Food intolerance in kids

A food intolerance can range from being uncomfortable to very painful for a child. Here, we look at some common food intolerances, the symptoms and what to do.

Food intolerances in children can be hard to identify unless you are aware of what to look for. If a food intolerance goes undiagnosed, this can cause some children to suffer unnecessarily. The good news is that once your child cuts down or stops eating the foods that hurt them, their discomfort can be avoided for good.


If the food you eat causes you to have a reaction, this is a food intolerance. There are a few reasons you might have a reaction. Either your system is aggravated by a certain chemical in the food, or your body simply struggles to digest the food correctly. Some people can manage a small amount of the food that they have an intolerance to. It’s important to note that a food intolerance is different to a food allergy. Allergies involve an immune system reaction and tend to be more serious than an intolerance.


Symptoms to watch out for can be: bloating, diarrhoea, headaches, mouth ulcers, stomach cramps and pain. Interestingly, there can often be a delay in the onset of food intolerance symptoms. Children can display issues up to two days after eating foods they are intolerant to. Make sure to speak with your doctor if you suspect your child has a food intolerance or if they show symptoms and you don’t know why.


The most common food intolerances are listed below and affect both children and adults alike:

Lactose intolerance

Lactose is a naturally occurring sugar found in milk and milk products, and lactose intolerance is the inability to digest it. This condition commonly runs in families. Symptoms are specific to each person but include: gas, diarrhoea, bloating, stomach pain and nausea. Lactose intolerance is untreatable, but the symptoms are managed through dietary changes.

Gluten or wheat intolerance

Gluten allergy is called celiac disease, an autoimmune condition that harms the lining of the small intestine and disrupts the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Your child can have an intolerance rather than an allergy. This is known as nonceliac gluten sensitivity. Symptoms are varied and include: brain fog, tiredness, depression and anxiety, bloating, nausea, gas, abdominal pain, rashes and constipation or diarrhoea.

Food additive intolerance

Sensitivity to food additives mainly affects skin, digestion and breathing. Skin reactions include hives, angioedema, atopic dermatitis, sweating, itching and flushing. Digestive reactions show up as abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting or diarrhoea.

Fructose intolerance

Fructose intolerance is when your body doesn’t produce the necessary protein or enzyme needed to break down fructose. This means your body can’t digest the fructose found in foods such as fruits, fruit juices, certain vegetables and honey.


The best way to test for food intolerances are elimination diets. This involves removing foods that might cause intolerance from your child’s diet for a period of time, usually a number of weeks. After this period, you slowly reintroduce foods one at a time to work out which food is causing the problem. In cases of suspected lactose intolerance, doctors sometimes use a breath test. This examines the amount of hydrogen gas in the child’s breath. Lactose intolerant children will show higher levels of hydrogen in their breath.


Once your child has a food intolerance diagnosis from a doctor, they might advise that your cut down the amount of the food causing the intolerance, or that your child stops consuming that food altogether. If your child eats something accidentally that you know they are intolerant to and starts to display symptoms of intolerance, do not worry. These symptoms resolve themselves in most cases and your child is very unlikely to need medical attention. If diarrhoea is one of the symptoms your child is dealing with, it’s important to ensure they stay well hydrated.


Food intolerances are still poorly understood and each case is individual. Some children grow out of food intolerances and others will always have them. How long a food intolerance lasts can depend on the food and the reason your child’s body is reacting to it. If you think your child has outgrown a food intolerance, consult your doctor to make a proper diagnosis. They might suggest you gradually reintroduce the food into your child’s diet to see whether the food intolerance is resolved.

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