Food Intolerance and Food Allergies: The Dangers of Not Knowing the Difference

Lately, it seems like avoiding a specific food has become just another fad diet. As a result, this has caused a lot of confusion about food allergies and food intolerance.

What’s the difference?

food intolerance does not typically cause a life-threatening reaction.1 To put it simply, food intolerance appear because a person is unable to digest that specific food. Not being able to properly digest food can cause many unpleasant symptoms that anyone would want to avoid. Some symptom examples are gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation.1 One of the most common food intolerance is lactose.1 Gluten intolerance is also on the rise.1

Food allergies are extremely dangerous because they can cause life-threatening reactions like anaphylaxis. This is when the throat closes, and the victim is unable to breath.1  Many allergic reactions can cause death. The most common symptoms of an allergic reaction are hives, nausea, vomiting, dizziness fast heartbeat, and tightened throat.1 When someone eats something that they are allergic to, it can cause their body to react almost instantly.1 Some reactions require an EpiPen shot and further medical treatment.1

How can I help? 

Educate yourself! We are all responsible for preventing an allergic reaction to food. Food can be found in schools, grocery stores, office events, a friend’s house, hospitals and restaurants. If you have an allergy or suffer from an intolerance, be sure to let your server, friend, coworker or family member know. If you know someone who has a food allergy or intolerance, ask them questions!  A few of the most common food allergies are nuts, dairy, gluten, shellfish and soy.


People with food allergies or food intolerance usually struggle going out to eat. Many restaurants do not know how to handle food allergies. Proper training and education can make it easier to control the food that is being served to customers.2 The most common causes of an allergic reaction in a restaurant: the staff does not know anything about allergies or intolerance, they are not aware, they do not care, or the kitchen is not able to work with the allergy.2

Grocery stores

If you work in a grocery store, become familiar with the specialty sections. In addition, take the time to learn about the most common food allergies.

Schools and the workplace

Before you bring food into your office or classroom, as around to find out if anyone has a food allergy or food intolerance. You should also label the food so that everyone knows the ingredients.

Knowledge is power

About 1% of adults and 7% of children have a food allergy or food intolerance.1 Food allergy awareness should be everywhere. When in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask questions!

No matter where you are, you can use this easy guide to remember the major differences between the symptoms of food intolerance and food allergies. You never know – it could save someone’s life.

Reference 1,3


  1. Berdarnier CDP. Food Sensitivity Versus Food Allergy; Nutrition Today. 2017;4(52):174-178. DOI: 10.1097/NT.0000000000000222.
  2. Kwon J, Lee YM. Exploration of Past Experiences, Attitudes and Preventive Behaviors of Consumers with Food Allergies About Dining out: A Focus Group study. Food Protection Trends. 2012;32(12):736-746.
  3.  Food Allergies and Intolerances. J Clin GastroenterolHepatol. 2017;15(8):A24.!/content/playContent/1-s2.0-S1542356517306080