Food Allergies vs. Food Sensitivities: Understanding the Difference

Happy Wellness Wednesday!


I hope you are all having a great week, so far! We are half-way through, if not. #WellnessWednesday has become a fun social media trend that I really look forward to, because I learn a lot by viewing my FB and Twitter feeds! I love that the health community comes alive today and shares the wealth of knowledge that we are dedicating our lives to.

One thing on my mind today is food allergies. I recently broke out in hives and began a quest to figure out what I may be allergic to. I have a very sensitive digestive system since birth and it has caused a lot of disruption in my life, especially during the 80s and 90s when we didn’t have the science backed data that we have today. Let’s rejoice and be grateful for medical science and the people who have spent hours and hours of their lives, away from their family and friends, to bring us this gift.

Digging into food allergies vs. sensitivity can be overwhelming, especially if you are undergoing testing for these issues. I remember my junior year of high school when I had to drink a tall glass of barium, a chalky white and terribly gross substance, like it was a chocolate milkshake and wait for a couple of hours for the nasty liquid to hit my intestines.

Food allergies and food sensitivities have common symptoms, which is why they are often confused. According to Stephan Rechtschaffen, MD and founder of Omega Institute, over half of the population has a food allergy. Food allergy symptoms range from fatigue, achy joints, difficult digestion and GI problems to migraines. Let’s start with milk.

Source: Drew Coffman
Source: Drew Coffman

Lactose Intolerance vs. Milk Allergy

With a lactose Intolerance, your body is not producing the amount of lactose enzymes needed to break down lactose in the intestinal tract. If you only suffer from a lactose intolerance, the symptoms will take a few hours to go into effect. Gas and loose stool are common symptoms of a lactose intolerance.

However, a milk allergy will be felt immediately, or very soon after consuming anything with milk. The symptoms vary from headaches, congestion, and stomach problems.

Source: Igor Trepeshchenok
Source: Igor Trepeshchenok

Celiac Disease vs. Gluten Sensitivity

Let’s start off with understanding what gluten is. When this first became a trend, I had never really heard of the word “gluten,” and now it is everywhere in just a few years! According to a GF expert, Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, gluten is the storage of proteins found in the grains of wheat, rye, barley and their various forms. Gluten is also used as a thickening agent and flavor enhancer, which is why it is in what seems like everything.

Celiac Disease (CD) is an autoimmune disease that is triggered by gluten. CD causes the body to produce antibodies to gluten and attack the intestines, which leads to chronic conditions and malnourishment. Symptoms of CD include gas, bloating, achy joints, migraines and digestive issues.

A gluten sensitivity will have similar symptoms, but no antibodies to gluten are produced and there is no intestinal damage. Your immune system will respond to the allergy with symptoms of swelling and itching, hives and rashes, watery eyes, and even difficulty breathing. Many gluten sensitivities actually stem from a single wheat allergy, and not the other forms of grain.


When testing for food allergies, the easiest and cheapest way is through an Elimination Diet. Stephan Rechtschaffen, MD advises removing milk, citrus, wheat and eggs for seven days and then reintroducing each food one at a time on days 8, 9, 10, and 11 to see if you react. If you suspect you may have CD, Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, advises genetic testing to rule it out.

Resources for Gluten-Free Living

Since so much of the population has discovered their food allergens, thankfully the food industry has responded by giving us options, yay! I myself avoid dairy as much as possible, and my favorite app for dining out is HappyCow (click it to go to their website!) and many restaurants now show their rating from HappyCow.

For my Gluten-Free friends, there is an abundance of resources out there, including the app DineGlutenFree and the website for safe and symptom free traveling!

Tips: The best thing you can do if you suffer from allergies or sensitivities is to read the label on all the foods you are buying. Be cautious of cross contamination when dining out or shopping from bulk bins and learn to cook. There are many awesome cookbooks out there for food sensitivities and allergies. Have fun with it! Honestly, I’m grateful for my food sensitivities because they keep me eating healthy. We have an abundance of great foods to choose from, including all the fruits and veggies we can handle.

My busineIMG_1129ss, Lighted Wellness, is now up and running! If you are interested in working with a health coach to reach any health goals you may have, please email me at

Love & Light!



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