Food Sensitivity vs. Allergy vs. Intolerance

Igor Klibanov
7 min readAug 17, 2023

Should I get a food sensitivity test?” My clients, readers and audiences will frequently ask me. To which I’ll answer that question with another question (yeah, it’s a Jewish thing): “what do you hope to get out of the test?

Why do I ask this question? A couple of reasons:

  1. I can’t give a straight answer.
  2. I want to see if the test that they want to get is indeed testing what they want to test.

And that’s what we’ll talk about in this newsletter — the difference between food allergies, food sensitivities and food intolerances, as well as what they do and don’t tell you.

Original source: here.


These 3 terms are often used interchangeably, but they are different things. So let’s give some definitions.

Food allergies are the most well-known. They’re severe and immediate. For instance, if you have a peanut allergy, within a matter of seconds of eating that peanut, your throat may shut. Or if you have a shellfish allergy, in a matter of minutes to hours, your skin breaks out in hives.

Food sensitivities, by contrast are subtle and delayed. For instance, you eat gluten (found in wheat, rye and barley), and in a few days your joints are stiff. You drink milk, and the next morning, your nose is congested. Those are examples of sensitivities.

Food intolerances are when your body doesn’t have the enzymes necessary to process a certain food. For instance, with lactose intolerance, you don’t have the enzyme (it’s called “lactase”) to break down lactose. Symptoms of food intolerance are usually restricted to just the digestive system, whereas the symptoms of food allergies and sensitivities are not limited to just digestion. They could be far ranging. The effects could be on your lungs, your joints, your skin, your brain, etc.

The big difference between food allergies/sensitivities and food intolerances is that the former is an immune issue. The latter is purely a digestive issue.




Igor Klibanov

Igor Klibanov is the author 7 books on exercise and nutrition, including 2 bestsellers. Read more of his articles at