Food Intolerances: A Primer

Find out why certain foods may be causing you digestive distress.

Woman with Ice Cream
Woman with Ice Cream

Sitting around a table and enjoying a meal with friends and family can be the best part of your day. But for those with food intolerances, a meal with loved ones can lead to uncomfortable, even embarrassing, digestive troubles. Everyone experiences these troubles from time to time, so there's no reason to feel isolated.

Do you think you might have undiagnosed intolerance? Read on for a primer on food intolerances—and what you can do about them.

Food Intolerances vs. Food Allergies

There's a difference between food intolerances and food allergies, and it's easy to mix up the two. A food allergy is an immune reaction that's caused by consuming certain foods.1 An allergic reaction can create a range of symptoms such as a rash or upset stomach, some of which may be serious. Food allergies are a medical condition that should be discussed with your healthcare provider.

Food intolerances are more common and generally less severe. An intolerance means that a person cannot digest a certain nutrient, and that can lead to digestive discomfort. Lactose intolerance, which is trouble digesting the sugar lactose found in dairy products, is a well-known example of food intolerance.

Because food allergies and intolerances cause digestive issues, it's important to talk with your doctor or healthcare provider if you have questions or experiencing problems.

Digestive Health and Food Intolerances

What all food intolerances have in common is that they cause problems with digestion. The results of not being able to properly digest food are familiar to many people who may have overindulged in a meal—bloating, gas, and discomfort. For people with food intolerances, eating lactose or another food they cannot digest can trigger those same symptoms, even if they only ate a small amount. People generally deal with food intolerances by severely restricting or eliminating the offending food.

There's good news for those with food allergies, as researchers are discovering how gut bacteria can protect against food allergies. Scientists have discovered that the body's own microflora environment can minimize sensitivity to food allergens. A specific treatment to solve allergies to foods like peanuts and milk is not ready, but may be in the future.2

Even people without food intolerances can run into problems with their digestion if they eat too much of certain foods. If you're ever experiencing digestive distress, be assured in knowing there are ways you can avoid or cut down on foods that your body has trouble digesting. Food intolerances and how they may interact with the digestive system is another reason to maintain your digestive health.

Show ReferencesHide References

  1. Li, James T. C. "What's the Difference between a Food Intolerance and Food Allergy?" Mayo Clinic. 10 Oct. 2014. Web. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/food-allergy/expert-answers/food-allergy/faq-20058538.
  2. Jiang, Kevin. "Gut Bacteria That Protect against Food Allergies Identified." Science Life. 25 Aug. 2014. Web. https://sciencelife.uchospitals.edu/2014/08/25/gut-bacteria-that-protect-against-food-allergies-identified/.
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