8 Common Food Intolerances

July 14, 2023
common food intolerances

Food intolerances are adverse reactions to certain foods or ingredients that occur when the digestive system has difficulty processing them. Unlike food allergies, which involve the immune system, food intolerances primarily affect the digestive system and can lead to a range of uncomfortable symptoms, such as bloating, gas, stomach pain, diarrhea, and nausea.

Understanding food intolerances is essential because they can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life and overall health. Identifying and managing food intolerances allows individuals to make informed dietary choices, avoid trigger foods, and alleviate symptoms. By understanding their specific sensitivities, individuals can take proactive steps to improve their well-being and maintain a healthy relationship with food. It’s important to note that if you suspect you have a food intolerance, it’s advisable to consult a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and guidance.

What is Food Intolerance?

what is food intolerance

A food intolerance is the inability to digest or properly metabolize certain foods or food components. It occurs when the body lacks the necessary enzymes or mechanisms to break down specific substances in the food. Common symptoms of food intolerance can vary widely among individuals but may include:

  • Digestive issues: bloating, gas, abdominal pain, cramps, diarrhea, or constipation.
  • Nausea and vomiting: feeling nauseous or experiencing vomiting after consuming certain foods.
  • Headaches: recurring headaches or migraines triggered by specific food items.
  • Skin problems: rashes, hives, eczema, or itching.
  • Respiratory symptoms: Runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, or wheezing.
  • Fatigue: feeling tired or lethargic after consuming certain foods.
  • Joint pain: joint stiffness, swelling, or discomfort.
  • Mood changes: irritability, anxiety, depression, or difficulty concentrating.
  • Weight changes: unexplained weight gain or weight loss.
  • Other symptoms: these can vary and may include brain fog, sleep disturbances, or food cravings.

Diagnosing food intolerance typically involves a combination of approaches and may vary depending on the specific intolerance. Here are some common methods used in the diagnosis of food intolerance:

  1. Symptom diary: keeping a detailed record of the foods you eat and any symptoms experienced can help identify patterns and potential triggers.
  2. Elimination diet: this involves eliminating suspected trigger foods from your diet for a certain period and then gradually reintroducing them to observe any symptoms.
  3. Medical history and physical examination: discussing your symptoms and medical history with a healthcare professional, who may perform a physical examination to rule out other possible causes.
  4. Food intolerance testing: various tests can be conducted, such as blood tests, skin prick tests, or breath tests, to assess immune reactions, enzyme deficiencies, or specific intolerances.

It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian who specializes in food intolerances for a proper diagnosis. They can guide you through the process and help develop an appropriate management plan based on your individual needs.

What is the Difference Between Food Allergy & Food Intolerance?

Food intolerances and food allergies are not the same, although the terms are often used interchangeably. 

Food intolerance refers to difficulty digesting certain foods, leading to symptoms like bloating and digestive discomfort. In contrast, food allergies trigger an immune response, causing symptoms like skin rashes, respiratory issues, or even anaphylaxis in severe cases. It’s important to understand these differences and seek appropriate evaluation and management for each condition.

As we explore what food intolerance is and what its symptoms are, it’s important to discover the 8 common food intolerances that each individual may have.

1. Lactose

lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk and dairy products. This occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough lactase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose.

Common symptoms of lactose intolerance include:

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea 
  • Stomach cramps

These symptoms usually occur within a few hours of consumption. Some individuals may also experience nausea and general discomfort in their digestive system.

It’s important to note that lactose intolerance is different from a milk allergy, which is an immune system response to the proteins in milk rather than the lactose itself. While lactose intolerance can cause discomfort, it is not life-threatening. 

Managing lactose intolerance often involves reducing or avoiding lactose-containing foods and beverages, or using lactase supplements to aid in digestion.

2. Fructose 

Fructose intolerance, also known as fructose malabsorption, is a digestive disorder characterized by the inability to properly absorb fructose, a natural sugar found in various fruits, vegetables, and sweeteners. 

When individuals with fructose intolerance consume high fructose foods, they may experience symptoms such as:

  • Bloating
  • abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas

This condition occurs due to the deficiency or absence of an enzyme called aldolase B, which is responsible for breaking down fructose in the body. To manage fructose intolerance, individuals are advised to follow a low-fructose diet, limiting or avoiding foods and beverages with high fructose content.

3. Gluten

gluten intolerance

Gluten intolerance, also known as gluten sensitivity, is a condition in which individuals experience adverse reactions to the protein gluten found in wheat, barley, and rye.

When people with gluten intolerance consume foods containing gluten, it triggers an immune response in their body, leading to various symptoms. These symptoms can vary from person to person but commonly include digestive issues such as:

  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation. 

Other symptoms may include fatigue, brain fog, headaches, joint pain, skin rashes, and mood changes. 

It is important for individuals with gluten intolerance to follow a gluten-free diet to manage their symptoms and promote overall well-being.

4. Salicylate

Salicylate intolerance is a condition characterized by an adverse reaction to salicylates, which are natural compounds found in various foods, medicines, and personal care products. 

Salicylates are present in foods such as fruits (particularly berries), vegetables, spices, and certain beverages. 

When individuals with salicylate intolerance consume these substances, they may experience symptoms such as:

  • Headaches
  • Nasal congestion
  • Skin rashes
  • Digestive issues
  • Respiratory problems.

The severity of symptoms can vary from person to person, and some individuals may be more sensitive to salicylates than others. 

It’s important for individuals with salicylate intolerance to identify and avoid foods and products containing high levels of salicylates to manage their symptoms effectively. Working with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian can be helpful in developing a suitable dietary plan and exploring alternative options for managing salicylate intolerance.


FODMAP intolerance refers to the difficulty in digesting certain types of carbohydrates known as FODMAPs, which stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols. These carbohydrates are found in a variety of foods, including wheat, onions, garlic, dairy products, certain fruits, and legumes.

When individuals with FODMAP intolerance consume foods high in FODMAPs, symptoms include: 

  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Gas. 

These symptoms occur due to the fermentation of undigested FODMAPs in the gut, leading to the production of gas and changes in water content in the intestines.

Managing FODMAP intolerance involves following a low FODMAP diet, which involves temporarily eliminating high-FODMAP foods and then systematically reintroducing them to identify individual triggers. 

It is recommended to work with a registered dietitian experienced in FODMAPs to ensure proper guidance and support throughout the process.

It’s important to note that FODMAP intolerance is not a food allergy or an immune system response but rather a digestive disorder. By understanding and managing FODMAP intolerance, individuals can find relief from their symptoms and improve their overall digestive health.

6. Sulfite

sulfite intolerance

Sulfite intolerance, also known as sulfite sensitivity, is a condition characterized by an adverse reaction to sulfites. 

Sulfites are chemical compounds that are commonly used as preservatives in various foods and beverages to prevent spoilage and maintain freshness. While sulfites are generally considered safe for most people, individuals with sulfite intolerance may experience negative symptoms after consuming foods or drinks that contain sulfites.

Sulfites can be found in a wide range of products, including wine, beer, dried fruits, processed meats, condiments, and some baked goods. They are also used in certain medications, such as asthma inhalers, as a preservative. It’s important to note that sulfites can occur naturally in some foods, such as wine, as a byproduct of fermentation.

The symptoms of sulfite intolerance can vary from person to person but commonly include:

  • Respiratory symptoms (wheezing, difficulty breathing, and coughing)
  • Skin reactions (hives or itching)
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms (stomach pain or diarrhea) 
  • Headache
  • Nausea. 

In severe cases, sulfite intolerance can lead to a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis, which requires immediate medical attention.

Diagnosing sulfite intolerance can be challenging, as there is no specific test available. Medical professionals typically rely on a detailed medical history, symptoms reported by the individual, and a food diary to identify potential triggers. 

Elimination diets, where sulfite-containing foods are temporarily removed from the diet, followed by careful reintroduction, may also be used to confirm the intolerance.

Managing sulfite intolerance involves avoiding foods and drinks that contain sulfites. Reading food labels carefully is essential, as sulfites can be listed under various names, including sulfur dioxide, sodium bisulfite, potassium metabisulfite, and others. Opting for fresh, unprocessed foods and preparing meals at home can help reduce the risk of unknowingly consuming sulfites.

7. Wine

Wine intolerance refers to the adverse reactions that some individuals experience when consuming wine. While wine is enjoyed by many people worldwide, certain components present in wine can trigger uncomfortable symptoms in those who are intolerant.

The exact cause of wine intolerance can vary, as there are several potential culprits. Some individuals may be sensitive to the alcohol content in wine, while others may react to specific substances such as sulfites, histamines, or tyramine, which are naturally present in wine.

The symptoms of wine intolerance can manifest differently among individuals but may include headaches, nasal congestion, facial flushing, skin rashes, digestive issues like stomach pain or bloating, and even asthma-like symptoms. 

One common component that often triggers wine intolerance is sulfites which we discussed above.

Histamines are another substance found in wine that can contribute to intolerance symptoms. Histamines are compounds released by the body during an allergic reaction and can cause symptoms such as headaches, nasal congestion, and skin flushing.

Tyramine, a naturally occurring compound in wine, can also contribute to intolerance symptoms. Tyramine is formed during the fermentation process and is more prevalent in red wine compared to white wine.

Managing wine intolerance involves identifying the specific trigger(s) and making informed choices. If sulfites are the main concern, opting for sulfite-free wines or wines with lower sulfite content may be helpful. Choosing wines with lower histamine and tyramine levels, such as white wines or those made from certain grape varieties, may be beneficial for individuals sensitive to these substances.

8. Caffein

Caffeine intolerance refers to the body’s inability to properly metabolize or tolerate caffeine, a naturally occurring stimulant found in various foods, beverages, and medications. While caffeine is widely consumed and generally well-tolerated by most people, individuals with caffeine intolerance may experience adverse reactions when they consume products containing caffeine.

The symptoms of caffeine intolerance can persist for several hour after consuming caffeine-containing products and may include:

  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Jitteriness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Palpitations
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Digestive issues
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety. 

It’s important to note that caffeine is found in different quantities in various sources, including coffee, tea, energy drinks, soft drinks, chocolate, and some medications. Additionally, the sensitivity to caffeine can vary among individuals, and the threshold for triggering symptoms may differ.

If you suspect you have caffeine intolerance or experience recurring symptoms after consuming caffeine, it’s recommended to consult with a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and guidance. They can provide personalized recommendations and help develop strategies to reduce or eliminate caffeine from your diet while ensuring your nutritional needs are met.

Final Thoughts

Food intolerances can significantly impact individuals’ well-being, causing a range of uncomfortable symptoms. Recognizing the signs of food intolerances is essential, as is understanding the common types of food intolerances, and taking steps to manage them effectively.

By identifying trigger foods, seeking medical advice, and making necessary dietary modifications, individuals can improve their quality of life and enjoy a healthier relationship with food. 

Remember, knowledge and awareness are key in navigating the complexities of food intolerances and promoting overall well-being.

How Can UMA Help?

most common food intolerances

Even though UMA app can not make your food intolerances go away, it can sure make you feel like it did. Once you create your profile with all the necessary information on what intolerances you have, UMA app will automatically filter menus to show you only the items that you can safely consume, avoiding all the discomfort and risk. 

Furthermore, if some of the menu items we are unsure of, the app will add an alert sign to inform you that these dishes might contain one of the ingredients you are intolerant to.

Download the app (App Store, Google Play), ask your favorite restaurants to onboard with UMA and happy dining!

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