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Food Intolerance, Do I Have It?

Dr Rishika Agarwal 483 Views
Updated: 15 Nov 2023
Published: 10 Nov 2023
Food Intolerance, Do I Have It?

Do you have a stomach-ache or skin irritation after eating certain foods? You're not alone as a lot of people are facing this. It's called a food intolerance. Note that it's estimated that it affects about 20% of the population. However, it's challenging to figure out because food intolerances are unlike regular allergies. They work in mysterious ways. In this blog, we will know what food intolerance is, how to check if you have it, and tips to cure it.

What Is Food Intolerance?

The term "food hypersensitivity" includes both food allergies and food intolerances. Although some symptoms appear similar but they are different.

When you have a food intolerance, symptoms usually start a few hours after eating the problematic Food. However, things can get a bit complicated when these symptoms take up to 48 hours and stick around for hours or even days. This much delay makes it challenging to identify which specific food is causing the issue.

It is even more confusing if you regularly consume foods you're intolerant to because connecting your symptoms to a particular food becomes quite puzzling. Food intolerance means your body struggles to digest certain foods, resulting in uncomfortable physical reactions.

Food Allergy Symptoms

Below are the symptoms of a food allergy:

  • Immediate Occurrence: Symptoms appear within minutes to a few hours.
  • Skin Reactions: Hives, itching, or redness.
  • Respiratory Issues: Sneezing, coughing, or shortness of breath.
  • Gastrointestinal Symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea.
  • Swelling: Lips, tongue, or face.
  • Anaphylaxis: Severe cases with low blood pressure and rapid pulse.

Food Intolerance Symptoms

Below are the symptoms of food intolerance:

  • Delayed Occurrence: Hours to days after consumption.
  • Gastrointestinal Distress: Bloating, stomach pain, or gas.
  • Skin Issues: Eczema or rashes.
  • Headaches: Frequent headaches or migraines.
  • Fatigue: Feeling tired or fatigued.
  • Mood Changes: Irritability, anxiety, or depression.
  • Other Symptoms: Joint pain, muscle aches, or unwell feeling.

Causes of Food Intolerance

Food intolerances happen when your body is unable to digest a particular food ingredient. You might have already heard about lactose intolerance as it is quite common. In this case, the body can't digest lactose (milk and dairy products).

But you can have other food intolerance such as:

  • Gluten, found in things like bread and pasta.
  • Histamine, which is in foods like wine and cheese.
  • Caffeine, present in coffee, tea, and some sodas.
  • Alcohol.
  • Sulphites are found in cider, beer, and wine.
  • Salicylates are in some fruits, veggies, herbs, and spices.
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is found in ripened fruits, cured meats, and savoury foods.

The most common reason is that your body can’t make enough enzyme required to digest the allergic food ingredient. For example, you need lactase enzyme to convert lactase products. Other reason is ageing. As you age, you are more prone to intolerances.

Other Causes

Food intolerances are often due to your digestive system not producing enough specific enzymes to break down a particular food or ingredient. It's a mystery why some folks develop these intolerances.

Certain gastrointestinal conditions might make you more likely to have food sensitivities. These conditions include:

  • Celiac disease.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) includes conditions like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

Common Foods Leading to Food Intolerance

Here are some foods leading to intolerance food:

Lactose Intolerance

If your body can’t agree with lactose, it can’t naturally digest lactose ingredients like dairy products. Thus, lactose sensitivity occurs. When you take enough lactose, it leads to stomach trouble like bloating and constipation. You might have already heard about lactose sensitivity, as it is quite common. If you doubt yourself having lactose issues, you can take a sensitivity test like a stool, pH test, or hydrogen reach test.

Gluten Sensitivity

Gluten is mostly found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale. Gluten sensitivity is problematic, especially in the case of celiac disease, as eating gluten harms the small intestine in celiac disease. If you continue including gluten in your diet, it will increase intestinal permeability and lead to joint pain and brain fog.

Soy Intolerance

It may sound quite strange, but Soy food also triggers stomach pain, gas, bloating, and such symptoms if you have soy sensitivity. It is a natural compound found in plant-based foods, Baked goods, canned soups, and salad dressings.

FODMAP Intolerance

FODMAPs are carbs that cause digestive issues. A low-Fodmap diet means avoiding high lactose, dairy, wheat, barley, and legumes. In one study, it was found that around 86% of people with IBS found relief when they switched to a low-FODMAP diet.

Caffeine Intolerance

If you are a caffeine addict, it may feel impossible to start a day without caffeine. It is totally understandable, as you’re not alone. Coffee tea and such energy drinks are full of caffeine. Those who are sensitive to caffeine experience symptoms like shakiness, insomnia, dizziness, dehydration, and anxiety. The less you weigh, the more intolerant you are to caffeine. Removing caffeinated drinks from your daily routine is the only way to fix this issue. Remember that even decaf coffee can also contain caffeine from 1 to 25 mg.

Other intolerances include aspartame, eggs, MSG, food colourings, yeast, and sugar alcohol. Managing these intolerances requires you to avoid foods containing these additives and ingredients.

Food Intolerance vs. Food Allergy

Here is the basic difference between a food intolerance and a food allergy–

Food Allergy

  • A food allergy occurs when your immunity (your body's defence against infections) reacts to proteins in Food as if they were harmful invaders.
  • It can result in allergy symptoms, such as a rash, wheezing, and itching, even after consuming a tiny amount of the Food. These symptoms typically appear quickly.
  • Food allergies often relate to specific foods like fish, shellfish, peanuts, and other nuts.
  • Importantly, food allergies can be life-threatening.

Food Intolerance

  • Food intolerance doesn't count your immune system, and there's no allergic food reaction. It's never life-threatening.
  • Symptoms of food intolerance typically develop gradually, often a few hours after consuming the problem food.
  • These symptoms only occur if you eat a significant amount of the Food. In contrast, with allergies, even tiny traces can trigger a reaction.
  • Many different foods can cause food intolerance.

Food Intolerance, Do I Have It?

There are many tests that let you check if you have a food intolerance or not. Several companies offer food intolerance tests, but all of them are not based on scientific evidence or recommended by the British Dietary Association (BDA). The most effective way to diagnose food intolerance is by monitoring your symptoms and the foods you consume.

Here's what you can do:

Keep a Food Diary

  • Make a record of the foods you eat.
  • Note any symptoms that occur after eating these foods.
  • Record when these symptoms occur.

Try a Trial Elimination Diet

  • Once you have a sense of danger foods that might be causing your symptoms, try excluding them from your diet one at a time and observe the effects.
  • Remove the suspected food from your daily diet for 2-6 weeks and see if something improves.
  • Then, reintroduce the Food to see if your symptoms return. You might find that you can tolerate a certain amount, and symptoms only occur if you have more than that.

Hydrogen Breath Test for Lactose Intolerance

  • A hydrogen breath test can help detect lactose intolerance.
  • In this test, you drink a liquid containing lactose.
  • Then, you'll breathe into a container every 30 minutes for a few hours.
  • If you're lactose intolerant, undigested lactose will result in high levels of hydrogen in your breath.


If you discover a food intolerance, it’s time to do something about it. First thing to do is to change your diet. For example, you can go for lactose-free milk and dairy products in case of lactose intolerance. Plus, you can purchase lactase enzymes from your local drugstore. These little helpers are available as pills or drops. You can take the pills before having any dairy product or add a few drops of lactase to your milk. It will make it easier on your stomach.

Note that you can handle small amounts of troublesome foods. However, when extreme symptoms appear, you need to take over-the-counter remedies like antacids or antidiarrheals.


If you often experience upset stomach and digestive issues after eating or drinking certain things, it is due to a food intolerance. Remember that this is not a food allergy. Food allergy is a different thing and is very dangerous. The good news is that you can still enjoy small amounts of the trigger foods. If you want to completely solve your food intolerances, keeping a food diary and trying an elimination diet will be of great help.

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