Recognizing food intolerance and treating it properly -

Eating healthy despite food intolerances?

An intolerance to certain foods complicates a healthy diet and can lead to unpleasant symptoms. Various nutritionists, notably from the Cleveland Clinic in the United States, explain how to recognize a food intolerance and what can be done about it.

Cramps may indicate a food intolerance

Most people have probably been in this situation at least once in their life: A few hours after eating a meal, unpleasant cramps or flatulence suddenly appear. If such effects occur regularly, a so-called food intolerance could be present.

Do not ignore the body's reaction to food

"It's important for people to understand how their bodies respond to food and their environment," says dietitian Julia Zumpano of the Cleveland Clinic. If people feel uncomfortable every time they consume certain foods or drinks, this feeling should not be ignored in any way.

Food allergy or intolerance?

If you want to know how a body reacts to certain foods, it is first important to know the difference between food allergies and food intolerance.

What is a food allergy?

Food allergy is a reaction of the immune system. "Your body attacks food as if it were an enemy, causing an immediate immune response and allergic reaction such as hives, difficulty breathing or swallowing, and swelling of the lips, tongue or throat," says Zumpano.

What is food intolerance?

According to the expert, a food intolerance is not an allergic reaction. Rather, it is a disorder that is not life-threatening. This can manifest as symptoms such as flatulence, feeling full, rash, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue, and what is known as brain fog.

Usually, food allergies appear very early in life (in childhood). Food intolerance, on the other hand, only develops over time. As an example, University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center clinical nutritionist Jennifer Kerner cites that babies are very unlikely to be lactose intolerant.

However, as the body ages, it may produce fewer enzymes that help digest lactose, which eventually leads to lactose intolerance. In addition, the dose of the food also plays an important role, as intolerance is considered to be very dose-dependent.

This contrasts with allergies where even small amounts can cause problems for those affected.

Food intolerance or celiac disease?

Another problem with food intolerance is that celiac disease is often confused with gluten intolerance. However, celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which the consumption of a small amount of gluten has consequences, similar to a food allergy.

"When someone with celiac disease eats something with gluten, it attacks their own gastrointestinal tract. It can make them pretty miserable," Kerner said. When people test negative for the disease but still cannot tolerate gluten, it is called non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

How to diagnose food hypersensitivity?

So how do you determine if you have a food hypersensitivity and what can you do about it? Dr. Reema Gulati of the MetroHealth System in Cleveland advises keeping a special diary first.

Keep a symptom diary

Affected individuals should keep a diary of concerning symptoms over a period of several weeks. Once you find out what triggers these symptoms, you can gradually eliminate the affected foods from your diet.

After excluding these foods, nutritional advice can make it possible to replace the missing food groups or foods so that the diet remains as balanced as possible.

Certainly, it takes discipline to first avoid certain foods, then slowly reintroduce them to the diet, and then document symptoms and reactions. But according to experts, there are no shortcuts or alternatives here.

Nutritionists in particular advise against correspondence tests, which are supposed to reveal food intolerances.

"I know of many examples of people who have gone through this type of testing and cut foods from their diet. It made their diet more restrictive and they didn't feel better afterwards because these tests have no effect. authority or any basis,” reports Dr. gulati.

"We shouldn't chase food sensitivities like a wild goose chase. It should be based on careful observation, keeping a diary, and trying to eliminate those foods with the help of a doctor or nutritionist. “, adds the expert.

What food categories can cause problems?

When trying to determine which foods negatively affect the body, it is by no means specific foods, but so-called food categories. Here are five such food categories:


People with lactose intolerance (lactose intolerance) have problems breaking down lactose. "Because there is a lack of these enzymes, they reach the large intestine undigested," says Dr. gulati.

In order to avoid lactose intolerance, the consumption of foods containing lactose (dairy products such as cheese, ice cream and yogurt) can be restricted. It is also possible to take special supplements that provide the enzymes necessary for the digestion of lactose.


This category includes, for example, fruits with a high sugar content or foods containing high fructose corn syrup. Additionally, highly refined sugary foods are also affected, reports Dr. gulati.


When the human body lacks the necessary enzymes to break down alcohol toxins, alcohol intolerance occurs, says nutritionist Jennifer Kerner. The expert cites hot flashes and flushed cheeks as possible symptoms.


FODMAP refers to different types of carbohydrates that can ferment in the gut, Kerner explains. They can cause gas, bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

Many foods are high in FODMAPs (such as sorbitol, mannitol, fructose, and lactose). If you are concerned that you have FODMAP intolerance, you should consult nutritionists experienced in supporting people with FODMAP intolerance.


The last point mentioned by Kerner is what are called sulphites. These are food additives containing sulphur. If people are sensitive to sulfites, they should check food and drink labels before shopping.

Foods or beverages containing sulfur dioxide, potassium bisulfite, potassium metabisulfite, sodium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, and sodium sulfite should be avoided in patients with sulfite intolerance. (as)

Author and source information

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This text corresponds to the specifications of the specialized medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been verified by health professionals.


Cleveland Clinic: Food Intolerance (accessed 2022-07-25), Cleveland Magazine: CLE Best Docs: What to Know About Food Intolerances (published 2022-07-20)

Important note:
This article contains general advice only and should not be used for self-diagnosis or treatment. It cannot substitute a visit to the doctor.