Allergy or intolerance, what’s the difference?

It is suggested that almost two out of every 100 people in the UK report a food allergy, while one in five reports an intolerance. But what’s the difference and what help is available?

Food allergy or intolerance

Food allergy, intolerance and hypersensitivity are just a few of the names used to describe the body’s adverse reaction to food. Understandably, this can be confusing, especially when people do not necessarily know what each of them means.

This confusion combined with the vast amount of information available, it’s easy for people to seek advice from potentially unreliable sources.

So what is a food allergy?

A food allergy is when the immune system reacts to certain foods. While symptoms are often mild, they can be severe and, in some cases, life-threatening. Any food can cause a reaction and the body will respond differently to different foods, however, there are certain foods known for causing allergies, such as milk, peanuts and shellfish.

What is a food intolerance?

A food intolerance can be more difficult to diagnose, despite being much more common. Symptoms aren’t life threatening but they can leave a person feeling very unwell. As a food intolerance does not involve the immune system, the causes are unclear. Intolerances are however believed to be affected by certain lifestyles, for example diets with erratic food intake or a diet high in refined foods but low in fibre.

If you suspect you are experiencing a food intolerance, a nutrition professional can work with you to recognise what foods are causing a problem.

How can a nutrition professional help me?

If you suspect you are experiencing a food allergy, intolerance, gluten sensitivity or coeliac disease, it is important to seek advice from your doctor. If you are diagnosed with an allergy or intolerance, you may be referred to a nutrition professional.

A qualified nutrition professional will work with you to understand what foods in your diet are causing symptoms, as well as supporting you throughout treatment. If you were to implement the exclusion and reintroduction diet, they will help you avoid the allergen and prevent symptoms, while offering suitable alternatives.

They may ask you to complete a food and symptom diary the weeks before your first session. This helps give the dietitian/nutritionist a better understanding of your lifestyle and what may be causing the issue, before supporting you on the next steps of the journey.

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Written by Ellen Lees
Head of Content.

Written by Ellen Lees

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