Food Intolerance: Types, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

July 27, 2023

Food intolerance is a condition where your body can not easily digest some specific foods. It can happen due to the lack of certain enzymes that help break down food. It often gets mistaken for food allergies because of the similarities they share. Food intolerance can cause bloating, diarrhea, fatigue, and more. It is not life-threatening but it can cause discomfort. In this article, we will discuss what will cause food intolerance, the symptoms, the different types of it, how you get diagnosed, and what the treatments are.


What is food intolerance?

Food intolerance is the body’s reaction to some particular foods that can not be digested efficiently. It happens when the body lacks specific enzymes that are required in order to digest and process the food particles. It commonly gets mistaken for food allergies. However, unlike food allergies that are related to the immunity system, food intolerance involves an immune system response. The symptoms might last a few hours to a few days after consuming food.


Difference between food intolerance and allergies

It is usually easy to mistake food intolerance for food allergies since they have similar symptoms but in fact, they are different conditions. Food allergies are your immune system’s response to some specific proteins in foods that can cause symptoms like diarrhea, itchiness, developing rashes, swelling, breathlessness, feeling dizzy, and even in severe cases, anaphylactic reaction (anaphylaxis). However, food intolerance happens because your digestive system can’t break down a particular food. This condition is not life-threatening but it can be disturbing and uncomfortable. Usually, the symptoms will start to show up after a few hours of food being in the digestive tract. There is a chance that you don’t even develop a symptom if you just consume a small amount of that particular food. Therefore the symptoms can be different and vary from one person to another. Some of the main symptoms include diarrhea, gas, tummy pain, nausea, bloating, and headaches.


Different types of Food intolerance

Depending on the body’s capacity to digest a specific food, you might experience food intolerance. A lot of food intolerances are caused by an enzyme deficiency. There are different types of food intolerance and we will discuss some of the common ones below:

  • Lactose Intolerance: certainly is one of the most known and common types of food intolerance. It happens when the body lacks the enzyme lactase. This enzyme breaks down lactose which is a sugar that is found in dairy products such as milk.
  • Food chemical intolerance: the presence of some natural chemicals can cause food intolerance in sensitive people. Some of these chemicals are such as salicylates, amines, and glutamates.
  • Histamine intolerance: this does not happen because you are sensitive to histamine but it’s because there’s an excess buildup of it in the body or simply because the body can’t break it down properly. You can naturally find high histamine levels in foods and drinks such as cheese, alcohol (especially wine), avocado, fish, and fermented food.
  • Sulfite sensitivity: some individuals might be sensitive to sulfite which is the type of chemical that is mainly used in food as a preservative. Foods and beverages such as potatoes, wine, beer, pickled food, dried fruits, and processed foods might contain sulfite. You can also find them in some medications. Sulfite sensitivity is not very common.
  • Caffeine sensitivity: sometimes the body can’t metabolize caffeine and consuming even a small amount of it will cause caffeine sensitivity. You might get headaches or even feel nauseous. It can also cause restlessness and increase your heartbeat. The types of foods and beverages that are usually caffeinated are coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate. Some medications and tablets such as painkillers might contain caffeine as well.
  • Salicylate sensitivity: it happens when your body has a difficult time metabolizing salicylates. They are natural compounds and are found in different fruits, vegetables, spices, and herbs. They are also used in some medications such as aspirin. Some health diseases like asthma or eczema can also increase the risk of salicylate sensitivity. It can be hard to diagnose it because its symptoms can be different from person to person.
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG) sensitivity: MSG is a flavor enhancer and MSG sensitivity happens when the body reacts in a negative way after consuming foods that contain monosodium glutamate. Though MSG allergy is a very common term, however, it is a sensitivity and not an allergy. It is also known as Chinese restaurant syndrome but it’s a misconception that Chinese cuisine is the primary cause of MSG sensitivity. That happened because many people were experiencing symptoms after eating Chinese dishes. In fact, MSG can be found in different cuisine and processed foods such as meat, cheese, fish, tomatoes, spice mixes, and more.
  • Gluten intolerance: it is also known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). This type of food intolerance causes a reaction to gluten which is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye (and also their derivatives). This is different from celiac disease which is an autoimmune disorder. Gluten intolerance doesn’t cause any damage to the small intestine (unlike celiac disease). You might feel tired, nauseous, or bloated. It is commonly found in pasta, beer, and cereal.
  • FODMAP Intolerance (malabsorption): this happens when the body has difficulty digesting some specific types of carbohydrates known as FODMAPs. This stands for Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and P When they are poorly absorbed in the small intestine, they can cause symptoms like abdominal pain, excessive gas, bloating, and diarrhea. You can try to reduce these symptoms by changing to a diet that contains a lesser amount of FODMAPs. They can be found in some foods like meat, poultry, fish, seeds, dairy product, certain fruits, some vegetables, sweeteners, specific grains, and more.
  • Fructose Malabsorption: this condition happens when the small intestine can’t easily absorb fructose. Fructose is a type of monosaccharide (a natural sugar) and can be found in different fruits, vegetables, table sugar (sucrose), honey, and even sweeteners. In people with fructose malabsorption, a specific carrier protein called GLUT5 is not functioning properly and this will lead to fructose being undigested by the time it reaches the large intestine. After those gut bacteria that are in the large intestine, will ferment the undigested fructose and produce gas and short-chain fatty acids. When it’s not properly absorbed, it might lead to abdominal pain, gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
  • Sucrose intolerance (sucrase-isomaltase deficiency or congenital sucrase-isomaltase deficiency (CSID)): this type of intolerance happens because the body lacks the enzymes sucrase and isomaltase which are essential for breaking down and processing sucrose (table sugar) and are produced in the small intestine. Sucrose is a disaccharide and is made of glucose and fructose. Some certain fruits, vegetables, sweeteners, starches, and carbohydrates are examples of foods that contain a high level of sucrose.
  • Sorbitol Intolerance (malabsorption): is a condition where the small intestine has difficulty absorbing sorbitol which is a sugar alcohol and is used as a sugar substitute in sugar-free and diet products. When someone has problems with absorbing sorbitol, they can develop gastrointestinal symptoms. It can naturally be found in specific foods like peaches, apples, apricots, cherries, and pears and also is an artificial sweetener that can be used in different processed foods and beverages like cakes, ice cream, chocolate, pastries, fruit juices, and more.
  • Tyramine Intolerance (sensitivity): this happens when your body is struggling to metabolize and break down tyramine which is naturally found in different foods. Through the process of aging and fermentation, the amino acid tyrosine (which is in food) breaks down and forms Tyramine. People who have tyramine intolerance might experience headaches, high blood pressure, nausea, gastrointestinal issues, migraines, and even brain fog. In these individuals, the enzyme that is responsible for metabolizing tyramine, which is called monoamine oxidase (MAO), is not functioning properly therefore it leads to tyramine being stockpiled in the body. Tyramine can be found in different foods such as aged cheeses (like cheddar or blue cheese), some specific vegetables (like eggplants and tomatoes), fermented beverages (like wine and beer), pickled or fermented foods, cured meats, some fruits (like bananas and pineapples) and even some type of nuts and seeds.


Food intolerance causes

Food intolerance is related to the digestive tract. It can have different causes but mainly it is because of the body’s incapability to properly digest specific ingredients of certain foods. Depending on the type of intolerance, there are different reasons for food intolerance. Some common causes are including:

  • Enzyme Deficiency or lack of digestive enzymes: most food intolerances are caused by a deficiency or the lack of specific enzymes that are produced by the gastrointestinal system and are required for the digestion of certain food ingredients. These enzymes can break down proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. For example, because of the lack of lactase enzyme, some people develop lactose intolerance. Fructose malabsorption is another example where the lack of the enzyme responsible for absorbing fructose leads to the malabsorption of it in the small intestine.
  • Chemical Sensitivity: Some people might develop sensitivity to natural or artificial chemicals that are present in food, like histamines or sulfites. This will lead to symptoms of food intolerance. The exact cause of this is not fully understood, however. Some examples are intolerance towards salicylates, amines, caffeine, and MSG.
  • Genetics: some food intolerances can be related to genetics. certain genetic variations or mutations can affect a person’s ability to metabolize specific components of food. For example, lactose intolerance can be inherited. Also, there are some studies that suggest specific genetic factors may play an important role in the development of Gluten Intolerance (non-celiac gluten sensitivity).
  • Poor nutrition and gut health: there’s a chance that poor nutrition impacts gut health in a negative way. This can affect the balance of helpful bacteria in our gut and lead to a weak intestinal wall. When the gut isn’t working well, it can’t absorb nutrients properly. This will cause trouble in digesting certain parts of food and leads to food intolerances.
  • Vitamin deficiency: in general, vitamins and minerals are essential in different metabolic processes, especially the ones that are involved in food digestion. As an example, vitamin B6 and zinc are very important for the proper functioning of enzymes that break down some specific amino acids and the activity of some digestive enzymes. Not receiving the proper amount of these nutrients can result in food intolerances.


Food intolerance symptoms

Symptoms of food intolerance can be different depending on the type of intolerance and also individual sensitivity. Depending on the amount of the triggering food ingredients consumed, the severity of symptoms can differ from one person to another. Also, you should keep in mind that some symptoms of food intolerance might overlap with other conditions, therefore, it’s very important to seek professional evaluation to receive proper diagnosis and treatment. Some of the common symptoms are listed below:

  • Lactose Intolerance: bloating, abdominal discomfort, gas, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting (sometimes)
  • Food chemical intolerance: recurrent hives, swellings, headaches, sinus trouble, mouth ulcers, nausea, stomach pains, and bowel irritation.
  • Histamine intolerance: headaches, migraines, redness of the skin, hives, skin rashes, nasal congestion, runny nose, nausea, diarrhea.
  • Sulfite sensitivity: asthma symptoms such as chest tightness, pain, pressure, coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, and anaphylaxis (very rarely). It can also cause flushing, fast heartbeat, hives, dizziness, diarrhea, tingling, or difficulty swallowing.
  • Caffeine sensitivity: racing heartbeat, headache, nervousness, anxiousness, restlessness, insomnia, Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), fatigue, palpitations, blood pressure.
  • Salicylate sensitivity: Asthma-like symptoms such as wheezing and trouble breathing, stuffy nose, sinus infection and inflammation, nasal and sinus polyps, asthma, diarrhea, gas, abdominal pain, gut inflammation (colitis), hives, tissue swelling.
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG) sensitivity: flushing, sweating face pressure (or tightness), lack of feeling (numbness), tingling or burning sensation in the face, neck, and other areas.
  • Gluten intolerance: abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, headaches, migraines, and joint pain.
  • FODMAP Intolerance (malabsorption): bloating, abdominal distension, gas, flatulence abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea, constipation.
  • Fructose Malabsorption: bloating, chronic fatigue, abdominal pain, gas, flatulence diarrhea, malabsorption of some nutrients (like iron).
  • Sucrose intolerance: postprandial cramping, bloating, vomiting, headaches, low blood sugar, gas, diarrhea, poor weight gain and growth.
  • Sorbitol Intolerance: gas, abdominal bloating, pain, diarrhea.
  • Tyramine Intolerance: headaches, migraines, rapid heart rate, palpitations, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, nervousness.


Diagnosis and test at home

It is important to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian to get an accurate diagnosis regarding food intolerance however there are some at-home methods that can help you identify potential trigger foods. This can only be used as a preliminary step before seeking professional guidance because self-diagnosis and self-treatment can be risky; it might even lead to lack of receiving essential nutritions. However there are some ways to diagnose the food intolerance at home:

  • You can try an elimination diet to remove specific foods from your diet for a certain period of time (like 2-6 weeks) with the help of a food diary. If your symptoms go away during this time and then return by starting to consume that specific food again, you might have food intolerance. Some of the common trigger foods include dairy products, gluten-containing grains and high-FODMAP foods.
  • Lactose Intolerance Test: If you believe you have lactose intolerance, you can try to consume a glass of milk or lactose-containing food on an empty stomach and then look out for any digestive symptoms over the next few hours.
  • Gluten Sensitivity Test: There isn’t a specific test for gluten sensitivity however if you suspect that you might have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you can try a gluten elimination diet by removing all sources of gluten from your diet for a few weeks. Keep an eye for any improvements in symptoms and then reintroduce gluten to see if your symptoms return.
  • FODMAP Elimination Diet: For any potential FODMAP intolerance, you can follow a low-FODMAP diet which contains eliminating high-FODMAP foods for a short period of time. Slowly by time reintroduce specific FODMAPs to identify the ones that trigger your symptoms.
  • At-Home testing kits: there are also some tests that you can buy to diagnose some food intolerances however they are not usually not accurate.

Blood tests can also be helpful to diagnose food intolerance. For food intolerances such as a lactose intolerant, you can do a breath test.

Food intolerance treatment

Usually in order to treat food intolerance, we have to identify what food ingredients trigger it and then we will eliminate those specific ingredients from the diet. This will prevent the symptoms from coming back. Here are some steps that are commonly used to treat food intolerance:

  1. Identifying the ingredient that triggers the body: you can write a food journal and track your symptoms after your meals. This will help to identify which food ingredients are likely to cause the symptoms. Then you can eliminate the suspected trigger food from your meals.
  2. Change the diet: with the help of a healthcare professional or even a dietitian, you can safely follow an elimination diet that no longer contains the suspected trigger food. You can try this for a specific period of time. This will give your body the time it needs to recover from any inflammation that is caused by the trigger food.
  3. Reintroducing the body to the trigger food: after some time passes, you can reintroduce one suspected trigger food at a time to see how your body will react to it. This way we can identify trigger foods, also we can see the level of tolerance that the body has towards each one of them.
  4. A personalized diet plan: depending on the results you receive, you can receive your personalized diet plan with the help of a healthcare professional or dietitian. This will help to avoid trigger foods while making sure you will receive all the necessary nutrients your body needs. You might even receive supplements if needed.


  • Always read food labels: pay attention to food labels and ingredient lists to avoid any type of ingredient that might trigger your body and cause symptoms.
  • Address underlying health conditions: If food intolerance is caused because of an underlying health condition, it is important to treat the primary condition. This may improve intolerance symptoms as well.
  • Take care of your gut: Maintaining a healthy gut is highly important for digestion and reducing food intolerance symptoms. You can use probiotics or other gut-supporting supplements.


At-Home Food Intolerance Treatment with Salamati Healthcare

With Salamati’s affordable and Professional home Nursing care Dubai services say goodbye to all your worries and hassles regarding treating food intolerance at home.

With the help of our In-home treatment for food intolerance, you can feel more comfortable and engaged to take an active role in managing your condition while enjoying the support of healthcare professionals who are experienced in dietary management. Our nurses and healthcare professionals will help you to monitor your symptoms better. This can enhance your overall well-being and improve the quality of your diet in the comfort of your house.

All our nurses are licensed by the Dubai Health Authority and are clinically experienced. Our Healthcare professionals can assess your specific food intolerance and develop a personalized dietary plan to avoid trigger foods while ensuring you will receive the necessary nutrition. They can guide you and/or your caregivers about suitable food alternatives and creative meal options. Your family members can also learn about the specific dietary requirements (with your consent), contribute to meal planning, and provide emotional support to you.

Our healthcare professionals can evaluate your home environment, including the pantry and kitchen, to make sure there are no hidden sources of trigger foods. This will help to create a safe and supportive food environment.

Also, our healthcare providers closely monitor your symptoms and response to dietary changes. They can adjust the dietary plan if needed. This will help to manage your symptoms effectively and improve your quality of life.

Our healthcare professionals can provide education and guidance on food intolerance management. This will help you and your caregivers to understand your condition better and will also assist you to make proper dietary choices.

You can simply call us to book an appointment and you will get the best-trained nurses to help you in getting the best results – Call us at  055 587 3466 or Click Here to Book Online.

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Salamati is one of the premium healthcare providers in Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, and the UAE. We provide a wide range of healthcare services in the comfort of your home, hotel, or office. Our services include home nursing care, physiotherapy, speech therapy, doctor on-call, and nutrition consultation at home.


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