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How to Tell if You Have a Food Intolerance

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How to Tell if You Have a Food Intolerance

Millions of people — approximately 5-10 percent of the global population — suffer from at least one food intolerance. Do you think you could be part of this group?


If so, keep reading to learn everything you ever needed to know about having a food intolerance.

Food Intolerance vs. Food Allergy

First, it's important to understand the difference between a food intolerance and a food allergy. The basic differences are outlined below:


  • Food allergies cause immune system reactions that affect various organs throughout the body. These reactions usually come on very quickly and are severe or even life-threatening.

  • A food intolerance is usually not as severe and symptoms tend to come on gradually. You may also be able to consume small amounts of problematic foods without any trouble.

Symptoms of a Food Intolerance

If you have a food intolerance — or multiple food intolerances — you'll probably experience one or more of the following symptoms:


  • Headaches or migraines

  • Cold-like symptoms, including coughing or a runny nose

  • Skin issues such as hives, eczema, or acne


It's also common to experience signs indicating poor digestion, such as stomach pain and cramping, bloating, constipation, and/or diarrhea.

Causes of Food Intolerances

There are a number of reasons why people develop food intolerances. Some of the most well-known causes include:

Absence of an Enzyme

Enzymes are essential for fully digesting food. If you lack a specific enzyme, you may have a hard time digesting certain foods and will experience the symptoms mentioned above.

Intestinal Permeability

When the tight junctions of the intestines are loosened, it's easy for food particles to slip through. When this happens, the body interprets the food particles as an invader and responds with an immune reaction.


If you have a parent or other family member who suffers from food intolerances, you're more likely to experience them as well.

Most Common Food Intolerances

It's possible to develop an intolerance to any type of food. However, some foods are more likely to cause problems than others. Some of the most common food intolerances include:

1. Dairy

Many people who are sensitive to dairy are, specifically, sensitive to the sugar found in dairy products called lactose.


People who are lactose intolerant do not have sufficient amounts of an enzyme called lactase, which breaks down lactose for digestion and absorption.

2. Gluten

Gluten — the proteins found in foods like wheat, rye, and barley —  is another food that many people do not tolerate.


Some people think that only those who suffer from Celiac disease (an autoimmune condition) have trouble digesting gluten. In reality, though, non-celiac gluten sensitivity is still a common issue, especially since gluten has been shown to contribute to intestinal permeability.

3. Salicylates

Salicylates are a type of chemical that plants produce as a form of defense against disease and insects. Salicylates are present in a variety of foods, including vegetables, fruit, coffee, tea, spices, honey, and nuts.


Salicylates aren't inherently bad — in fact, they contain anti-inflammatory properties and can protect the body from colorectal cancer and other diseases. But, some people are more sensitive to them than others and need to exercise caution when consuming them.


This abbreviation stands for fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides and polyols. These are types of short-chain carbohydrates present in a variety of foods.


Some people have a hard time absorbing high-FODMAP foods. As a result, they ferment in the digestive tract and cause discomfort, gas, and bloating.


Well-known high-FODMAp foods include:


  • Soft cheeses

  • Honey

  • Apples

  • Artichokes

  • Bread

  • Milk

  • Beans

  • Lentils

Managing Food Intolerance

If you think you suffer from a food intolerance, follow these steps to identify and manage your condition effectively:


  • Eliminate problematic foods (gluten, dairy, etc.) for at least 30 days, then reintroduce them to figure out which ones cause your symptoms

  • Once you identify the foods that cause your symptoms, eliminate them completely

  • Get tested for and (if applicable) treat common chronic infections like H. pylori and yeast infections

  • Increase presence of good bacteria in the gut with prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods

  • Slowly reintroduce foods after taking a break and healing the junctions of the gut — you may find that you're able to tolerate them again