Is It A Food Allergy…Or Food Intolerance?

( — It’s all too common to hear a friend or family member shoo away food and claim they’re allergic to it. But the truth is, only about 4 percent of the population has food allergies – with African Americans and children leading the way with having the greatest risks of food allergy.

“People use the term ‘allergies’ very loosely to refer to anything they have a reaction to,” explains Dr. Laura Esswein, an allergist with Mercy Medical Group in St. Louis. ” While ‘allergy’ refers to a special type of response.”

Food intolerance and food allergies are often thought of as the same thing, used interchangeably, or mixed up with one another says Lisa Frazier, a clinical dietitian with Skaggs Regional Medical Center.

In recent years, medical researchers have reported an increase in people with both food allergies and food intolerance; however, it is important to note the clear differences between the two.

Food Allergy Vs. Food Intolerance

Food intolerance is the digestive system’s inability to process a certain food. For example, people who are lactose intolerant lack the enzyme that helps to properly digest a sugar found in milk called lactose. For people lacking this enzyme, the result of consuming dairy products is typicaly gas, diarrhea and bloating. Approximately 80 percent of African Americans and 10 percent of all Americans are lactose intolerant.