Food intolerance are very common. They affect up to 20% of the population but many people do not realize they are even suffering from one. People can carry on eating the same things for years without realizing that one or more foods are causing them discomfort.

There is a wide range of foods and additives that people can be intolerant to but narrowing the list down to the cause of the problem can be difficult. If you are suffering from common symptoms such as bloating, stomach pain, and excess gas, then you may have a food intolerance.

The key to managing food intolerances is to first establish whether you have one, what the cause is, and then how to manage the intolerance and avoid problem foods.

What is food intolerance?

Food intolerance is associated with the digestive system. Basically, it is where your body has problems digesting certain ingredients or compounds. If someone already has a digestive disorder such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) then they will very likely suffer from intolerances too.

It is crucial to note the differences between allergies and intolerances. Where a food intolerance affects the digestive system an allergy concerns the immune system.

In what ways are these two food problems different?

Food intolerances can cause some very unpleasant effects which anyone would be pleased to avoid but it is very unlikely to cause death or life-threatening symptoms. An allergy though can be extremely dangerous. Peanuts, shellfish, sesame seeds, and soy can cause deadly reactions in anyone with an allergy.

Food intolerances while they usually won’t kill you, can leave you in great discomfort. Diarrhea, bloating, stomach cramps, gas, runny noses, migraines, and other physical symptoms can occur from eating the wrong types of food. What is less known is that food intolerances can also cause emotional and psychological issues such as anxiety, stress, and even depression.

What is most likely causing your food intolerance?

While many different foods can cause these symptoms the most common causes of food intolerance are:

  • Dairy
  • Caffeine
  • Gluten
  • Salicylates
  • Amines
  • Sulfites
  • Fructose

Dairy products

Dairy is a very common food group that causes intolerances. It is estimated that up to 65% of the world’s population has difficulty in processing lactose. Lactose is the sugar that is found in milk and it requires an enzyme to digest it. Someone with an intolerance is not able to create enough lactase and so cannot digest milk or similar dairy products.

Someone with lactose intolerance will need to avoid milk, cream and ice cream, and most cheeses. There seems to be no logical reason but many sufferers seem to be able to digest goat’s milk easier than cow’s milk. Also, some harder and aged cheeses such as cheddar, parmesan, and swiss cheese have much less lactose than cottage or cream cheese and some people can manage small amounts.

Gluten intolerance

Gluten can cause severe symptoms in anyone with an intolerance for it. It is also linked to celiac disease and wheat allergies. Someone with celiac disease will need to avoid bread, beer, pasta, cereals, and soy sauce among other things.

Other causes of food intolerances

Some things are almost impossible to eliminate. Salicylates for instance are found in vegetables, fruit, tea, coffee, nuts, and honey. They are natural chemicals used by plants to defend against insects and normally are fine for humans to consume in normal quantities. However, some people have bad reactions to even tiny amounts.

Histamine (amines) can be associated with food intolerance and leaves the sufferer with hives, itching, anxiety, and looking flushed.

How do you tell if you have a food intolerance?

If you are regularly suffering from the symptoms mentioned such as lethargy, fatigue, diarrhea, bloating, excess gas, nausea, hives, and stomach pains then you may have an intolerance.

You will need to discover what food is causing it. There are several ways you can determine which food is causing a problem. With serious allergic reactions, there are only a small number of foods that can cause adverse effects but with intolerances, there are over 170 meaning it can be very hard to pinpoint what the cause is. There may even be more than one food type causing you issues.

How do you detect which food is making you ill?

First, visit your doctor so they can first test you for allergies with a skin prick test. This simple blood test can check for any reactions to over 50 different allergies at once and doesn’t just cover problems with food.

Once your doctor has established you have no allergies then they will start to look at your diet and history of symptoms. You can also find out which food you are intolerant to at home by yourself. Medicross Food Intolerance Tests are available online like other home testing kits and can help to identify whether you have a food intolerance. You can use the kits in conjunction with an exclusion or elimination diet.

What is an exclusion diet?

Before embarking on one of these diets you must visit your doctor first for the allergy test. This is because food allergies are far more serious than food intolerances and you should eliminate the possibility of an allergy first.

An elimination diet is where you remove food that you normally eat from your diet to see how this affects your overall health. You will later reintroduce them to find out which one causes the problem.

How to carry out an elimination diet

Once you are ready you can start with your elimination diet. There are different guides on how to follow one of these diets with some recommending that you remove around 8 different foods at once. This is problematic as it can be difficult to deprive yourself of this many options in one go and can also lead to you missing out on important nutrients.

Another version of this diet that is easier to follow is to remove four items of food that you regularly eat for 3 weeks. For instance, cut out all dairy, all drinks containing caffeine and alcohol also, processed meats, and citrus fruit.

Now consider how you feel after 3 weeks. Is there any improvement in how you feel? If so then one of the foods you excluded is likely to be your problem. If you still feel poorly then it could be another food that is causing your symptoms and it may be wise to visit your doctor to check it isn’t something unrelated to your diet.

After 3 weeks you can start to eat these foods again. Bring them back one by one with around 3 or 4 days between each reintroduction. Hopefully, through this diet, you will be able to locate your food intolerance.

Managing your food intolerance

Once you have found the cause of your discomfort you then need to know how to live life with it. Knowing what food is the problem is one way to pursue a healthier lifestyle but you will need to be aware of what you are eating especially when you go to restaurants.

Some medications can help with digestion depending on how severe your symptoms are. Other sufferers find they can have small amounts of whatever food they are intolerant to without too much difficulty. Others have to avoid their problem food completely. Check labels for ingredients when shopping; all common allergens have to be listed by law. When in restaurants do not be scared to ask your server if milk, soy, or peanuts are in your food depending on what your intolerance is.


Finding out whether you have a food intolerance is a matter of recognizing the symptoms for what they are. Then you need to discount the possibility of an allergy. Follow this up with a home testing kit and an elimination diet. By following these steps you should discover which food is causing your symptoms and you can then avoid it in the future.