Keeping in mind that food intolerance is very different from a food allergy, there are some similarities in the symptoms that can make distinguishing between them difficult. Usually allergic reactions occur soon after or during eating, while food intolerance can take from a few hours to a few days to show a reaction. It is also possible to have food intolerance from multiple food groups, which can cause a delay in diagnosis. If you suspect you have a food allergy, seek help from an allergist and avoid eating the food completely. Otherwise, read on for a look at the most common symptoms of food intolerance:
- Digestive Symptoms: Bloating, stomach pain, diarrhea, gas
- Cold/flulike symptoms: Cough, runny nose
- Other symptoms: Headaches, migraines, hives
Causes of food intolerance vary, but often include a lack of an enzyme to process a certain food. For example, people who are lactose intolerant do not have enough lactase to break down dairy sugar (lactose). This is the most common and well-known example of food intolerance.
However, newer research is showing that children may be especially susceptible to fructose intolerance. According to this study, fructose intolerance is often symptomatic through frequent or chronic abdominal pain. Being on a low- or no-fructose diet helps to resolve abdominal pain and irritable bowel. Another intolerance in the sugar family is sucrose (table sugar) intolerance. The clinical name of this condition is Genetic Sucrase-Isomaltase Deficiency (GSID). Patients suffering with GSID are at risk of chronic malnutrition, diarrhea, gassiness, bloating and pain. A Gastroenterologist, a doctor specializing in gut health issues, can determine what type of test is needed to help in diagnosing this condition.
Other causes of food intolerance include chemicals found in certain foods as well as toxins found in foods that are not prepared correctly. Some foods, such as fish that is not properly stored, can contain histamines that people react to, which is similar to a large allergic reaction.
Salicylate intolerance is a less known intolerance that occurs in people who are sensitive to the naturally occurring salicylic acid found in certain plants and act as a defense mechanism against bacteria, fungi, insects and diseases. Some people may tolerate small levels of salicylates but have reactions to large amounts, which is found in mint-flavoring, tomato sauce, berries, citrus fruits and many food additives.
Food additives are another common food intolerance that has cropped up over the years as processed food manufacturers add things like antioxidants, artificial colors and flavors, emulsifiers, preservatives and other additives to their products. There are actually thousands of food additives, but only a few have been found to cause symptoms in people. These include:
- Nitrates: nitrate sensitivity includes itching and skin rashes
- MSG (monosodium glutamate): MSG can cause headaches
- Sulfites: reactions similar to asthma such as sneezing and wheezing
- Food colorings: carmine (red) and annatto (yellow) seem to be the biggest culprits and seem to predominantly affect children by causing ADD like symptoms and outbursts
Depending on the food intolerance, it can be difficult to avoid all symptoms. Usually the body can tolerate the food intolerance in small amounts, so it is best to keep exposure as minimal as possible.