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Food Allergies vs. Food Intolerance

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

First, let's start with what a food allergy is. A food allergy is an immune response to the protein found in the food (Fraker et al., 2007). The protein in the food causes an allergic reaction to occur because large protein molecules have entered the child's immature GI tract. Once the large molecule hits the immune system, the immune system now recognizes it as a threat creating antibodies for that protein. This is why it is important to not introduce common allergy-causing food early or before it is recommended by your pediatrician. Most pediatricians recommend not introducing the allergy-causing foods until the child is one year old. Once introducing the most common allergy-causing foods after one year, slowly try one new food at a time and document symptoms you observe in your child. After the symptoms are documented and observed, eliminate that certain food for two weeks to see if any symptoms resolve. If you are uncertain if your child is experiencing a food allergy, document them and report them to your pediatrician. Symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhea, gastritis, growth failure, colic-like crying, or repeated regurgitation.

Second, food intolerance is where the digestive system comes into play. Food intolerance indicates the food is so irritating, that the child's stomach cannot digest or break down the food. Food intolerance symptoms "include nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea, gas, cramps, bloating, vomiting, headaches, heartburn, and irritability" (Fraker et al., 2007).

Tips for Building a Healthy Relationship with Food (after having bad experiences):

  • Allow the child to determine how much and whether they are eating the food or not

  • Offer a variety of food

  • Be matter-of-fact about food limits

  • Respect your child's preferences

Refer to my "Signs and Causes of Inadequate Eating and Feeding" post for SIGNS of food allergies.


Fraker, C., Fishbein, M., Cox, S., Walbert, L. (2007, November 2). Food chaining: The proven

6-step plan to stop picky eating, solve feeding problems, and expand your child’s diet.

Hachette Books.

Marcus, S., & Breton, S. (Eds.). (2022). Infant and child feeding and swallowing: Occupational

therapy assessment and intervention (2nd ed.) AOTA Press.

Satter, E. (2000). Child of mine: Feeding with love and good sense. Bull Publishing Company.

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