5 Common Signs of a Food Intolerance

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5 Common Signs of a Food Intolerance

You try to give your child the healthiest foods possible. But sometimes, something just doesn’t agree with them. You’re not sure what it is or how to ensure that they don’t suffer. Do they have a food intolerance? Here’s how to tell.

Approximately 15-20% of children and adults in the United States have at least one food intolerance. A food intolerance differs from a food allergy. A food allergy is a disorder of the immune system, in which your body launches an attack against a normally benign substance. Food allergies can be dangerous and even lethal.

In contrast, a food intolerance isn’t an allergic reaction at all. The immune system’s not even involved. Instead, something in the food your child eats irritates their digestive tract. Or, they lack the enzymes or other chemicals they need to properly digest the food. 

If you suspect that your child has a food intolerance, our expert pediatricians at Academy Park Pediatrics, PC, help you find the culprit (or culprits) at our offices in Lakewood and Highlands Ranch, Colorado. If, instead, they have a food allergy, we test them for specific allergies and may recommend treatments, including an epinephrine pen.

Does your child have a food intolerance, rather than an allergy? Following are five of the most common signs that their problems with food are an indication of intolerance.

  1. Their symptoms affect digestion and elimination

A food intolerance means that your child can’t properly digest a particular food or food. Therefore, most of their symptoms occur in the digestive tract itself. Your child may have a food intolerance if they suffer from symptoms such as:

  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Tummy ache
  • Passing excessive gas
  • Nausea

Common food intolerances include lactose intolerance, which causes symptoms when your child eats or drinks cow-based dairy products, including ice cream or milk. Many people can’t tolerate histamines, which are present in otherwise healthy foods, such as bananas, avocados, and pineapples. Your child might also have trouble digesting the protein gluten, which is present in most grains, including wheat. 

  1. Symptoms occur within hours of eating

Allergy symptoms may take time to develop, but food intolerance symptoms usually occur within minutes to hours after eating a triggering food. As the food makes its way through your child’s digestive tract, it could bring on a range of symptoms, starting with an upset tummy and ending in nausea or diarrhea.

  1. Small amounts may not trigger symptoms

Perhaps you’ve suspected that dairy is at the root of your child’s digestive woes, and so you’ve gradually eliminated dairy from their diet or switched to goat, sheep, or A2 cow dairy, all of which are easier to digest. And then your child has a regular ice cream cone and does just fine.

That’s not a sign that your child no longer has a food intolerance for dairy. In fact, it could confirm your initial suspicion. Food intolerances often develop to foods that someone eats regularly or in excess. Going through a period without the food allows the digestive system to recover enough to tolerate a small amount.

  1. They have heartburn

If your child has heartburn after eating, they may be sensitive to foods that are high in acid or which lower pressure in the esophagus so that acid travels back up the throat. Some foods that cause heartburn are:

  • Tomatoes
  • Citrus
  • Spicy foods
  • Chocolate
  • Peppermint 

Don’t try to treat your child with over-the-counter medications for heartburn. Instead, try an elimination diet in which you help your child avoid foods that could be at the root of their discomfort.

  1. They have headaches or migraines

Approximately 20% of women, children, and men who get headaches and migraines have a food intolerance that acts as a trigger. Headaches may be food related if they regularly occur about 20 minutes to two hours after eating or drinking an offending substance. If your child gets headaches or migraines, try to avoid any processed foods that could contain triggering chemicals, such as MSG or artificial sweeteners.

Identifying food intolerances

Food intolerances can be difficult to pinpoint because most people eat such a variety of foods and beverages throughout the day. We recommend an elimination diet, in which your child avoids the most common triggers of food intolerances for a set period of time. Foods to be avoided on an elimination diet include:

  • Cow dairy
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Corn
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Shellfish

If that fails to resolve their symptoms, we may recommend eliminating other items, such as fructose and nightshades. Once your child is symptom-free, we gradually test each item by adding it back, one at a time. 

If symptoms flare, then we’ve identified at least one sensitivity and can eliminate that from their diet permanently. If your child develops no symptoms when the food is re-introduced, then they’re probably not sensitive to it.

Elimination diets are difficult for adults and are extra challenging with children. Get the help, support, and guidance you need by booking a food intolerance evaluation by contacting our friendly staff today by phoning or using our online form.