A recent study found that even though one in five adults think that they have a food allergy, only one in 10 actually does.

A true food allergy causes an immune system reaction, while an intolerance does not. A food allergy and intolerance can have many of the same symptoms, which is why they are often confused.

Food allergies can be life-threatening while food intolerances are not.

Food intolerances are generally a digestive system response. People often think that any reaction is an allergy, but that is not the case. Reactions to a food intolerance include stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, heartburn and headache. A food allergy is much more severe – symptoms of an allergic reaction can include rash or hives, stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, wheezing, trouble swallowing, swelling and a weak pulse.

The main reason for an intolerance is that your body doesn't have the enzymes to break that food down, such as with lactose. People who are lactose intolerant don’t have enough lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose into smaller molecules that the body can then break down further and absorb through the intestine.

Keep a food journal and write down the food you consume throughout the day. Include what the symptoms were like, and when they appeared. The journal can help you identify which foods are causing reactions. Keep in mind that symptoms of an intolerance might present 24 hours or more after eating, so look deep into your journal for patterns. 

Apart from lactose intolerance and celiac disease, there’s no accurate test to identify food intolerance. The best diagnostic tool is doing an elimination diet.

An elimination diet can be used as a method to try and determine if you might be intolerant of some foods you are eating, causing unpleasant symptoms and keeping you from being your healthiest self. You’ll remove a lot of known irritants from your diet for a set amount of time (usually 2-3 weeks), and then gradually add things back in one by one while monitoring your body’s reactions.

An elimination protocol can help determine which foods should be reduced/removed from one’s diet to optimize digestion, gut health and overall wellbeing. Be sure to consult with a healthcare professional before partaking in an elimination diet.

To identify allergies, your doctor may recommend a skin test and/or a blood test.

A skin prick test determines your reaction to a specific food. A small quantity of the food you’re testing is placed on the back or forearm. The skin is pricked with a needle, allowing some of its substance to penetrate below the skin surface. Allergic people will react with a raised bump. This being said, these tests are not 100 percent reliable.

A blood test measures levels of IgE (immunoglobulin E) antibodies but again, they’re not 100 percent reliable.  

Now that you know the difference between an allergy and an intolerance, you can take the steps necessary to do what’s best for you and your nutritional health moving forward.