What's the Difference: Food Allergies vs. Food Intolerance

Maria Trimarchi

Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

If drinking a glass of milk makes you feel bad, is it a milk allergy? A dairy allergy? Or maybe an intolerance? See if you can tell what's a symptom, what's not and why either reaction happens in the first place.

Which is the better menu option if you're lactose intolerant?

You can't digest milk products when you're lactose intolerant. It'd be best to skip the cheesy options and stick with the burger.

How many Americans believe the only difference between a food allergy and food intolerance is how bad the symptoms are?

One-third of Americans believe the only difference between a food allergy and food intolerance is the severity of the symptoms.

Which is more common among Americans, food intolerances or food allergies?

Sensitivities and intolerances to foods are more common than true food allergies in the U.S.

It's estimated that how many American adults live with food allergies?

Food allergies affect about 1 percent of adults (and 7 percent of kids, too, although some will outgrow their allergies).

About 1 percent of adults in the U.S. have food allergies, but how many think they do?

While 1 percent really have them, 20 to 30 percent of American adults think they do.

What causes some people to have a reaction to chocolate and strawberries?

Some people have an intolerance to foods that are naturally high in histamine, such as chocolate and strawberries.

What is the most common food intolerance among Americans?

Nearly 10 percent of Americans have trouble digesting lactose. What causes this problem? The body doesn't make enough of the enzyme lactase needed to break down the milk sugar, lactose.

What grain can't you digest if you're gluten intolerant?

When you're gluten intolerant, your body can't digest the protein in wheat (as well as barley and rye).

How many foods cause the majority of allergic reactions?

Any food could be a trigger, but eight foods are responsible for the majority (about 90 percent) of allergic reactions.

Which is not one of those eight common food allergy triggers?

The eight foods that cause most allergic reactions include eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, shellfish, soy, tree nut and wheat. Sweet potatoes are considered pretty safe.

Having a parent with which condition increases your risk for food allergies?

Your chances of having a food allergy increase if one or both of your parents have an allergic condition such as asthma, eczema or hay fever, or have food allergies themselves.

Some people are sensitive to which additive commonly found in wine?

Each of these additives is considered potentially harmful. But sulfites, which act as preservatives, are what's commonly used in wine.

People who are lactose intolerant may still be able to eat what dairy product?

Hard cheeses like Parmesan naturally contain far less lactose than soft cheeses, which means many people who are lactose intolerant can still enjoy them.

Food allergies and intolerances can seem similar. Which of these is not a shared symptom?

Both food allergies and food intolerance can cause nausea, diarrhea and stomach pain -- and vomiting, too. An allergic reaction, though, can cause swelling of your tongue or throat.

Which of these additives, found in many food favorites, is known to cause symptoms of food intolerance?

All of these additives are known to cause reactions in some people. MSG, for instance, is known to cause headaches.

What system of your body fires up when you're food intolerant?

When you're having symptoms of food intolerance, you're having a digestive system response.

What system of your body overreacts when you're having an allergic reaction?

Food allergies happen when your immune system overreacts to what you're eating and triggers specific antibodies, called immunoglobulin E (or IgE), to get rid of the "harmful" food.

Why is an allergic reaction considered more severe than symptoms of food intolerance?

Anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that affects the whole body, can be life-threatening and needs immediate treatment. Food allergies can also cause migraines and skin reactions. Symptoms of food intolerance cause discomfort, but are usually less severe.

If you are allergic to birch tree pollen, which nut might also cause you to have an allergic reaction?

Because some of the proteins in certain foods are so similar to birch pollen, your body doesn't always do a great job of telling them apart. As many as a half to three-quarters of adults with a birch tree pollen allergy have an oral reaction to apples, carrots, celery and hazelnuts.

Which one is not in the salicylate family, a trigger in sensitive people?

Salicylates are found naturally in certain fruits and vegetables, as well as in coffee, juices, nuts, and beer and wine. Aspirin also contains salicylate. Asparagus, however, contains only low to moderate amounts.

Which is not a symptom of food intolerance?

Bloating, irritability and feeling nauseated can all be symptoms of food intolerance. Wheezing, however, isn't.

Which is not a cause of a food intolerance reaction?

Food intolerance can be caused by several things, including enzyme deficiencies, your body's sensitivity to certain food additives and even some naturally-occurring chemicals (such as caffeine). But your immune system isn't involved.

What type of condition is celiac disease?

Although as an autoimmune disorder it involves the immune system, celiac disease is not considered a true food allergy. It's a digestive disorder.

All but one of these allergic conditions are sometimes complications of food allergies. Which isn't?

Atopic dermatitis (eczema), EoE and OAS are all conditions related to food allergies. It's rare, however, for food allergies to trigger an asthma attack.

Is it possible to be both intolerant and allergic to the same food?

Yes, it is. Let's look at milk: You could be allergic to the protein in milk and also lactose intolerant because you lack the enzyme to digest lactase.

Which of these foods doesn't contain sulfites?

Wine is a commonly known source, but many sulfite-containing foods like instant mashed potatoes, molasses and sauerkraut may surprise you. Kefir, though, doesn't contain sulfites.

What part of your body is histamine released into when you're having an allergic reaction?

Histamine can affect the cardiovascular system, the gastrointestinal system and/or the respiratory system. It can also affect your skin.

When you have a food allergy, what is your immune system overreacting to?

It's a protein in that certain food that causes your allergic reaction.

Who appears to have more food allergies, girls or boys?

Boys, research finds, appear to have more food allergies than girls.

Which course of a meal is potentially the most dangerous for someone with a tree nut or peanut allergy?

Allergic reactions are most often attributed to dessert items.

Which food is associated with triggering exercise-induced food allergies?

Any food you eat can trigger an allergy, potentially, but eating corn, peanuts, shellfish, tomatoes, or wheat before your workout has the rare chance of triggering anaphylaxis.

What food could cause you to have an allergic reaction if you have an allergy to latex?

Beware the banana if you have a latex allergy.

How many people outgrow their peanut allergy?

It's been found 1 out of 5 people will outgrow their peanut allergy.

How is a food allergy confirmed as an allergy rather than an intolerance?

Your body's allergic response can be confirmed with skin or blood tests.

What's the best way to prevent either type of reaction?

There is no best strategy for avoiding a reaction than to stop eating the foods that trigger the problem.

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