Food Allergies vs Food Sensitivities

June 20, 2016
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Food Allergies vs Food Sensitivities | Innovative Health

Food Allergies vs Food Sensitivities | Innovative Health

In today’s culinary world, where food options abound and dietary preferences vary widely, it’s crucial to understand the distinctions between food allergies and food sensitivities. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they represent distinct physiological responses with varying implications for one’s health and well-being.


Understanding Food Allergies


Definition and Causes

Food allergies are immune system reactions triggered by specific proteins found in certain foods. When someone with a food allergy consumes the allergen, their immune system mistakenly identifies it as harmful and releases chemicals such as histamine to combat it.


Common Symptoms

Symptoms of a food allergy can range from mild to severe and may include hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, gastrointestinal distress, and even anaphylaxis—a life-threatening reaction.


Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Diagnosing food allergies often involves skin tests, blood tests, and elimination diets. The primary treatment for food allergies is strict avoidance of the allergen, along with the use of antihistamines or epinephrine in case of an emergency.

When one looks at food allergies they are thinking of an immediate reaction that occurs after coming into contact with a trigger. This can include peanuts, seafood, or strawberries to name a few. The individual can notice symptoms from a scratchy throat up to anaphylactic shock in which swelling occurs resulting in respiratory distress.

This is the most severe response and can be life-threatening if not addressed promptly. This looks at a reaction called a type 1 hypersensitivity mediated by an IgE response.


Understanding Food Sensitivities

In the past few years, this topic has continued to grow, with a special focus being on gluten. We will save the topic of gluten sensitivity for another time where we will examine it in detail. First, it is important to realize there is a big difference between allergies and sensitivities. Each of these involves a different part of the immune system. As stated previously allergies are IgE mediated, whereas sensitivities are IgG and IgA with a focus on IgG.

IgG is not responsible for an immediate response. It is important to understand that, because you may not have an immediate reaction to the food you eat. It may take several hours up to days to have symptoms. This also makes it tricky when you are doing elimination diets. If you don’t space out returning foods then you may feel bad, but you will not be able to isolate which food is giving you more problems.


Definition and Causes

Food sensitivities, also known as food intolerances, are non-immunological responses to certain foods. Unlike allergies, which involve the immune system, sensitivities typically stem from digestive issues, enzyme deficiencies, or other factors.


Common Symptoms

Symptoms of food sensitivities may include bloating, gas, diarrhea, headaches, and skin problems. These reactions are usually less severe and may take longer to manifest compared to allergies.


Diagnosis and Management Strategies

Diagnosing food sensitivities can be challenging, often requiring a combination of medical history assessments, elimination diets, and symptom tracking. Management strategies may involve dietary modifications, enzyme supplements, and probiotics to alleviate symptoms.


Food Sensitivity Testing

Testing is becoming more common than it was in the past. Some look at changes to the immune cells when interacting with the protein from a food. While others look at the immune response in the form of IgG and IgA counts to specific proteins to determine the level of sensitivity present. It is important to understand also that food changes when it is heated. This is why some people can eat cooked onions but have gut complaints if they eat them raw.

When you receive the results it is important that you follow them. These are not merely suggestions but are a reflection of your immune response. The greater the response you have, the more inflammation that is present when you consume these. It is even more important that you follow the results if you have an autoimmune disease such as Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, or rheumatoid arthritis to name a few.


Key Differences Between Food Allergies and Sensitivities


Immunological Response vs. Non-Immunological Response

The primary distinction between food allergies and sensitivities lies in the body’s response. Allergies involve an immune system reaction, while sensitivities are non-immunological and primarily affect the digestive system.


Severity of Reactions

Food allergies can lead to severe, life-threatening reactions such as anaphylaxis, whereas sensitivities typically cause milder symptoms that may be uncomfortable but are not immediately life-threatening.


Diagnosis Methods

Diagnosing food allergies often relies on skin tests, blood tests, and oral food challenges, whereas sensitivities may require more subjective assessments and elimination diets to identify trigger foods.


Treatment Approaches

The primary treatment for food allergies is strict avoidance of the allergen, while sensitivities may be managed through dietary modifications and symptom relief measures.



Impact on Daily Life

Living with food allergies or sensitivities can significantly impact one’s daily life, from dining out to grocery shopping and social gatherings. Individuals must navigate menus carefully, read labels diligently, and communicate their dietary needs effectively.


Importance of Proper Diagnosis

Proper diagnosis is essential to differentiate between allergies and sensitivities, as misinterpretations can lead to unnecessary dietary restrictions or inadequate management of symptoms. Seeking professional medical advice and guidance is crucial for accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plans.


Raising Awareness and Understanding

Raising awareness about the differences between food allergies and sensitivities is vital for promoting inclusivity and understanding in both social and professional settings. By educating others and dispelling myths and misconceptions, we can create a more supportive environment for individuals with dietary restrictions.



In conclusion, navigating the culinary landscape requires a nuanced understanding of food allergies and sensitivities. By recognizing the differences between these conditions and advocating for proper diagnosis and management, we can ensure that everyone can enjoy safe and satisfying dining experiences.



Are food allergies and sensitivities the same thing?

No, they represent distinct physiological responses, with allergies involving the immune system and sensitivities primarily affecting the digestive system.


Can food sensitivities develop over time?

Yes, food sensitivities can develop at any age and may be influenced by factors such as diet, gut health, and genetics.


Is it possible to outgrow a food allergy?

While some children may outgrow certain food allergies, others may have lifelong allergies that persist into adulthood.


What should I do if I suspect a food allergy or sensitivity?

If you suspect a food allergy or sensitivity, consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and diagnosis.


How can I accommodate guests with food allergies or sensitivities when hosting events?

When hosting events, consider offering a variety of food options and clearly labeling dishes to accommodate guests with dietary restrictions. Additionally, communication with guests beforehand can help ensure their needs are met.

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