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Food Allergies, Intolerance, and Sensitivity: What’s The Difference?

Updated: Sep 28

All three of these words are often thrown around interchangeably, but there are big differences between these terms, in the responses your body has to them, and how we support healing.


1) Food Allergies


These immune reactions to food are confirmed by an IgE immune response. IgE is an important part of the “first line of defense” against pathogens that enter the body. Reactions due to allergies cause acute or immediate responses (usually within minutes to hours) once a trigger food is ingested and can last 1-2 days.


Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and may include:

  • rash or hives

  • swelling

  • itchy tongue

  • stuffy, runny or itchy nose

  • itchy or teary eyes

  • hives

  • abdominal pain

  • diarrhea

  • vomiting

  • trouble breathing of shortness of breath

  • coughing

  • wheezing

  • sneezing

Common sources of food allergies include:

  • peanuts

  • tree nuts

  • wheat

  • soy

  • milk

  • fish

  • shellfish

2) Food Intolerance


Food intolerances are non-immune reactions to certain food components such as dairy, histamines, alcohol, and gluten that occur when a person is lacking the digestive enzyme or nutrient responsible for breaking down these food components. Food intolerances are a digestive system response rather than an immune response.


Intolerances can cause:

  • flushing

  • cold or flu-like symptoms

  • inflammation

  • general digestive discomfort because the body lacks the appropriate tools to break down trigger foods: nausea, stomach pain, gas, bloating, vomiting, heartburn, diarrhea,

  • headaches

  • irritability/nervousness

Common trigger foods or ingredients are:

  • dairy products

  • sulfites

  • histamines

  • lectins

  • preservatives

  • artificial colors

  • fillers

  • flavorings

  • chocolate

  • citrus fruits

  • gluten

  • acidic foods

3) Food Sensitivities


Food sensitivities are IgG immune responses that can cause reactions that are delayed by hours or even days and can last up to 21 days, so it is difficult to find the culprit. These are chronic food reactions and are usually caused by an imbalance in the gastrointestinal system that is affecting the immune system. Most common is intestinal permeability, or “leaky gut”. This is when food particles get through the lining of the small intestine and into the blood stream where they do not belong, and therefore cause an immune response.


Symptoms of food sensitivities differ from person to person and can depend on the type of food eaten and/or the health of the gut lining.


Some symptoms of food sensitivities are:

  • migraines

  • headaches

  • dizziness

  • difficulty sleeping

  • mood swings

  • depression or anxiety

  • unintentional weight loss or gain

  • dark under-eye circles

  • asthma

  • irregular heartbeat

  • irritable bowels

  • bloating

  • wheezing

  • runny nose or sinus problems

  • ear infections

  • food cravings

  • muscle or joint pain/stiffness

  • indigestion

  • nausea or vomiting

  • bladder control issues

  • fatigue

  • hyperactivity

  • hives or rashes

  • dry skin

  • excessive sweating

  • acne or rosacea

Common sources of food sensitivities are:

  • dairy products

  • eggs

  • gluten (from wheat, rye, spelt, and barley)

  • soy

  • shellfish

  • tree nuts

Unfortunately, with food sensitivities, the foods that tend to show up in testing are the foods that specific individual person eats more often. Those foods have a higher chance of escaping the digestive tract into the blood stream. Fortunately, food sensitivities are not forever - working on gut healing and balancing is the key so these foods, as well as toxins and pathogens, cannot get through the lining in the first place.


Purely Rooted Nutrition offers functional nutritional testing to help you find these food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities. We also offer therapeutic plans of action to support healing from the source.


Check out our functional testing or schedule a Free 15-Minute consult to discover how we can help.




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