Allergic Vs Intolerance: Do you know the difference?

Publication: MedBuzz Today
Posted on: April 07, 2017


  1. Food intolerance and food allergies are not similar
  2. Food intolerance refers to the reaction triggered by a food item
  3. Food allergies refer to the reaction triggered by the protein present in the food item
  4. Medical tests can reveal details of the food substances that one is intolerant to

We have often heard of people being intolerant to certain varieties of food. Some people even claim to be allergic to a few dishes. While both the terms – food intolerance and food allergies – have been used interchangeably on several occasions, the truth is that both these ailments are distinctly different.

Diseases Associated with Food Intolerance

Food intolerance causes a few common ailments including:

  1. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  2. Migraine
  3. Depression
  4. Weight gain

Distinguishing Between Two Similar Terms

According to Dr. Rajesh Bendre, who is the Associate Vice President of Mumbai’s Metropolis Healthcare Ltd:

  1. Food allergies refer to the reaction of the digestive system towards a specific food protein (also known as allergen). Food intolerance, on the other hand, is the digestive system’s response towards certain types of food. For example, lactose intolerance is, basically, the body’s inability to digest the sugar found naturally in milk and dairy products due to lack of an enzyme that helps break down the sugar. This is different from one being allergic to the protein present in a specific variety of milk.
  1. In the case of a person diagnosed with food allergies, the response towards food allergen is almost instant. The reaction towards a food item, for those diagnosed with food intolerance, would take place at a rather slow pace. The duration could vary from a few hours to days. It could be noted that the response in the former case is not dependent on the dosage of the allergen consumed. Even a small amount can trigger harmful reactions. However, in the latter case, the reactions become more obvious only if it has been consumed in large quantities.
  1. The allergen must be avoided for a lifetime by the person diagnosed with food allergies. Whereas, for those suffering from food intolerance, the food stuff can be consumed after a few days of rest.

It is, thus, important to know as to what food or ingredient one is intolerant to. Long-term consumption of such items can cause gut inflammation and lead to various chronic diseases.

Note: Neither of these terms should be confused with food poisoning. Food poisoning is an infection caused by food-borne organisms.

Medical Diagnosis

People who are said to be intolerant to certain types of food could undergo the protein microarray food tolerance test. This can help provide better insights into the issues and can help the specialists plan an apt diet.

Caution: This test is not recommended for children below two-years-old and pregnant women. These tests are also expensive. It is advised that one consults a doctor before doing so.

Dietitian could also assist the patient to formulate a food consumption chart that would assure him or her of the adequate nutrition using effective yet safe substitutes such as:

  1. Soy milk or coconut milk instead of cow’s milk
  2. Dairy free margarine instead of butter

This is crucial in certain cases such as those diagnosed with IBS and atopic dermatitis.

In short, eat, live and stay healthy; always.