Up until a year ago my quirky 2 year had that soft, supple baby skin.  But one day I noticed a patch of rough skin just above her cute little tush.  Then those spotty patches moved to her back and arms.  The alarm bells starting going off in her mommy’s head (as a parent there’s aaaaaalways something to worry about right?).

Being a Certified Nutritionist, I knew her body was reacting to something so I went into investigation mode.  And I quickly figured out dairy was the culprit.  It was a pesky food intolerance that was triggered on the inside, but showed up on the outside. Our body has an amazing way of trying to tell us something is up.  But often we chalk it up to not being a problem and our new ‘normal’.

For your family it might be…


Irritability and tantrums

Inability to lose weight

Inability to gain weight

Autoimmune disease




Muscle or joint pain.

These are all symptoms of a food sensitivity or intolerance. Let me explain!

What is a Food Intolerance?

It is important to not confuse a food intolerance with a food allergy as they are two separate conditions.

A food intolerance is the body’s digestive system’s response to a disagreeable food. Unlike a food allergy, which produces an immunological mechanism after consuming an allergen, a food intolerance produces a non-immunological reaction. For example, a person may have digestive issues after drinking cow’s milk because they are unable to digest the sugar lactose — this would be called a food intolerance. If they had an immunologic response to the cow’s milk, that would be characterized as a food allergy. Source

Food intolerances do not involve the immune system and are generally not life-threatening.

Food allergies do involve the immune system and can be life threatening.

The good news is that there’s excellent research to show that children outgrow early food sensitivities more often than not. The exceptions are celiac disease (allergy to wheat) and peanut allergy, which tend to be lifelong.

More on the differentiation of food intolerances vs. allergies here.


Common Food Triggers

Food intolerances can result from many different foods or additives, and the symptoms may appear more slowly than an allergic reaction.

The 8 most common food intolerances/sensitivities include:

  • Wheat
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Tree nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Soybean
  • Sugar (yup!)

As well as:

  • Food additives
  • Monosodium Glutamate
  • Artificial colours/ preservatives
  • Artificial sweeteners

And the list goes on.  Often over-consuming a food can prompt an intolerance over time.  For example, the overconsumption of almonds in the form of almond butter and almond milk is starting to cause problems for some family members.

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5 Common Food Intolerance Symptoms

Food intolerances are hard to detect in your family because you and your little ones can react right away or hours/days later.  I would simply start to pay attention to how everyone is feeling, especially if the following common symptoms start to appear.

Behaviour Changes

That might not just be a temper tantrum because you took away their Cheerios.  Your child’s ups and downs may be trying to tell you something.  Various food intolerances can trigger unwanted behaviours, including sugar!  Sugar intolerance is particularly common in children with neurobehavioral disorders like ADHD and Autism.

  • If your child has candida (a yeast overgrowth) it can affect behaviour.  Candida feeds on sugar and can be the reason many of us crave sweet stuff (it’s the candida that wants it!).
  • If your child has a “trigger food” the body produces cytokines. As a result promoting inflammation in the brain which can lead to meltdowns, irritability, anxiety, depression, brain fog, and more.  Also known as temper tantrums. Ugh!

A word on cytokines: 

A food intolerance creates an IgG reaction in the immune system.  This causes the body to produce inflammatory chemicals called cytokines which can inflame the gut, brain, or respiratory tract.  This then affects how you or your child feels physically and emotionally.

Fatigue and Headaches

A few reasons why intolerances show up as feeling tired or having headaches:

  • Not being able to digest food causes nutrient deficiencies. Thus we feel tired or moody.
  • Some foods containing gluten and casein can play with brain chemistry (due to their “morphine-like substances” called gluteomorphins and casomorphins).
  • Possible “withdrawal” symptoms from certain foods can cause fatigue and headaches.
  • Their bodies can’t digest foods due to a lack of enzymes. The inflammation in the body can cause headaches.

A word on enzymes:  When an individual is unable to break down food into smaller components, it can be due to an insufficient amount of enzymes that would be used for that particular food.  Those larger food particles can trigger a food intolerance.

Digestive enzymes are small proteins which break down food into smaller components that are possible to be absorbed by our gut. The unabsorbed food becomes a free meal for the bacteria that live in our digestive tract. As a result of its consumption by the bacteria we suffer the classic symptoms of bloating, tummy cramps, gas, wind and in many cases diarrhea. Source

food intolerances

Joint Pain

Reasons for developing joint pain include:

  • An inflammatory reaction begins to develop as a result of undigested food particles roaming through the body. Hence joints feel swollen and/or stiff.
  • Eating inflammatory-causing foods raises cortisol, further increasing inflammation.
  • Inflammatory foods include dairy, gluten, and nightshade vegetables (bell peppers, eggplant, tomatoes).

food intolerances

Acne and Skin Conditions

Our body tries to get rid of toxins in many ways. If the liver, kidneys, lymph, intestines, and lungs do not sufficiently ‘cleanse’ the body, then the skin goes to work, which is the largest organ weighing between 6 to 9 pounds. Whoa!  A few things to know:

  • Common conditions related to the skin: rashes, eczema, acne, rosacea, and dark circles under the eyes
  • When the body is unable to digest, absorb, and eliminate excess toxins or waste due to intolerance, the body attempts to eliminate them through the skin
  • One of the most common food intolerances related to skin conditions is lactose and dairy intolerance

food intolerances

Digestive Conditions

Gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea are all symptoms of food intolerance. Reasons for developing these symptoms include:

  • Undigested food particles accumulate in the digestive system causing fermentation leading to gas and bloating
  • Undigested food particles can also pass through the intestinal walls causing leaky gut and irritation
  • These food particles also alter the composition of microflora in the gut, leading to interchangeable bowel movements.

4 Steps to Pinpointing Family Food Intolerances

If you suspect someone in the family has a food intolerance, try a family elimination diet to pinpoint the dietary culprit.

1 – Identify ONE food to omit for 2 weeks – More than one food is too hard to implement with a family.  So I suggest dairy or gluten which are the most common triggers.  Whether they are a problem or not you will be doing your family a favour by omitting these foods.  Most feel better without them and even notice behavioural improvements in their children!

2 – Get some healthy swaps. Before you remove those foods make sure you have alternatives ready.  For instance, if removing gluten stock up on gluten-free options for your family’s favourites. A quality wheat-free pasta, crackers, bread, and even make cookie recipes like this or this. The goal is for the whole family to be eating the same foods (no separate meals for the kids, picky or not).  But the last thing we want is for your family to feel deprived through the elimination process.  That’s why I help parents come up with some super yummy and simple swaps to ease them into the elimination.

3 – Keep a food and mood diary. Jot down everything you or your family eats and drinks (that means every single ingredient in that stir-fry or yogurt parfait). Monitor how your/their body reacts to meals or specific foods. Keep note of any symptoms or irritations.  Remember that intolerances can show up hours or up to 3 days afterward!

You can make it into a game for your kids and play “Food Detective”. Ask them to draw a happy face or sad face (or use stickers/stamps) at the end of each meal/day, in relation to their primary symptoms.  “How does your tummy feel today?  How does your head feel?  How does your skin feel?” etc.

Most families start to recognize ‘problem foods’ after one week but keep it going!  After a few weeks of being free of an assumed food trigger, you should feel more confident on whether that food needs to be removed completely.  I love providing families with new and fun meal/snack ideas to replace their previous food triggers.

4 – Get a simple food intolerance test.  Some sensitivities can be pretty unusual.  For instance, cashews are on my list of foods that don’t agree with me.  Doing a quality food intolerance test can help narrow down your family’s triggers.  You can ask a Certified Nutritionist like myself, Naturopath, or other health professional more about how to do this.

Need help?  Book a complimentary 15-minute consult with me here.  Let’s make sure your family is getting the foods they need to thrive.