What is a food intolerance? What’s the definition of a food intolerance? What are some food intolerance examples? What are some common food intolerances? We’ll talk about that and more in this post.
This week, I’m taking a deep dive into some of the basics around food intolerances and food sensitivity testing with a series here on the blog. I’m starting the series off with the question of “What is a food intolerance?” since it seems to be the most basic thing we need to know to talk about why they happen, the symptoms that accompany them, and what you can do to learn about your own food intolerances.
But first things first – I want to make my disclaimer about this blog series and why I teach what I teach here on my blog and website:
I don’t think there’s one way of eating that’s better for anyone. I don’t promote a gluten-free dairy-free diet because it’s somehow HEALTHIER than other diets. I talk about it because I eat that way (egg-free too), and it seems to resonate with a lot of women out there.
I feel like there’s not enough info out there for women getting started with this diet when they discover they can’t eat certain things, so I do my best to share my journey, my tips, and things I’ve learned along the way. The goal here is to shorten the learning curve, not preach what I do because I think others should do it too.
Take note that I’m not a doctor and this is not medical advice. I’m a certified health coach and person who’s been living with food intolerances for years, that’s it. I’m just a person who’s trying to share information. If you need medical advice or specific health advice, be in touch with your doctor or naturopath who can give you a personal diagnosis.
Here’s what to expect in the next few days I’m putting together a full series on food intolerances and sensitivities, because I think SO MANY people don’t understand them. They don’t understand why they can’t eat what they eat – or they have a hard time articulating it to others when they have to explain a sudden change in diet.
This week, we’re going to go back to basics and talk about some of these very basic concepts as to why it’s important to know what foods you’re sensitive or intolerant to so you can:
1) tell others what you’re’ going through confidently, being able to communicate your needs is SO important,
2) understand why it’s important to stick with this (or any other food intolerance or sensitivity-driven) diet consistently – and not just try it out for a month and then go back to your old way of eating (leaky gut, hello!), and
3) get a full comprehensive view of your intolerances so that you can make some changes in your diet and health to feel your absolute best every single day in your body – and your clothes
Sound like a plan? Alright, here’s what we’re going to cover in this post:
- Define food intolerances
- Get examples of what food intolerances look like in real life
- Discuss common food intolerances
- Dive into what causes food intolerances in the first place
Food intolerance definition
A food intolerance or food sensitivity is an immune system response in the body when a certain food is eaten. This response is known as an IgA or IgG antibody response, and is a delayed reaction to eating specific foods that your body cannot break down properly.
These reactions often comes in the form of digestive issues, skin issues, and even mood related symptoms. We’ll talk more about symptoms in another blog post, but for now, know that almost anything that is strange going on in your body that you can’t explain can often be explained by a food intolerance.
Food intolerance examples
Some examples of food intolerance and sensitivity are:
- Dairy intolerance
- Lactose intolerance
- Gluten intolerance
- Egg intolerance
- Caffeine intolerance
- Food dye intolerance
- Sulfite intolerance
- Histamine intolerance
- Aspartame and sugar alcohol intolerance
- MSG intolerance
As an example of what this might look, let’s take me as an example. I have a gluten intolerance and when I eat that food, I usually start getting bloated in my belly area within about 15 minutes of eating that food.
After 30 minutes to an hour, I will get gas and painful cramping in my stomach. Then I’ll usually have a bad bathroom trip with very loose smelly stools (sorry, TMI, but if you’re reading this, you probably relate on some level!). I may use the restroom up to four times after eating gluten on that same day. I usually feel terrible all over.
The next day, I likely will have a throbbing headache on the right side of my head, joint pain throughout my body, tightness through my jaw, neck, and shoulder, and maybe still some digestive issues. At this point, I’m probably extremely cranky and not extremely fun to be around.
The entire day or two after my eating gluten, I’m likely to be very tired, lethargic, feel heavy in my body, and want to sleep a ton. No amount of water or exercise can get me out of that funk that I get in.
It takes me about 3 to 5 days with digestive issues, headache, and feeling lethargic to get a tingle in the right side of my head and that’s usually when I know the gluten is leaving my system and I’m in the clear.
Of course, the symptoms will vary from person to person, and what I experience may be extremely different than what someone else with gluten intolerance experiences. It’s all relative, but this is just a quick example of what a food intolerance ‘looks like’ in real life.
Common food intolerances
The most common food intolerances are often the ones that get associated with food allergies, and include:
- Tree nuts (all or different ones individually)
- High-FODMAP foods
- Sugar alcohols
- Food dyes and colorings
- Nightshade vegetables
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list, but it gives you an idea of some of the most common. I’d assume with everyone’s bodies being different that virtually any food could become one that someone is intolerant to if they ate it enough and had gut impermeability (or “leaky gut syndrome”).
What causes food intolerances?
As I mentioned before, food intolerances are caused by an immune system response to certain foods that you eat. But why does that happen? And how?
In the most basic way that I can explain this, the foods that you are intolerant to are often the ones that you eat the most. Foods like gluten, dairy, eggs, etc. These foods trigger your body when they reach the intestines, and produce antibodies in response to thinking that they are invaders in your system, instead of food.
Essentially, there are little holes in your gut lining, and the foods that you eat the most are the ones that you’ll become intolerant to. These foods permeate the gut lining and become the triggers for those antibodies to produce. Basically, your body starts fighting the foods that you love to eat.
As an example, when a cold or flu virus shows up in your body, your immune system starts to attack it, trying to fight it off. This reaction is the same when you have food intolerances your body sends off antibodies to protect you against these invading foods.
Most of the time, we aren’t fully aware we even have food intolerances or sensitivities, but are well-versed in the symptoms they produce, like the digestive symptoms, skin issues, headaches, and even joint pain.
Of course, not everyone is intolerant to the same things. Which is why it can be so tricky to determine if you have food intolerances or sensitivities in the first place. Everyone’s experiences can be completely unique.
We’ll cover a lot more about symptoms and figuring out if you have food intolerances later on in this series, but for now, I hope that with this knowledge, you’ve been able to get a good understanding of the basics of food intolerances, what the most common types of food intolerances are, and what causes them.
Hopefully now you know a little more about what food sensitivities and food intolerances are, you can feel good about communicating this to others when you find yourself needing to explain any changes in your diet.
What’s next? Now that you know what food intolerances and sensitivities are, let’s talk about how food intolerances show up in your daily health and life. What do they look like on the outside?
Ready for the rest of this series? Be sure to check out my posts about food intolerances!
Learn more about food intolerances and how to navigate them with these posts.
21 Food Intolerance Symptoms That May Surprise You
Have you ever wondered what food intolerance symptoms are? Knowing these can help you determine if you need to conduct an elimination diet, if you are lactose or dairy intolerant or maybe should consider a gluten-free diet.
Do you have a food intolerance or food sensitivity? Here's how to find out.
Do you wonder if you have a food intolerance or food sensitivities? Read this post to find out the exact steps to discover your own food intolerances, learn about tests, and what food intolerance symptoms look like.
4 Shocking Ways Food Intolerances Are Damaging Your Health
Have you wondered if you have food intolerances, but don’t understand what all the talk is about? Learn the four shocking ways unknown food intolerances are damaging your health in the short – and long-term – and what you should do to right away to start feeling your best.
How To Do An Elimination Diet in Six Easy Steps
Want to know how to do an elimination diet in just six easy steps? Learn how to discover food intolerances using an elimination diet.
8 Things You Need to Know about Food Intolerances & Food Sensitivity Testing
Curious about food intolerances and food sensitivity testing? Learn the 8 things you need to know before you get started.
Is food sensitivity testing right for me?
Is food sensitivity testing right for me? Find out how to choose a test that’s right for you, if you should see a doctor for food intolerance testing, and if you can conduct a food sensitivity test at home.
How to complete a food sensitivity test kit at home
Find out the six steps of how to complete a food sensitivity test by EverlyWell at home.
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I was tested 3 years ago and found out I am dairy intolerant. I find it discouraging that so many recipes call for cheese.
Rachael Roehmholdt says
I hear you, Jan. A lot of recipes that I make omit cheese from a recipe or I try to use Daiya dairy-free cheese.