Background Up to 35% of the population modify their diet for adverse reactions to food. This study described the food choice behaviour of diagnosed food-allergic (DFA), self-reported food-allergic or intolerant (SFA) and nonfood-allergic (NFA) consumers, and explored differences between them. Methods Six focus groups with adults (n = 44) were conducted. Data analysis was performed using thematic content analysis. Results Compared to NFA participants, DFA consumers were deprived of satisfaction and pleasure from foods, experienced difficulties finding safe foods and had to be organized with eating. SFA participants faced similar problems, but to a lesser degree; their food choices were strongly influenced by emotional factors or health awareness. Conclusion Food-allergic consumers' food choices are influenced by a number of factors that differ to those of NFA consumers. It is therefore important to offer people with food allergies or intolerances advice that goes beyond how to avoid allergens.