Sugar Intolerance or Sugar Allergy?

For many people, the process of consuming sugar does not make them sick. For others, however, sugar can cause an immediate set of symptoms, sometimes severe allergy symptoms. Although you may want to use antihistamines, there is little practical evidence that sugar allergies are real.

In most cases, what you experience is best described as sugar intolerance. Although symptoms may resemble a food allergy, the underlying mechanisms are quite different.

Intolerances and Allergies

Generally, when you first eat the food you are allergic to, your body makes an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). When exposed to the same allergen for the second time (even weeks or years later), your immune system will set off an alarm by binding the allergen to preformed IgE on mast cells or basophils to react, causing an allergic reaction.

In contrast, food intolerances occur when you are unable to break down certain foods in your digestive system. This can be due to a few different factors, including enzyme deficiencies or sensitivity to specific chemicals or additives in food.

Another important difference between an allergic reaction and an intolerance is that a person with an intolerance may be able to consume small amounts of the food in question without having a negative reaction.

Although some studies suggest that sugar allergy is possible, there is no evidence for the presence of sugar-specific IgE in people who have experienced severe allergy-like episodes.

Difference Between Food Allergy and Intolerance Compare the Difference Between Similar Terms

type of sugar

It’s hard to get rid of sugar — it’s in many foods you probably eat every day, obviously things like fruit, desserts, sodas, pastries, ice cream, and dairy. However, you may not know that it is also an ingredient in many other favorite foods, such as sports drinks, cereals, bottled dressings, salad dressings, and more.

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Sugar is a fuel source for the body’s cells, so it plays an important role in providing energy to the body. Sugars are carbohydrates, and there are several forms of sugar, including:

  • Fructose is a naturally occurring sugar found in fruits, high-carb vegetables, and honey.
  • Glucose is an important source of energy for the body and requires insulin to utilize it.
  • Galactose is a sugar present in dairy products.
  • Lactose is a sugar present in dairy products, consisting of glucose and galactose.
  • Maltose is formed when two glucose molecules are combined, and it is mainly found in grains such as malt.
  • Sucrose, also known as “table sugar,” is a combination of glucose and fructose, and it comes from plants like sugar cane and sugar beets.
  • Xylose comes from wood or straw, which is converted into a sugar substitute we call xylitol through an enzymatic process.

Of the possible causes of sugar intolerance, fructose and lactose are considered the most likely culprits.

Evidence suggests that fructans, a carbohydrate composed of fructose chains, may be the real cause of non-celiac gluten intolerance, as they are found in high amounts in wheat and rye.

sugar intolerance symptoms

Symptoms of sugar intolerance vary from person to person. Some common symptoms include:

  • stomach cramps
  • changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea
  • Uncomfortable bloating
  • gas
  • nausea and vomiting
  • headache
  • Migraine
  • nasal congestion
  • respite
  • hives, swollen or itchy rash-like eczema

Other symptoms associated with sugar intolerance include:

  • A tingling or itchy feeling in the mouth
  • fatigue
  • Unusual swelling of the lips, tongue, throat, face, or other parts of the body
  • Difficulty breathing
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • fainting episode

Conversely, if a person has a severe allergic reaction to food, they may develop anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction to touching or consuming food. While unlikely to occur with sugar, typical symptoms of allergies to other foods include:

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  • A person’s airway tightens or constricts
  • Blood pressure drops drastically due to shock attack
  • swollen or closed throat, making it difficult to breathe
  • loss of consciousness
  • fast heart rate

If you have any symptoms of an allergic reaction, seek emergency medical care right away.


Many people can manage sugar intolerance by changing their diet, avoiding sugar, or significantly reducing sugar intake. To determine which types of sugar are problematic, you may want to keep a food journal so you can keep track of the foods you eat and determine how they make you feel.

For example, if you notice discomfort every time you put ketchup on a burger, it could be a sign that your body can’t tolerate the sugar in the product.

Another example is dairy products. If you have digestive problems after you eat ice cream or drink a glass of milk, this may indicate that you are lactose intolerant.

How to keep a food diary

foods to avoid

If you know you’re having an adverse reaction to sugar but can’t identify the source, you may want to avoid it entirely. Sugary foods include, but are not limited to:

  • agave
  • bread
  • Cakes, Cookies and Other Pastries
  • candy
  • sugar cane juice or sugar cane
  • cereals
  • sweetened condiments
  • corn syrup
  • fruit
  • fruit juice
  • fruit roll
  • Granola Bars
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • sugar
  • Jelly, Jams & Preserves
  • molasses
  • Sweetened Nut Milks and Nut Butters
  • Salad dressings, marinades, pasta sauces, or sugary barbecue sauces
  • soda water

If you are lactose intolerant, you need to avoid dairy products such as:

  • butter
  • cheese
  • ice cream
  • milk
  • pudding
  • Creamy soups, sauces, or other dishes made with cream
  • yogurt

When to see a healthcare provider

Consult a healthcare provider if you suspect that you may experience unusual symptoms while eating sugar. Treatment for sugar intolerance will depend on the severity of your reaction, but there are various tests your healthcare provider can use to confirm the diagnosis.

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Additionally, your healthcare provider may recommend consulting a dietitian to develop a healthy eating plan around any restrictions you may be experiencing.

VigorTip words

Having a sugar intolerance can be daunting. But keep in mind that you may tolerate some sugar substitutes, so you can still enjoy delicious meals and snacks—minus the foods that make you miserable.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Am I allergic to sugar?

    maybe not. A true allergy to sugar is theoretically possible, but extremely rare. Some people experience allergy-like symptoms when they eat sugar. However, it is more likely to be a sugar intolerance than an allergy.

    Also, eating too much sugar can weaken your immune system and aggravate environmental allergies like pollen or dust.

  • What is sugar intolerance?

    Glucose intolerance is an umbrella term for difficulty digesting certain types of sugars, such as lactose or fructose. People with lactose intolerance lack the enzyme (lactase) that digests dairy products.

    Fructose intolerance is also common. Evidence suggests that fructans, a carbohydrate composed of fructose chains, can cause symptoms similar to those of celiac disease.

  • Is sugar intolerance the same as glucose intolerance?

    Will not. Sugar intolerance is a dietary intolerance to certain types of sugar. Glucose intolerance is a metabolic disorder that causes blood sugar levels to be higher than normal.

  • How do you treat sugar intolerance?

    Diet, sometimes supplemented. People who are intolerant to certain types of sugar should avoid foods that contain that type of sugar.

    For example, people with fructose intolerance should avoid fruits, high-carb vegetables, and honey. People with maltose intolerance need to avoid certain grains, such as malt.

    Lactose intolerance is often treated with the enzyme lactase, which helps break down lactose and prevents symptoms of indigestion.

coexisting with food allergies