Common Food Intolerances and Substitutes 101

food intolerances

Food intolerances are experienced differently from person to person. Many live with digestive problems without giving it much thought while others feel annoying bloating, cramping, rashes and migraines.

Food intolerance refers to food hypersensitivity and refers to components found in foods that trigger an indirect stimulation to the immune system via nerves in the gut after a suspect food is eaten.  Intolerances are different to food allergies in the way that you don’t see an immediate reaction (swelling of the tongue, lips, breathing difficulties) so thankfully, they are not life-threatening.

It is not always easy to correlate what foods directly affect how you feel after eating them with some components taking up to 3 days before symptoms appear. Visiting your GP and discussing further tests or an elimination diet / removing single food groups one at a time (advised for children) with foods that contain gluten, dairy, salicylates, and amines is usually the first port of call.

Nowadays it is easy enough to substitute food groups or specific foods so it’s not all doom and gloom. Quite often it means we are taking a more mindful approach to our health and nutrition, so energy levels improve, and weight management is more sustainable.

Common Food Intolerances and Substitutes


Dairy intolerance is caused by the inability of the body to break down an enzyme called lactose. Lacking this enzyme can bring on symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, gas and diarrhoea. Interestingly enough it is estimated that 65% of the world’s population has trouble digesting lactose so avoiding foods such as milk, ice cream, cheese and yoghurt helps ease symptoms. Casein is another protein found in milk which is different to lactose and requires non-dairy swaps.

As lactose intolerance is such a common problem, there are plenty of supermarket swaps you can do.

Yoghurt – choose coconut yoghurt or lactose-free varieties

Milk – lactose-free milk or plant-based milk such as almond, oat, rice and soy

Cheese – lactose-free varieties or aged cheeses.


Many people suffer from non-celiac gluten sensitivity a milder form of gluten intolerance. Foods such as wheat, barley, rye and triticale contain gluten with symptoms appearing as bloating, headaches, joint pain, skin rash, bloating and pain, diarrhoea or constipation. Again, due to demand many companies now make gluten-free options to make life simple without too much disruption.

Bread – Gluten-free bread, rice crackers, rice cakes.

Pasta – Gluten-free pasta, swap for rice, use zucchini noodles or rice noodles

Cereals – Gluten-free cereals such as corn flakes, rice pops, oats (not advised for gluten allergy), and some mueslis are great choices

Beer – gluten-free beers are available


Egg intolerances are tricky to distinguish and can show up with skin conditions such as eczema and irritable bowel. Excluding eggs completely and the products contained in them is usually advised.

When looking to substitute eggs directly in cooking and baking there are ways to mimic the binding and thickening that eggs provide. Making ‘chia egg’ of mixing chia seed and water acts as a binding agent, as does psyllium husk, and cornstarch.  


Almonds are high on the list of intolerances and are being pronounced more than ever with the prevalence of almond milk, recipes that contain almond meals and yoghurts. Be careful not to confuse an allergy with sensitivity, nut intolerances can bring about symptoms such as eczema, dermatitis and gut issues like IBS. Coconut and nut oils also fall into this category so it’s important that where substitutes are found, they do mimic the same nutrient profile you are omitting, Olives, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and avocado are other foods you can easily supplement into your diet.

After deciphering what foods are causing problems, working on avoiding these foods for periods of time and giving the gut time to heal is certainly a step in the right direction in improving your health and quality of life.

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