What Does a Food Intolerance Feel Like?

April 09, 2018

What Does a Food Intolerance Feel Like?

Did you ever eat something and feel that you’re paying for it later on? There may be a reason for that. Many people associate food intolerance with a wide-sweeping set of issues that make it difficult to eat certain foods. A good example of this is lactose intolerance, which affects approximately 10% of all Americans.1 However, there’s a very good chance that you’ve had an unpleasant reaction to something you ate at least once in your life. Figuring out whether this is a food allergy or a food intolerance is of key importance to making sure you handle this issue the right way.

Food Allergy Vs. Food Intolerance

In essence, the biggest difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance is what bodily system is reacting to the food in question. A food allergy is just like any other allergy, in that it stems from an immune issue. For food allergies, there is some sort of component in the food (often a protein) that the body recognizes as harmful, leading to an allergic reaction. Some common foods involved in food allergies include:

  • Shellfish
  • Nuts
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts

Depending on the nature of the allergy, a reaction can be either mildly discomforting or life-threatening, requiring immediate medical attention.2

A food intolerance stems from an entirely different system: the digestive system. For some reason, a component in the food you eat is difficult for you to digest. With the digestive process disrupted, it can cause a variety of issues. We don’t know what exactly leads to a food intolerance. We already mentioned how lactose can trigger a digestive intolerance. Other common examples include wheat, gluten and food additives like sulfites.

Some of the more common theories behind what actually causes food intolerances include: the absence of certain enzymes, the presence of certain chemicals, or other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome.3 The fact that lactose intolerance and celiac disease are the only food intolerances that can be easily validated makes figuring this out difficult. Celiac disease is a bit of an outlier here, as it involves the immune system even though it is technically a food intolerance.4

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The good news is that while understanding what leads to a food intolerance can be difficult, it’s not nearly as hard to detect when you have one. Compared to food allergies, there are far more types of symptoms you can encounter with a food intolerance. Common symptoms include: occasional bloating, stomachache, cough, fatigue or irregularity.

Compared to food allergies, which take hold almost instantly, you may only begin to feel the effects of a food intolerance a few hours after you eat. People have tried to connect food intolerance to just about everything from lack of sleep to mental health issues.5

When it comes to treating a food intolerance, there are several approaches you can take, but one of the easiest ways to do it is by simply avoiding the type of food that causes issues for you. However, narrowing down exactly what that may be isn’t always easy. General practice is to try to eliminate the suspected food from your diet for roughly 4-6 weeks. After the end of this period, you can reintroduce the food to see if it again causes issues. It is a good idea to discuss your concerns with a medical practitioner.

In some situations, your intolerance may not be severe enough to cause you to ditch a food entirely, although it may cause discomfort to the point where you want added help. Part of the answer here may be enzymes. These are essential parts of our digestive system, and when we have insufficient amounts of them, it can lead to some of the issues we’ve been describing. The good news is that certain supplements can help increase our enzyme count, like Enzymedica’s Digest Spectrum™. This provides specialized enzymes for gluten, lactose, phenol and casein digestion, and taking it may lower common effects of food intolerance.

If you have a food intolerance, Enzymedica's Digest Spectrum™ may be able to decrease your symptoms!


  1. Cleveland Clinic, “Food Problems: Is it an Allergy or Intolerance,” https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10009-food-problems-is-it-an-allergy-or-intolerance
  2. Zukiewicz-sobczak WA, Wróblewska P, Adamczuk P, Kopczyński P. Causes, symptoms and prevention of food allergy. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2013;30(2):113-6.
  3. Choung RS, Talley NJ. Food Allergy and Intolerance in IBS. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2006;2(10):756-760.
  4. Zopf Y, Baenkler HW, Silbermann A, Hahn EG, Raithel M. The differential diagnosis of food intolerance. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2009;106(21):359-6
  5. Ortolani C, Pastorello EA. Food allergies and food intolerances. Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol. 2006;20(3):467-83.

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