Keep a food diary

Food intolerance symptoms can be diverse and difficult to put down to any one food group. By closely tracking your diet over a period of several weeks and keeping a food and symptoms diary, the discovery of an intolerance can be made easier.

Keep an account of everything you eat and drink. Select a start date and allow for a 2-3 week period to track your eating and drinking. Write down everything you consume and note any symptoms that develop immediately after or even hours later.

A food diary doesn’t always reveal what foods you should be avoiding. Symptoms can be delayed or may linger for a prolonged period, leading you to believe you’re having a reaction to other food you may not normally react to.

Elimination diet

An elimination of food groups or individual foods causing your symptoms, and slowly re-introducing them back into your diet is the most accurate method to identify food intolerance. It should be followed for up to 10 days.

Either stick to a basic diet of no:

  • meat
  • processed or fried foods
  • refined flour and pasta
  • caffeine
  • sugary food or drinks
  • dairy
  • chocolate
  • eggs
  • corn
  • wheat or gluten containing products

Or avoid the food groups you suspect are causing you problems.

Be aware that when first removing food groups from your diet you may feel a little unwell or experience withdrawal symptoms. This is quite common when eliminating foods suddenly, which is why we suggest following the elimination diet for  a 10 day period to allow your system to ‘recover.’ These withdrawal symptoms will usually pass within a week, so stick to it and reap the benefits of giving your body a break before you start to re-introduce the food groups again.

After the 10 days are up, or sooner if your symptoms have ceased, slowly re-introduce the foods one group at time (eg. wheat products group, dairy products group). Be sure to allow enough time for any symptoms to appear (1-2 hours). You may find that you now have a sudden reaction to the foods you suspected were causing you problems, making it clear what you need to avoid.

If you do react to something you eat, stop eating that food and wait another day or two before introducing your next food group.

An elimination diet isn’t always guaranteed to reveal what intolerances you might have. It can be difficult to work out what hidden ingredients in premade foods are causing you problems. There is also a possibility of becoming more reactive to the foods you eat, as you eliminate more food groups and become too reliant on others.

Removing food items from your diet

When it becomes obvious which food items cause you problems (as identified through the food diary, elimination diet, or tests run by your GP) you can start to remove these from your diet. You may find that giving your body a break from these foods for a lengthy period of time, then reintroducing them, brings on no ill effect as previously occurred. This is because you have given your body time to build up tolerance. However, as many find, they may still react to the offending food if consumed in larger quantities or in combination with another food type that you might normally react to. As stated earlier, you may find a level by which you can tolerate the offending food or you may have to cut it out of your diet completely. It’s all about finding what works best for your health.

Cutting food from ones diet should not be taken lightly. It’s not as simple as just removing major food groups and eating more from another. You can deplete your body of necessary vitamins and minerals if you are not balancing your diet in other areas. It is important to replace those foods with substitutes, especially if they were a major part of your everyday diet.

Getting adequate vitamins/minerals

When you have cut food from your diet, be sure to discuss with your GP or dietician alternative ways to get a balanced diet. Your GP or dietician may suggest supplements or natural means of getting the right nutrients through your food. For instance, a lactose-intolerant person may begin eating more spinach, fortified soy milk or orange juice, salmon, etc. to replace what they might otherwise get from dairy products.

What to look for on ingredient labels

Hidden ingredients in premade food items can be difficult to spot if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Most food products these days are bound by legislation to provide full ingredient food labelling on items. However, it can be difficult to distinguish what’s-what when you’re faced with unusual, unheard of names cropping up on your food labels.

Tip: Be sure to check the food labels on the regular products you buy each time you shop; you can never assume that the recipe will always remain the same.

Hidden ingredients lurking in your food

Watch out for these uncommon names when reading your food labels

For lactose intolerance:

  • whey
  • buttermilk
  • Casein
  • lactose
  • Caseinates
  • Hydrolysed Casein
  • Whey Syrup Sweetener

For Egg intolerance:

  • Albumen
  • Globulin
  • Ovomucin
  • Livetin
  • Ovalbumen
  • Ovoglobulin
  • Lecithin – E322
  • Ovovitellin
  • Vitellin

For Wheat intolerance:

  • Wheat bran
  • Wheat germ
  • Wheat gluten
  • Farina
  • Semolina
  • Semolina Flour
  • Wheat starch
  • Starch
  • Modified starch
  • Hydrolised starch
  • Food starch
  • Spelt (triticum spelta)
  • Kamut (triticum poloncium)
  • Durum wheat
  • Couscous
  • Bran
  • Edible starch
  • Vegetable protein
  • Cereal filler
  • Cereal binder
  • Cereal protein

For Gluten intolerance: (many of these may not necessarily contain gluten, but unless otherwise specified, try to avoid as much as possible)

  • Additives
  • Artificial colour
  • Brewer''s Yeast
  • caramel colour (made from barley malt)
  • colouring
  • dextrin (can be made from wheat)
  • Dextrimaltose (made from barley)
  • Emulsifier
  • Filler
  • Flavours
  • Germ
  • Glucose Syrup
  • Groats (unless buckwheat or gluten-free oats)
  • Hydrogenated Oils (unless Hydrogenated Soybean oil)
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (unless corn or soy)
  • Hydrolyzed Plant Protein (HPP)
  • Malt (made from barley)
  • Malt Vinegar
  • Natural Flavour
  • Softener
  • Smoke Flavouring
  • Flour or Cereal products (unless made with rice flour, corn flour, potato flour, or soy flour)
    Vegetable Protein (unless made from soy or corn)
  • Malt Flavoring (unless made from corn)
  • Modified Starch or Modified Food Starch (unless arrowroot, corn, potato, tapioca, or maize)
  • Vegetable Gum (unless carob bean gum, locust bean gum, cellulose gum, guar gum, gum arabic, gum aracia, gum tragacanth, xanthan gum, or vegetable starch)
  • Soy sauce or Soy Sauce Solids
  • Stabilizers
  • Thickeners
  • emulsifiers

For corn intolerance: (many of these may not necessarily contain corn, but unless otherwise specified, try to avoid as much as possible)

  • corn starch
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • corn meal
  • corn flour
  • corn masa
  • corn oil
  • corn syrup
  • maize (best to steer clear as this term sometimes refers to corn)
  • fructose
  • Dextrose
  • Glucose
  • Invert Sugars
  • Dextrin
  • Maltodextrin
  • msg
  • food starch
  • modified food starch
  • methylcellulose
  • mono- and diglycerides
  • And one to watch out for - Remoistenable adhesives are derived from corn starch

For soy intolerance: (many of these may not necessarily contain soy, but unless otherwise specified, try to avoid as much as possible)

  • Akara
  • Bulking Agent
  • Boullion
  • Carob
  • Edamame
  • Emulsifiers
  • Gum Arabic
  • Guar Gum
  • Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein or Hydrolyzed Protein (HVP)
  • Isoflavones
  • Isolated Soy Protein
  • Isolates
  • Kinako
  • Kouridofu
  • Lecithin
  • Miso
  • Mono
  • yuba (tofu skin)
  • Diglycerides
  • Mono Sodium Glutamates (MSG)
  • Natto
  • Natural, Organic or Artificial Flavors
  • Olean
  • Protein
  • Shoyu Sauce, Soja
  • Soybeans
  • Soy Oil
  • Soy Protein Concentrate
  • Tamari
  • Tempeh
  • Teriyaki
  • Textured Soy Flour (TSF)
  • Textured Soy Protein (TSP)
  • Textured Plant Protein (TVP)
  • Thickener
  • Tofu
  • Tofutti
  • Vegetable Broth
  • Vegetable Gum
  • Vegetable Paste
  • Vegetable Protein
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Vegetable Shortening
  • Vegetable Starch
  • Vitamin E
  • Yuba
  • Instant coffee
  • Margarine
  • Canned tuna
  • Mayonnaise
  • mono-diglyceride
  • natto (soy beans)
  • okara (soy pulp)

Eating at restaurants/cafes

If you think having a food allergy or intolerance means dining-out is off the menu, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to know that more and more restaurants and eateries are catering to special diets.

That being said, be sure to inform staff of your special dietary requirements, and inquire about any of the hidden food ingredients you now know might be in that favourite dish of yours. Some restaurants and cafés even have food items and menus set up with certain intolerances in mind.

What to do when you have a reaction

Each person’s reaction is unique to their condition and their body’s response.

Some may find ways to manage their health to a point, so as to avoid having a reaction or at least lessen the risk of having one.

Or you may find techniques to assist your recovery when you have a food reaction. As mentioned earlier, some people will take an anti-spasmodic when they start to suffer stomach cramping, or pop a pill of activated charcoal when they feel bloated. Of course not all your symptoms will necessary pertain to those affecting the stomach. You may suffer a skin reaction or headache. So finding methods that fit your health needs will always need to be assessed by you and your GP.

Usually it means waiting out the symptoms until they pass. Curling up with a hot water bottle to ease any pain and resting until you feel well enough again is sometimes what it takes to get past the reaction symptoms.

How long does it take to recover?

Recovery after a food reaction can take as little as an hour or up to several days, depending on the severity of the reaction and your condition. Often you can recover faster, if your symptoms are those that affect the stomach, by eating a simple diet for the few days following your reaction. For allergies, there may be medications you have been instructed to take. Whichever the case, usually waiting out the duration of your symptoms is the only thing you can really do, as painstaking as it is.


Lastly, having a food allergy or intolerance does not mean the end of eating your favourite foods or giving up on nutrition. It is understandable you may feel downhearted or at a loss with such a big lifestyle change. It requires patience on your part to discover what it is that causes your symptoms, and substituting new ingredients in place of the ones you can no longer have. Look to our recipes section for some special dietary recipes that you might be able to incorporate into your daily meals.

When you’re underway with your new diet, you will begin to notice quite quickly the change in your health and decrease in symptoms. Be sure to stick to it for the long haul and your health will reap the rewards for your endurance.