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Food Intolerance is defined as any illness or abnormality in the body that is connected to the ingestion of a particular food or dietary substance. This usually applies to foods which are a part of the daily diet and have nutritional value e.g. protein, carbohydrate, fats etc.

There is some debate about the use of the term Food Intolerance. For the purpose of this article food Intolerance describes the theories and possible triggers for what is sometimes a complex and subtle reaction within the body which occurs as a result of eating a particular type of food. A food allergy, on the other hand, refers to the more severe immune reaction which can occur when a particular food is eaten. Food allergies may cause acute symptoms in a person which can be easily linked to the intake of a particular food, however there may be a less obvious connection in the case of Food Intolerance. A person may fail to recognise or be able to identify the type of food which is causing symptoms. There is lot of awareness about the dangers of having a diet which is high in sugar, fat salt, refined foods, caffeine and alcohol. It is surprising for some people to find that negative health effects can also occur from eating every day foods which are considered to be a normal part of a healthy diet. Wheat and dairy foods are examples of nutritious foods which some people are unable to tolerate in the diet.

There are a number of theories as to why food Intolerance develops. Food Intolerant people in some cases allow large fragments of digested food molecules (peptides) to pass through the gut wall and into the blood stream.

An enzyme deficiency is another food Intolerance theory. If certain digestive enzymes are in short supply or not operating efficiently then food is not digested properly and more peptides may be absorbed into the blood stream. A direct overreaction of the immune system to a particular substance is a cause of food Intolerance in some people.

The cause of a food allergy and in some cases food Intolerance can be pinpointed to a particular food. This food is then eliminated from the diet and symptoms cease to occur.

Milk, dairy and lactose intolerance

Lactose is a type of sugar found in cow’s milk which is broken down into smaller fragments for digestion by the lactase enzyme. People who are deficient in lactase are unable to properly digest dairy products. Lactose intolerance may occur at birth or develop later on in life.

Lactose intolerance should not be confused with milk allergy which is related to the protein portion of milk (Casein). People with lactose intolerance are sometimes able to tolerate small amounts of dairy products which contrasts sharply with milk (Casein) allergy which may give severe symptoms after consuming only a small amount.

Wheat and gluten intolerance

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, oats and barely. Coeliac disease results from an intolerance to gluten which may cause gastric discomfort, wind and diarrhoea. The disease may also contribute to eczema and arthritis. Strict avoidance of gluten is necessary in the management of coeliac disease.


It is thought that a food Intolerance may cause a person to crave the particular food which is causing the problem. In most cases this craving is for wheat or milk and may go unnoticed because these foods tend to appear in every meal. Cravings for beer, wine, bread etc. may indicate a yeast intolerance. Another indicator of food Intolerance may be eating excessive amounts of a particular food and increasing the frequency of intake during times of stress. Feelings of calmness and reduced agitation after eating certain foods may be an indication of food Intolerance e.g. if feelings of sadness or anger are relieved by eating chocolate.

This food is then eliminated from the diet and symptoms cease to occur. In other cases, however, more subtle symptoms such as headache, mood swings, lethargy and poor concentration which do not respond to medical treatment may also be relieved by eliminating or reducing the intake of a food which is not being well tolerated by the body.

Treatment options for food intolerances

As with all conditions your Doctor should be consulted. If a food Intolerance is suspected, your Doctor may refer you to a Dietitian to help manage the condition and provide you with a diet plan to suit your needs. You can also include a Calanna Naturopath as a part of your health team. Calanna Naturopaths can sometimes help when all other avenues may not have provided any solutions to your health issue.

DISCLAIMER: This information is an educational aid only. It is not intended to replace medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, pharmacist, nurse or naturopath before following any medical regimen to see whether it is safe and effective for you.