Have you ever experienced symptoms such as stomach pain, bloating, vomiting, or heartburn, a few minutes after consuming certain foods? Well, it’s believed that these are some of the common signs that one might be suffering from food intolerance. When you have food intolerance, health practitioners say this means that one’s digestive system is having a hard time digesting or breaking down food. Dr Daniel Kazungu, a general practitioner at Galien Clinic in Remera, says people suffering from food intolerance or food sensitivity normally can’t break down certain foods, thus they develop gas, diarrhoea, and other problems It’s advisable to start thinking about how to change diet to eliminate problem foods. Photos/Net According to medics, it’s important for one to differentiate between food intolerance and food allergy. When it comes to food intolerance, it simply means that your gut is sensitive to certain foods and can’t tolerate them, while food allergy is about the immune system’s reaction to a specific food. Causes Dr Kazungu says that people with food intolerance often don’t make enough of a particular enzyme that the digestive system needs to break down a certain food or ingredient, and that some of the causes include lactose intolerance. He explains that the body uses digestive enzymes to break down foods, and that if a person lacks certain enzymes, they may be less able to digest certain foods. Lactose is a sugar present in milk and milk products, which means lactose intolerance happens when the small intestine does not make enough of a digestive enzyme called lactase. Lactase breaks down the lactose in food so your body can absorb it. “If lactose remains in the digestive tract, it can cause stomach-ache, bloating, diarrhoea, and gas, which could be food intolerance,” Dr Kazungu adds. Dr Protais Munyarugamba, a medical practitioner in Kigali, says it has also been established that another cause of food intolerance is fructose intolerance. This, he says, is a sugar present in fruit, some vegetables, and honey. Fructose intolerance can also be due to the lack of an enzyme, although this is rare. He goes on to note that fructose malabsorption, in which the body is missing a protein that allows it to absorb the sugar from the intestine, is much more common In these individuals, he says the fructose in foods ferments in the gut, leading to gas, fullness, bloating, cramps, and diarrhoea. Gluten intolerance Gluten intolerance may also bring about food intolerance, and this is a protein that occurs in some cereals, including wheat, barley, and rye. According to Dr Kazungu, a person with gluten intolerance experiences discomfort, such as pain, bloating, or nausea, after eating foods that contain gluten. Management and treatment Private Kamanzi, a nutritionist and dietician, says that in cases of food intolerance, it’s advisable for one to start thinking about how they can change their diet to eliminate problem foods. He recommends consuming small amounts of food as this has been proven to cause few symptoms, if any. In case of symptoms, he says another option is trying out over-the-counter medication after consulting medics on which medicines can best work for someone. Also, Kamanzi adds that people who are lactose intolerant can consume lactose-free milk and dairy products. When it comes to complications resulting from food intolerance, health experts say that people who are lactose intolerant may not get enough calcium and vitamin D if they completely cut out dairy products. To fix this, it’s advisable to take supplements or use over-the-counter lactase enzymes to consume dairy products without getting an upset stomach. In addition to this, it is also important for people who cut back on products with gluten to eat more fresh vegetables, fruit, and gluten-free whole grains to make sure they get enough fibre and other nutrients important for health.