It’s estimated that up to 20% of people have a food intolerance of some kind, with many not even realising it’s something that affects them. From dairy to alcohol, there are numerous types of food and drink that people can have intolerances to.
What is food intolerance?
Food intolerance is when our bodies experience difficulty digesting the things we eat and drink because we can’t break them down in the same way others can. This leads to us experiencing unpleasant effects, such as pain, discomfort, or diarrhea.
An intolerance is not the same as an allergy, which is caused by our body overreacting to something we eat. However, some of the symptoms can be similar.
Intolerances are genetic, and can develop at any point during our lives.
What are the symptoms of food intolerance?
After consuming food you have an intolerance to, you may feel any of the following effects:
- Stomach pain
- Hives, flushing, or other types of skin rash
- Nausea or vomiting
- Blocked/runny nose or sneezing
If you regularly experience any of these symptoms after eating, it’s possible that you have a food intolerance.
Common food intolerances
There are countless types of food and drink we can have an intolerance to, but some of the most common include:
This is a type of sugar found in dairy, which the lactase enzyme struggles to digest due to an inadequate amount of the enzyme.
Examples of products containing lactose include:
- Ice cream
Some products you may not expect can also contain lactose, such as sweets, processed meat, and some breads.
Dairy is found in a lot of products, however, there are a number of high-quality dairy alternatives that make managing an intolerance to lactose manageable.
Gluten is a type of protein found in grains such as barley, wheat, and rye. It’s possible that some people may have an intolerance to one specific grain, such as wheat, but those with gluten intolerance will likely feel symptoms when they eat anything that contains gluten.
Gluten is commonly found in:
- Breakfast cereals
Caffeine is found in a number of popular drinks such as tea, coffee, fizzy drinks, and energy drinks. It’s a stimulant and gives us an energy boost, which is why caffeine is also found in some medicines.
It’s recommended that adults don’t drink more than 400mg of caffeine per day – which is about three or four cups of coffee – however, those with a caffeine intolerance will feel the effects of their intolerance after just a small amount.
As well as flushing, diarrhea, and cramps, those with a caffeine intolerance may also experience anxiety, palpitations, insomnia, and restlessness.
Eggs – specifically egg whites – contain proteins that are a common food intolerance. You may find that you’re able to eat egg yolks, but if you do have an egg intolerance it’s usually recommended to avoid eggs altogether.
Alcohol intolerance is often mistaken with the general side effects associated with drinking alcohol, such as headaches, diarrhea, and stomach cramps.
However, it’s possible that these symptoms are a result of an intolerance to alcohol – especially if you experience them after drinking just a small amount.
It is possible that you have an intolerance to a specific ingredient in the alcohol – such as wheat – which is why it can be difficult to pinpoint an alcohol intolerance.
FODMAPS stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, and are carbohydrates found in a number of different foods:
- Soft cheese
There are specific diets available to help manage FODMAP intolerance.
Salicylates are chemicals that are found naturally in plants that act as a form of defense against insects and disease. As a result, it’s a popular ingredient used in food preservatives and certain medicines.
However, some humans also have an intolerance to salicylates, which are found in a wide range of products, such as:
- Tea and coffee
There are a number of different amines, such as tyramine and serotonin, however, histamine is the most common amine associated with food intolerance.
As you may be aware, antihistamines are commonly taken when experiencing allergy symptoms, which is why you may experience hay fever-like symptoms with amine intolerance.
Amines are commonly found in:
- Processed meat
- Fermented food
- Dried fruit
- Smoked fish
- Charred meat
- Citrus and vinegar
- Aged cheese
Peanuts are a common food allergy, however, it’s also possible to have an intolerance to them, which is easy to mistake for an allergy.
Sulfites are a natural chemical found in food such as grapes and cheese. It’s also commonly used as a food preservative, as well as in some drinks and medicines.
Sulfites are found it:
- Canned food
- Dried fruit
- Baked goods
Those with a mild soy intolerance may be able to consume a small amount and not feel the effects. However, it’s likely that they will experience symptoms after eating a larger amount, such as meat alternatives.
Soy is found in food and drink such as:
- Soy sauce
Other common intolerances
Other common food intolerances include:
- Food colourings
- Red meat
What should you do if you suspect you may have a food intolerance?
Narrowing down exactly which food you have an intolerance to can be a long and painful journey as you eliminate foods one by one.
The fastest and most effective way to check whether or not you have intolerance is with a finger prick food intolerance test. Take a simple test at home and find out once and for all.
Written by Bev Walton, BSc Nutritional Science
I achieved a First-Class Honours degree in BSc Nutritional Science, Nutrition Sciences from the University of Reading and now have over 35 years experience in all types of cuisine, dietary plans, recipe development, health and nutrition. I have been writing for over 10 years for magazines and websites as well as ghostwriting for ebooks, Kindle and fully published books. I’m also a proud member of the Guild of Food writers.