Prevalence and Symptoms

Food intolerance, food sensitivities, and food allergies are all types of adverse reactions to food, but they have different prevalence and symptoms associated with them. Here is an overview of the prevalence and symptoms associated with each of these conditions.

Food Intolerance

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), lactose intolerance affects up to 65% of the global population, and is more common in people of African, Asian, and Hispanic descent. Other types of food intolerance are less common, but can still affect a significant number of people.

Symptoms of food intolerance can vary, but typically include digestive symptoms such as bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Symptoms may occur shortly after eating the offending food, and can last for several hours.

Food Sensitivity

The prevalence of food sensitivities is not well understood, but some estimates suggest that up to 15% of the population may be affected. Food sensitivities can cause a wide range of symptoms, which can vary from person to person. Common symptoms of food sensitivity include:

  • Headaches
  • Joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Skin rashes
  • Mood changes
  • Digestive symptoms
  • Respiratory symptoms
  • Neurological symptoms

Symptoms of food sensitivity can be delayed, and may not occur until several hours or even days after eating the offending food. This can make it difficult to identify the specific trigger foods.

Food Allergy

Food allergies are less common than food intolerances and sensitivities, affecting an estimated 4-6% of children and 4% of adults in the United States. Common food allergens include peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, milk, eggs, wheat, and soy.

Symptoms of food allergy can be severe and even life-threatening, and can include:

  • Hives
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Anaphylaxis

Symptoms of food allergy typically occur within minutes to hours of exposure to the offending food, and can be triggered by even small amounts of the allergen.