate nerve endings in different parts of the body.

Generally speaking, food intolerances range in severity according to the dose of the irritant that was eaten. Sometimes, those with food intolerances can still eat these foods in smaller amounts, however, others may have to avoid them completely.

There’s no way of knowing how much an individual can tolerate so it’s a matter of trial and error to test how much your body can handle whilst monitoring your symptoms.

Common food intolerance symptoms - Do I have a food intolerance? - The difference between food allergies and intolerances

The symptoms of food intolerances can be very similar to those of a food allergy and can include stomach upset, bloating, headaches and migraines, runny nose and hives.

The most common food intolerances - The difference between food allergies and intolerances

 The Most Common Food Intolerances include:
  • Wheat/Gluten
  • Lactose
  • Sulphites
  • Fructose (also known as fruit sugar, found in many plant foods)
  • Glutamate (Generally MSG)
  • Salicylates (found in many plant foods)
  • Amines
  • Colours, preservatives and flavour enhancers
Do people with coeliac disease have a food allergy or food intolerance? Are people with coeliac disease allergic to gluten?

But What About Coeliac Disease? Do people with coeliac disease have a food allergy or intolerance or something different?

Coeliac Disease (or Celiac Disease in the US) is a small bowel disorder which is caused by an immune reaction to dietary gluten. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, rye, triticale and contaminated oats (find out more about oats and a gluten free diet in our post Are Oats Gluten Free?).

Those with coeliac disease do not have a food allergy – but they do have an auto immune disease and the symptoms can be just as damaging. When someone with coeliac disease ingests gluten (even in trace amounts), the lining of the small bowel is damaged by the white blood cells of the immune system. This is different to a food allergy where antibodies cause a reaction.

The Most Common Symptoms of Coeliac Disease include:
  • Nausea
  • Gastrointestinal Upset
  • Constipation or Diarrhoea
  • Confusion and Trouble Concentrating
  • Reduced Growth
  • Weight Loss or Gain
  • Skin Problems 
Find out more about Coeliac Disease and my journey in My Coeliac Disease Story.

But tell me, do you have any allergies or intolerances or are you a coeliac?

What allergy/intolerance friendly posts would you like to see on SIL?
There's always our recipes, but we're thinking of sharing more tips, tricks and info for those like me who are affected by allergies and intolerances!


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