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Food Sensitivities vs. Food Allergies: What’s the Difference?

What foods do you avoid? 

Does cow’s milk send you running to the bathroom, or do peanuts cause you to erupt in hives? Perhaps the side effects are more subtle, like cramps a few hours after you eat wheat bread. 

If you’ve adapted your eating habits to avoid specific foods (and the uncomfortable symptoms they cause!), you probably have a food sensitivity or food allergy.

Though they may seem similar, food allergies are much different than food sensitivities. Your immune system triggers food allergy reactions, while your digestive system causes food sensitivity symptoms. 

It’s important to identify the underlying cause of your food intolerances. Allergies and sensitivities both leave you feeling miserable, but a true food allergy may also be life-threatening. 

What Is a Food Sensitivity? 

Food sensitivities are frequently overlooked and misdiagnosed. After all, it isn’t always a doctor’s first hunch to connect your mood swings, migraines, or joint pain to the foods you’re eating. 

However, the truth is that your eating habits play an enormous role in your overall physical and emotional health, not just your waistline. 

Food sensitivities are so frequently overlooked because their symptoms are diverse, unpredictable, and unique from person to person. They develop when your digestive system clashes with a specific food or ingredient that you ingest. 

In a normal and healthy digestive system, food moves through your gastrointestinal (GI) tract after your chew and swallow.. Digestive juices, enzymes, and chemicals in your digestive system break food down into smaller pieces of nutrients that can be used strategically throughout the body. 

This natural process veers off track if your digestive system reacts improperly to something traveling through your GI tract. 

What Digestive Problems Cause Food Sensitivities?

There are two main reasons that you may develop a food sensitivity:

  1. You lack the correct enzymes to digest certain foods
  2. Your body produces too many immunoglobulin (IgG) antibodies

Enzyme Deficiency

Digestive enzymes exist naturally in the GI tract to break down food after it’s swallowed. They’re responsible for turning large chunks of food into small molecules the body can use to absorb nutrients and transport through the bloodstream. There are three main enzymes your digestive system relies upon to process food:

  • Lipase enzymes break down fats
  • Amylase enzymes break down carbohydrates
  • Protease enzymes break down proteins

However, your body may not be equipped with all of the enzymes needed to properly digest certain foods. About 65% of the human population, for example, cannot properly digest lactose, the sugar found in dairy products, due to reduced production of the lactase enzyme. 

When your body doesn’t produce specific enzymes in large enough quantities, food remains undigested and becomes a feast for harmful bacteria. These harmful bacteria multiply and quickly damage the intestinal barrier responsible for absorbing nutrients and blocking dangerous substances. 

Without a fully functioning intestinal barrier, holes develop that allow bacteria, food particles, and toxins to pass into the bloodstream. 

Immunoglobulin Antibodies

A food sensitivity may occur when your body reacts to a certain food by producing Immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies. These antibodies are very important and helpful in the right circumstances because they fight infection as it occurs.

However, in the case of a food sensitivity, IgG antibodies mistakenly attach themselves to your trigger foods and create antibody-antigen complexes. These complexes accumulate in the body, especially if you consume the food responsible for your sensitivity on a regular basis. 

Over time, antigen-antibody complexes become deposited in body tissue, where they trigger inflammation and a domino effect of other symptoms. 

Symptoms and Causes of Food Sensitivity

Food sensitivities are highly individualistic conditions that cause unique symptoms from person to person. Eating pasta might not affect your spouse, but it could be the cause of your eczema or chronic migraines. 

To make matters more confusing, signs of a food sensitivity are often subtle and take up to 72 hours to develop. You may not be sure whether your symptoms are related to something you ate two hours ago or two days ago. 

The following symptoms are all correlated to food sensitivities and could be caused by components of your diet you’ve never thought to question:

  • Acne
  • Brain fog and poor concentration
  • Dry, itchy, inflamed skin
  • Eczema and psoriasis
  • Bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Acid reflux
  • Migraines and headaches
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Difficulty sleeping

Only a reliable at-home food sensitivity test can reveal the true correlations between your symptoms and your diet. These are just a few of the foods most frequently associated with ongoing food sensitivities:

  • Eggs
  • Gluten (including wheat, rye, barley)
  • Corn
  • Food additives
  • Soy
  • Shellfish
  • Dairy products
  • Beed, pork, lamb
  • Beans and lentils
  • Broccoli, cabbage, and mushrooms
  • Artificial sweeteners

It could be a single bite of one of these foods that triggers your symptoms, or it might take weeks of accumulation before side effects occur.

How Is a Food Allergy Different From a Food Sensitivity?

A food allergy is different from a food sensitivity in one critical way: a food allergy involves a reaction of the immune system, not the digestive system.

Your immune system functions as your body’s defense system. It attacks invaders like bacteria and viruses. Food allergies develop when your immune system accidentally interprets foods like strawberries or peanuts as harmful invaders. 

This triggers the release of immunoglobulin E (igE) antibodies. IgEs tell your immune system to release histamines and other chemicals into your bloodstream. Histamines cause allergy symptoms that range from minor to severe. Most of these symptoms develop within a few minutes to a few hours:

  • Tingling or itching, especially in the mouth
  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Trouble breathing
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Rapid pulse
  • Loss of consciousness

It’s possible for any food to cause an immune response that creates food allergies, but about 90% of allergic reactions originate from these eight foods:

  • Shellfish
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Cow’s Milk
  • Wheat
  • Soybeans

How to Test Your Food Sensitivities At Home

If your symptoms and food triggers seem to match the description of a food sensitivity, it’s easy to use an at-home food sensitivity test to identify your triggers. 

A 96 IgG food sensitivity test measures your body’s response to the 96 foods most likely to cause sensitivity responses. Once your test identifies the foods potentially responsible for your symptoms, you can use your results as a roadmap to eliminate triggers from your diet. 

It’s very simple to perform a 96 IgG food sensitivity at-home test. You only need to gather a small finger prick collection and return your sample with prepaid shipping. An experienced and board-certified physician assesses your blood sample and rates your body’s reactivity to each of the 96 foods from low to high. 

Your food sensitivity test results offer important and insightful guidance toward living a healthier life free from the confusing symptoms of food sensitivities. While this type of test is not intended to diagnose any disease or condition, it’s an excellent way to gain a better understanding of your body’s relationship with the foods you eat.