10 of the Most Common Food Intolerances and How to Deal with Them
- Legumes and beans
- Milk sugar (lactose)
- Milk protein (casein)
Food intolerances can turn eating from an enjoyable experience to one that brings stress and discomfort. Thankfully, once you know which foods trigger your food intolerances, it is possible to reunite with some of your favorite foods – and eat the ones you know won’t cause digestive woes. In this blog, we will cover the most common food intolerances, explain what a food intolerance is, tell you how digestive enzyme supplements might help and offer tips for dining out, shopping at the grocery store and more.
What is a food intolerance?
A food intolerance is a gastrointestinal response to food(s), while an allergy is an immune response. (They are not the same!) The term “food sensitivity” is sometimes used in place of “food intolerance.”
A food intolerance can be caused by a number of issues, such as enzyme deficiencies or problems with GI transit (or issues with the physical side of digestion).
Common food intolerances include complex carbohydrates, milk sugar (lactose), milk protein (casein), gluten, phenols and FODMAPS (fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols).
Here’s a quick glossary to help you:
Lactose: the sugar found in dairy
Casein: the proteins found in dairy
Gluten: a protein found in wheat and other grains like barley and rye.
Phenols: a group of organic compounds found in plants
The severity of food intolerances ranges from disrupting everyday life to relegating foods to special occasions. It’s common for individuals to experience more than one intolerance.
Food intolerances impact your body’s ability to digest or break down certain foods or ingredients. Symptoms may happen hours after a food is eaten, which can at first make it hard to pinpoint the cause. While a food intolerance is not life-threatening like allergies are, they are nonetheless uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing.
We get it! It’s hard to have fun at the park with your kids when you’re worried about finding a bathroom after indulging in an ice cream cone. Snuggling up to your sweetheart after realizing your dinner had more garlic and onions than you can handle can sure ruin the mood and focusing on the big presentation isn’t easy after finding out that your gluten-free wrap was contaminated by some whole-wheat ones.
Symptoms of a food intolerance can include:
- occasional gas
- occasional heartburn
- other digestive issues
Everyone is unique, so your experience might be different.
Are food intolerances the same as food allergies?
Food allergies are an immune response that leads to a release of antibodies into the bloodstream. They affect up to 2% of the population (and 1 in 13 children). Allergies can range from mild to severe, and some can be life-threatening. Some people may also have sensitivities to these foods, but they aren’t the same reaction as an allergy.
Allergic symptoms can involve the digestive system but also happen in the cardiovascular system (including the respiratory tract) and the skin. They often appear quickly and require testing by a doctor as well as avoidance of the food(s).
Which foods are responsible for the most common food intolerances?
The list of the most common food allergens and food intolerances have some overlap, but there is a difference. The most common allergens1 are eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy. (In the US, the nine most common allergens will always be listed on food labels.)
Affecting up to 2 in 10 Americans2, food intolerances include:
Fermentable oligo- di- mono-saccharides and polyols are a type of carbohydrates that some people struggle to break down in the lower GI tract, which can lead to digestive upset on occasion. These carbs force water into the digestive tract, leading to the digestive symptoms.
High-FODMAP foods include: onions and garlic, wheat, rye, legumes, artichokes, dairy, fruits, honey, agave and other sweeteners (like mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol and isomalt), mushrooms and snow peas.
Dairy (lactose and/or casein)
Lactose intolerance is a common and well-known food intolerance, but it is not the only reason why some people have issues with dairy. Proper digestion of dairy includes breaking down both lactose (dairy sugar) and casein (proteins found in dairy).
Wheat (including gluten)
Gluten is the main protein in wheat, but it’s one of hundreds of types of proteins. A sensitivity to wheat could be restricted to gluten or include others, including gliadin and glutenin. In addition to wheat, gluten is found in rye and barley. Sometimes people are intolerant to aspects of wheat itself, while others are intolerance to gluten. (A gluten or wheat intolerance is not the same as celiac disease.)
Foods that come from plants contain polyphenolic compounds. These phenols are antioxidant nutrients that are essential for health. However, sometimes an individual can be sensitive to these phenols, which leads to digestive discomfort and other symptoms of a food intolerance.
Fructose is a simple sugar found in fruit, some vegetables, honey, agave and other sweeteners. It is possible to be sensitive to this monosaccharide.
The fiber in raw vegetables as well as other complex carbohydrates in foods like beans can cause digestive discomforts. That’s because the human body doesn’t produce its own enzymes to break them down; instead, we rely on the good bacteria in our gut to provide those enzymes.
Fat and/or Protein
Dietary fat or proteins can also cause digestive woes, especially when someone eats more than they normal would in one meal or changes their diet (such as to high protein or low carb). These are shortages more than intolerances, but people commonly refer to them as such. No matter what your food sensitivity might be, you have options!
Digestive enzymes for food intolerances
To completely digest food and assimilate essential nutrients, the body needs sufficient supplies of digestive enzymes. Digestive enzyme supplements offer support when there’s a shortage due to age, lifestyle, personal habits, an inherited genetic deficiency (like lactose intolerance), food manufacturing processes or overindulgence.
Supplementing with digestive enzymes helps counteract incomplete digestion — and prevent the symptoms associated with enzyme insufficiency.
Our digestive enzymes are formulated to offer support for your body’s digest food better and improve overall health.* Pick the one that’s formulated to break down the foods that give you the most trouble:
GlutenEase™ supports both gluten and casein (milk protein) intolerance.* Ideal for cross-contamination support, it includes additional enzymes to help digest the entire meal.* GlutenEase™ gives those with gluten intolerance the freedom to eat what they love!*
Both GlutenEase™ and GlutenEase™ Extra Strength contain DPP-IV, an enzyme shown to break down gluten, along with other enzymes to help digest the entire meal.* For example, amylase helps digest the carbohydrate portion of grains, and glucoamylase breaks down polysaccharides into easier-to-digest glucose units.*
GlutenEase extra strength contains a unique blend that offers more support in breaking down excess gluten.*
Lacto™ delivers max support for dairy intolerance, by promoting both lactose and casein digestion.* With enzymes to also break down the rest of the meal, it helps digest the sugars and proteins in dairy (so eating ice cream and cheese is joyful again).*
Lypo Gold™ can break down up to 22 grams of dietary fat per capsule, making it keto diet-friendly.* Also helpful for those without gallbladders, this formula relieves discomfort associated with the digestion of fatty foods.*
VeggieGest™ is our formula especially for vegan and vegetarian diets, since it helps break down nutrients found in beans, grains and raw vegetables.* It reduces occasional gas and bloating, while enhancing the breakdown and absorption of complex carbs.*
Bean Assist™ is a fast-acting formula that helps break down beans, cabbage, broccoli and other gas-inducing foods.* This formula reduces occasional gas, bloating and discomfort – and contains the enzyme Alpha Galactosidase for breaking down complex carbs into easier-to-digest sugars.*
Digest Spectrum™ is our formula for multiple food intolerances.* It breaks down gluten, phenol, lactose and casein.* This award-winning formula speeds up digestion, boosts energy and reduces occasional gas, bloating and indigestion.*
Unfortunately, digestive enzymes are not suited for individuals with allergies or celiac disease. Food allergies are immune reactions, while food intolerance is an enzyme deficiency. However, dietary supplements like Digest Spectrum™ work best for those with known food intolerance reactions or those looking to provide support for cross contamination when eating out.
No matter which digestive enzyme formula you choose, it will contain Enzymedica's proprietary Thera-blend™ technology. That means that the enzymes will work throughout the entire pH spectrum found along your digestive tract. When other brands’ enzyme formulas may fall short, in almost all acidic or alkaline environments, our enzymes will be effective.
Common Digestive Enzymes
If you’re looking for a digestive enzyme supplement to support the break down of a certain nutrient, use this helpful chart to compare the label to your needs. We make it easy, by explaining exactly which nutrients a supplement targets – and including enzymes that can help break down an entire typical meal.
Gluten (wheat protein)
Lactose (milk sugar)
Raw vegetables and legumes
To work properly and efficiently, digestive enzymes need to be able to withstand the diverse pH levels within the digestive tract. That’s why we use Thera-blend™ technology in our formulas.
Quality enzymes don’t list measurements by weights (e.g., mg or g). That’s not how enzymes work! Enzymes need to be measured by activity levels, using unique standards for each type, per the internationally recognized Food Chemical Codex standards for purity, quality and identity of food ingredients. As the leader in digestive enzymes for over 20 years, we know this. That’s why you will always see that our supplements include a list of the activity levels for every single enzyme.
How to avoid foods that give you trouble
For those with food intolerances, avoiding trigger foods is the key to managing symptoms. While this may seem daunting at first, there are plenty of delicious and nutritious foods safe for those with sensitivities.
Here are five ways you can avoid foods containing problematic ingredients and learn to find foods that will love you back.
- Read food labels carefully. In the US, the most common allergens will always be called out in bold type, so if your intolerance is one of those, it will be easier to find. Read through each ingredient carefully and remember that some ingredients go by more than one name. If you are sensitive to gluten, look for anything that lists wheat, for example. If FODMAPS are on your “do not eat” list, you’ll need to know which foods contain those since the different fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols won’t be listed individually.
- Choose products labeled gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, corn-free, egg-free and peanut-free whenever possible. Since these products often need to be made in a facility that avoids cross-contamination, this is a way to reduce your risks. Of course, you’ll still need to read labels and know your own individual trigger foods and ingredients.
- Cook at home using fresh, unprocessed ingredients. “The secrets in the sauce,” as chefs like to say. Sometimes adding a harmless “secret ingredient” or spice blend can trigger a food sensitivity. While dining out with friends and family is fun, eating at home and cooking for yourself is a way to save money while also ensuring you avoid triggers.
- Ask restaurants about their menus and cooking methods. Call ahead, browse menus online and consider bringing a list of your trigger foods to share with your server. More and more restaurants cater to people with different dietary preferences, so do some online sleuthing or ask friends for recommendations to find some near you. Restaurants are beginning to add more options for specialized diets, usually these will be noted with special graphics next to the name of the dish or even in their own menu section. As always check with your servers as there may be options that are not listed for you to enjoy.
- Join a local support group or online forum for people with food intolerances. Having people who “get it” can be a big help when you’re feeling bummed that you can’t eat what everyone else is having. Look for groups related to your food intolerances on Facebook, search related hashtags on Instagram and follow TikTokers who are in the same boat, so to speak. This will help you find more resources, tips and tricks to eat foods you love (that also love you back).
- Spend some time browsing. Grocery stores these days – even mainstream ones in smaller towns – carry so many products that did not exist even a few years ago. From cauliflower flour and grain free tortilla chips to dairy free cashew queso and yogurt made from lupine beans, it is possible to replace just about every food with a different version if you have an intolerance. While it might not taste exactly the same, it can certainly hit the spot when a craving hits or you want to makeover a favorite recipe.
Think you may have a food intolerance?
Sometimes we may experience symptoms related to food intolerance but may not know what could be causing it. Here are steps you can take to find out if you may have a food intolerance:
- Track your symptoms. This can help you connect the dots between what you eat and how you feel after. It can also be a useful tool for your health-care provider.
- Take an elimination diet challenge. An elimination diet removes the foods most likely to trigger intolerances from a person’s diet for a set amount of time. They are added back carefully, to monitor any reaction and identify potential trigger foods.
- See a health-care professional for testing. They can use a series of simple tests to determine if a certain food or ingredient is causing your symptoms. You can also try an over-the-counter food intolerance test.
- Be patient – and go easy on yourself. It can take time to figure out what is happening with your digestive system and which foods are causing you occasional woes. And sometimes, despite knowing we will regret eating something, it can be hard to resist a food. If that happens, keep your enzyme supplements close by and remember you get a do-over tomorrow!
Symptoms of food intolerances can vary from person to person and may include digestive issues, fatigue, brain fog, skin problems and more. If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, it's essential to rule out food intolerance as a potential cause. Start by talking to your health-care provider. With a few simple steps, you can start to identify which foods may be causing your symptoms and work toward a healthier you!