Can I Eat That? A Lesson in Food Intolerance


If you have ever gotten an upset stomach from eating a certain type of food, there is a good chance you might have a food intolerance. Food intolerances and sensitivities are not necessarily life threatening like a true food allergy, but they can still make you feel pretty bad. If you think you might have a food intolerance, ask your parents to buy you a little notebook to record what you eat each day and when and if you feel bad after eating. Over a few weeks, you might see a pattern develop. A one-time stomach ache from eating too many cookies might make you think twice about saying “no thank you” to a second dessert, but a consistent feeling of nausea after your morning cereal just might mean you have a sensitivity to milk. Below are some common food intolerances.


If you look at almost any menu at any restaurant you will see the term “GF” meaning “gluten free” next to some menu items. Because about 18 million Americans experience bloating, abdominal pain or diarrhea after eating foods with gluten, restaurants have decided it’s good for business to offer some foods without it. Gluten is a protein found in breads, pastas and cereals and also among sauces and gravies. Avoiding gluten can be difficult because sometimes it’s unclear what foods have it or have been contaminated by being prepared near foods with gluten. When you eat out or at a friend’s house, don’t be afraid to ask is oatmeal gluten free, for example, to be sure you don’t end up feeling crummy later.


Lactose intolerance is extremely common with almost 30-50 million Americans suffering from bloating, diarrhea, gas or nausea after ingesting it. Lactose is a kind of sugar commonly found in milk and in order for your body to digest it, it must break it down with lactase enzymes. If you don’t produce enough, dairy products can make you feel sick. Unfortunately, if you think you might be lactose intolerant, it’s best to avoid regular milk and ice cream. The good news is that it’s pretty easy to find lactose-free products in the dairy case at your local grocery store. The bad news is that you might have to bring your own dairy-free ice cream to the next birthday party you’re invited to.


You may not be a coffee drinker yet, but if you drink soda or eat chocolate, you still consume caffeine. Usually a little caffeine just peps you up a bit, but if you drink too much or have a caffeine sensitivity, you might find your heart beating uncomfortably fast, or you might experience anxiety or have trouble falling asleep at night. An easy experiment is to cut out soda for a week or two to see if the symptoms subside. If they do, but you miss your carbonated drinks, just switch to a non-caffeinated soda like root beer instead of cola.


Sulfites are used to preserve certain types of food such as dried fruit, canned or pickled vegetables and potato chips. They can also be found naturally in grapes and tea. If you are sulfite intolerant, you might flush, get hives or a stuffy nose after eating certain foods. If you have asthma, pay special attention to how your body reacts after eating foods high in sulfites as they can impair breathing in some cases. Although it would be nearly impossible to avoid all sulfites, food should be labeled clearly if it contains any.


If you have fructose intolerance, it means your body can’t process this simple sugar found in fruits and vegetables efficiently. Instead of being absorbed in the blood, it sits in your large intestine causing gas, bloating and all sorts of other stomach troubles. Avoiding soda, honey, apples and anything containing high fructose corn syrup is your best bet to reduce the symptoms.

If you wonder why certain foods don’t make you feel good, it’s probably because your body has a specific sensitivity to them. Start a food tracking diary to see if you can pinpoint which foods to avoid to stay happy and healthy.