If you have even the tiniest hint of a sweet tooth, you likely know the exact ins and outs of how indulging in sugary-sweet treats makes you feel — for better or for worse. Feel particularly terrible after a holiday party, night out, or one too many trips to the candy and donuts in the break room and you might start to wonder if your body actually doesn't handle sugar all that well. While sugar allergies are possible, they're rare, but there are a lot of signs your body is intolerant to sugar, which is more likely to be what's ailing you.
So what's the difference between an allergy and intolerance anyway? "When a person is allergic to a food item, it’s not so much that they’re allergic to the sugar, but they’re allergic to some type of protein that’s in that food," Charmaine Jones, registered dietitian and founder of Food Jonezi, tells Romper. "And what happens is, when you are allergic to a certain protein that’s in a food item, your body’s immune system is mistaking that protein for a foreign invader, like a virus or bacteria, so it just automatically sends out or releases chemicals to fight off this protein and the chemical that is released unfortunately [causes] your body to break out in hives or cause an allergy reaction." Food allergies can be life-threatening. They're no joke. Food intolerances, on the other hand, aren't usually life-threatening. "[I]f a person that is food intolerant, they are intolerant to that specific sugar and that means that your body is unable to or [has] problems digesting that sugar," Jones explains. That's not to say that they don't cause problems of their own, but they won't kill you.
There are probably more things that can qualify as "sugar" than you realized. Lactose, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, and the like are all forms of sugar. The -ose suffix can help you figure out if something might be a sugar, so it's handy to keep that in mind when reading labels. If you think that you're intolerant to sugar or sugar alcohols — Jones says some people are extra sensitive to those as well — there are a few things you need to look out for. And your gut is at the center of it all.