How to detect a food intolerance?

Presse Santé

You’ve probably been there before: you eat something and you immediately feel a reaction in your body. Even worse, you may be itchy, your stomach is bloated, or you feel sick. You then wonder if you have developed an allergy to the food you just ate or if you are simply sensitive to it.

Food intolerance and allergy are easily and often confused. Although the symptoms of food allergies and intolerances may overlap, it is very important to know the difference between the two.

For example, a food intolerance may make you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable after eating a food to which you are sensitive. While the symptoms you experience after consuming a food you are allergic to can be much more severe.


Food intolerance or sensitivity occurs when your digestive tract is unable to break down and process food properly. Unlike food allergy, food intolerance only affects the digestive system, so the symptoms are less severe than with an allergic reaction. Your body may be unable to process certain foods properly and therefore have a food intolerance for a number of reasons, including the following:

An enzyme deficiency:

Digestive enzymes speed up chemical reactions in our bodies that allow nutrients in food to be broken down and converted into substances that the digestive tract can then absorb. Therefore, when we lack enzymes, food cannot be broken down and absorbed properly through digestion. Lactose intolerance is a common example of food intolerance due to enzyme deficiency.

Sensitivity to food additives:

Additives are usually added to foods to preserve them or change their taste or color. Food additive sensitivity is when a person has a negative reaction to certain food additives. A common example is a sensitivity to sulfites in canned fruit or wine.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome:

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic digestive disorder that affects the colon and causes a variety of symptoms, including cramping, flatulence, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhea. Consuming certain foods and beverages can trigger IBS symptoms, including milk, wheat, citrus fruits, cabbage, and carbonated beverages.

Celiac disease:

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease of the intestine in response to the consumption of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It is not a food allergy or intolerance, and eating foods with even small amounts of gluten can trigger an immune response that damages the small intestine.


Symptoms of food sensitivity are milder than those of food allergy. They often manifest as an upset stomach and can occur a few hours after eating the food, with the reactions occurring as the food moves through your digestive tract. Common symptoms of food intolerance are:

  • Stomach ache.
  • Abdominal pains.
  • Nausea.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Gas and bloating.
  • Headache.
  • Abdominal pains.


Unlike a food allergy, food sensitivities do not require immediate treatment. However, avoiding or reducing your food intake to which you are sensitive can help reduce symptoms.

An elimination diet can help you feel more comfortable and identify the foods that cause you problems. This involves eliminating certain foods that you think are causing the problem for two or three weeks. You can keep a food diary to record everything you eat and how you feel. Then, after this period has passed, you can reintroduce the foods and note any changes.

In addition, other medical problems may be the cause of your food intolerance, such as celiac disease or irritable bowel syndrome. If so, these conditions need to be treated and may ease your food intolerance symptoms.

* Presse Santé strives to convey health knowledge in a language that is accessible to everyone. IN NO CIRCUMSTANCES can the information provided replace the advice of a healthcare professional.


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