Many people have a food intolerance or food allergy and don’t even know it. Studies have shown that people can reduce or even eliminate IBS symptoms removing problem foods from their diet!

Food allergy… Food intolerance… Food sensitivity? What’s the difference?

Rubber stamp pictures for food sensitivities. From Solving the IBS Puzzle.Does a food sensitivity have your guts tied up in knots?



An intolerance is not the same as an allergy. A food allergy is an abnormal response by your immune system to something you ate or drank. The good news is that (according to the Mayo Clinic) only about 2% of adults and 6% of children have food allergies. What a lot of people think of as food allergies are really an intolerance, which is FAR more common.

So what is a food intolerance or sensitivity?

A food intolerance doesn’t involve the immune system, but can cause illness when that food is eaten. Some people use a third category called food sensitivity for foods that cause digestive or health problems but are less severe or are hard to trace. Other people use “food intolerance” and “food sensitivity” as different ways to say the same thing.

How does a food intolerance cause problems?

Many people have trouble digesting certain foods. Their bodies might be missing an enzyme, or some other digestive tool to process a certain food. When a food doesn’t break down properly, it can cause all kinds of unpleasant effects, such as diarrhea, gas, constipation, bloating and abdominal pain. Sound familiar?

Does food intolerance cause IBS?

Not exactly. But some people may think they have IBS, when they really have an undiagnosed intolerance to a food. Many people suffer for years with IBS symptoms before finding out the main culprit is a food sensitivity or intolerance. Even if an intolerance isn’t the major cause of your IBS symptoms, sensitivity to a food can trigger IBS symptoms. I found that out the hard way. Here is that story if you’re interested. I gave up some foods that were making me sick, and cut down on some others, and now I feel a LOT better. YOU CAN TOO!

Food sensitivity and intolerance heavy hitters…

Below is a list of foods that many people have problems with. Note that while some people are allergic to some of these items, this isn’t a food allergy list.

Foods items

  • Dairy products – Made for baby cows. Why do we drink it anyway?
  • Wheat and/or gluten – This is a kind of grass. Hay fever anyone? Chocolate – Sorry to say it.
  • Fructose – Malabsorption of fructose is linked to diarrhea and depression! Yeast – Found in breads, cheeses, and many other food items, this fungus can cause you problems whether it’s alive or dead.
  • Soy products– Particularly genetically modified soy.

Food Additives

Here is a short list of food additives that many people have problems with:

  • MSG – An excitotoxin. Many people (including some in the medial field) believe that MSG and Aspartame can “excite” neurons and/or nerve cells to death!
  • Aspartame – Another excitotoxin, many people recommend stevia instead. I just avoid sweeteners. I’m sweet enough ;).
  • Artificial colors – British studies also link artificial colors to ADHD symptoms.
  • Olestra – This fat substitute works reduces calories in the body by being INDIGESTIBLE! Abdominal cramps an loose stools are known side effects. Other IBS symptoms are commonly reported.
  • Preservatives – Maybe making things indigestible by bacteria makes them indigestible by humans.
  • Sulfites – Sometimes sulfites are used as a preservative, sometimes they occur naturally (in wine for instance).

An elimination diet can help find YOUR villains.

Man stuck sitting on the toilet. Could he have a food sensitivity? From Solving the IBS Puzzle.



This is a systematic approach of eliminating and adding back foods to see which ones you may have problems with. If you have IBS you should talk to your doctor about trying an elimination diet to see if you have a food allergy or intolerance. He or she may refer you to a nutritionist, to help with the process. See a list of foods you may be intolerant of OR go see a list of low FODMAP foods.