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Can Food Intolerance Make Your Poop Look Different?

Can Food Intolerance Make Your Poop Look Different?

What Is Food Intolerance? 

Food intolerance happens when a person has difficulty digesting a particular food or food group. While it is not life threatening, it can significantly affect a person’s quality of life. A food intolerance is sometimes referred to as food sensitivity, these two terms are used inter-changeably. 

It is estimated around 20% of the world population has a food intolerance. It is very common and seems to be on the rise. 

Watch this video about IBS & Food Intolerance, and hear Stacey’s story on how her identified her food intolerance.

Difference Between Food Intolerance and Food Allergies: 

A food intolerance sometimes may get mistaken for food allergies, however, these two conditions are completely different. With food intolerance, symptoms occur in the digestive track and usually only stays in the digestive track. Whereas, food allergies are activated by the immune system and can cause life threatening reactions, such as anaphylaxis. 

Woman curled up on a couch with stomach pain, can food intolerance make your poop look different

Food intolerance:

  • Affects the digestive system.
  • Symptoms are not life threatening.
  • Symptoms onset within a few hours of ingesting the food and may last for hours or days as the food is moving through the digestive track.
  • May vary depending on the person or food and/or you may be able to tolerate a small amount of the food.
Woman sits on a couch and blows her nose from an allergy

Food allergies: 

  • Affect the immune system.
  • Occur when a person ingests or is exposed to a protein that the body identifies as a threat. In turn, the body releases antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE) to fight the threat.
  • Often cause an allergic reaction such as hives, swelling, shortness of breath, wheezing, or even a life threatening reaction such as anaphylaxis.
  • Symptoms occur within minutes after exposure and even trace amounts of the food can cause a reaction (i.e. symptoms).

Symptoms of Food Intolerance

Symptoms of food intolerance can vary greatly depending on what the person is intolerant to. We’ll discuss the different food intolerance later. 

Food intolerance can lead to symptoms such as: 

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea 
  • Distention
  • Reflux 
  • Flatulence (gas)

The Most Common Types of Food Intolerance

FODMAP acronym, can food intolerance make your poop look different

1. Carbohydrate Intolerance (FODMAP) 

FODMAP is an acronym for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, And Polyols.

  • Fermentable: Broken down by our gut microbes (fermented)
  • Oligosaccharides: Fructans and GOS, such as garlic, onion, wheat products, etc. 
  • Disaccharides: Lactose, such as milk and other dairy products
  • Monosaccharides: Excess fructose, such as asparagus, mangoes, honey, etc.
  • And
  • Polyols: Sorbitol and mannitol, such as sugar alcohols, celery, cauliflower, etc. 

FODMAPs are good for us. They feed our gut microbes. However, while many people can digest FODMAPs without issue, some individuals have difficulty breaking them down, leading to digestive problems and symptoms such as bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. 

Some FODMAPs draw water into our small intestine, causing distention and gurgling in our belly, and all FODMAPs are rapidly fermented in our large intestine, which can cause bloating and gas. 

For those struggling with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), the action of fluids and gas moving around our gut can also cause diarrhea and constipation.

This is why following a low FODMAP diet can be beneficial in managing symptoms for people with certain digestive disorders, such as IBS. Learn more about low FODMAP diet here, including what a low FODMAP diet entails, who can benefit from it, and how to get started.

Milk pouring into a glass

2. Lactose Intolerance 

Lactose is one group of the FODMAP. So, lactose is broken down in the human body by the enzyme lactase. However, sometimes a person’s ability to produce lactase stops or decreases as they age. At that point, they can no longer breakdown lactose after ingestion. 

Lactose intolerance usually causes symptoms such as: 

  • Abdominal pain 
  • Bloating 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Gas 

3. Histamine Intolerance 

Histamine is a naturally occurring chemical in many foods. People who are histamine intolerant lack – or their bodies simply don’t make enough of – the enzyme diamine oxidase (DAO). DAO breaks down histamine. 

Symptoms of histamine intolerance includes: 

  • Headaches or migraines 
  • Nasal congestion 
  • Fatigue 
  • Hives
  • Digestive problems
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting

Foods High in Histamine: 

  • Alcohol, such as beer, ciders, wine, etc.
  • Fermented foods, such as kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, cheese, kombucha, etc.
  • Processed or smoked meat 
  • Dairy products 
  • Dried fruits 
  • Avocados
  • Eggplant 
  • Spinach
  • Shellfish
Two glasses of wine set with fresh grapes and cheese

Foods That Trigger the Release of Histamine: 

  • Alcohol 
  • Bananas 
  • Tomatoes 
  • Wheat germ
  • Beans
  • Papaya
  • Chocolate
  • Citrus fruits 
  • Nuts (especially walnuts, cashews, and peanuts) 
  • Food dyes and other food additives 
A field of wheat, can food intolerance make your poop look different

4. Gluten Intolerance 

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It provides elasticity to dough and is commonly found in bread, pasta, and other grain-based products.

Some studies have suggested a significant connection between IBS and gluten, highlighting the concept of non-celiac wheat sensitivity. Non-celiac wheat sensitivity and non-celiac gluten sensitivity are terms used to describe individuals who experience IBS-like symptoms in response to gluten consumption, even in the absence of celiac disease.

Foods to Avoid with IBS and Gluten Intolerance

If you have IBS and gluten intolerance, it is important to be aware of foods that contain gluten and may worsen symptoms. Here are some common gluten-containing foods to avoid.

Wheat-Based Products

This includes bread, pasta, cereals, and baked goods made with wheat flour. These products contain both gluten and fructans, which can trigger IBS symptoms in susceptible individuals.

Barley and Rye

Be cautious of foods containing these grains, such as beer and certain whiskeys. Like wheat, barley and rye contain gluten.

Processed Foods That Contain Gluten or May Have Come Into Contact with Gluten (Cross-Contact) 

Check labels for hidden sources of gluten, including sauces, dressings, and processed snacks. Many processed foods contain or come into contact with wheat or other gluten-containing ingredients.

Alternative options that are gluten-free and well-tolerated include gluten-free grains (e.g., rice, quinoa), gluten-free bread and pasta, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

It is worth noting that not all individuals with IBS will experience symptom improvement with a gluten-free diet. It is a highly individualized approach, and it may be beneficial to work with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to identify specific trigger foods and suitable alternatives.

Healthy gluten free meal of grilled fish and rice

Gluten-Free Diet and Meal Plan

Implementing a gluten-free diet plan or meal plan can provide structure and guidance for individuals seeking symptom relief.

This plan typically includes:

  • Lean proteins: Incorporate sources such as chicken, fish, tofu, and eggs, which are naturally gluten-free.
  • Gluten-free grains: Opt for rice, quinoa, corn, oats, and buckwheat as staple carbohydrate sources.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Enjoy a variety of fresh produce, focusing on low FODMAP options to minimize potential triggers.
  • Healthy fats: Include avocados, nuts, and olive oil in your meals for added nutrients and satiety.
  • Probiotic-rich foods, if tolerated: Consider adding yogurt, kefir, and fermented vegetables to support gut health.

Client Case Studies on Gluten Intolerance

While gluten intolerance manifests itself differently person to person, here are few examples of what it can look like. 

Disclaimer: These are case studies of clients in the IBS Freedom program. It is only intended to show you an example of what gluten intolerance can look like by looking at the bowel movement. 

Example 1 – Constipation Predominant Gluten Intolerance: 

Client 1 came to work with us due to significant constipation. Upon trialing over-the-counter laxatives, the client was able to have full evacuations. However, the new bowel movements looked like Bristol Stool Chart Type 5 stool – broken up into many short pieces with pointy ends on both sides. This is usually an indication something is causing irritation in the gut, causing spasms and spasmodic stool.

Hover over with a mouse or tap with your finger on the image to un-blur it.

As Client 1 was trialing different elimination diets, including low FODMAP and eventually gluten free, their stool consistency changed – becoming slightly longer pieces, but still with pointy ends:

Hover over with a mouse or tap with your finger on the image to un-blur it.

Client 1’s bowel movements continued to improve as they better navigated the gluten free diet. Their stool became longer and not as broken up, indicating a reduced spasm in the gut, allowing the stool to pass more freely.

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As Client 1 continued with a gluten free diet, their bowel movement continued to improve, becoming longer, softer stool. We noticed their bowel movements included 1-2 very long pieces. 

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After some time on a careful gluten free diet, Client 1 produced long and unbroken stools. This indicated the spasm may have resolved due to the diet (no gluten or cross contact of gluten). 

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Finally, Client 1 achieved normal looking stools that were solid and long straight pieces. This was the result of successfully being on a gluten free diet for a period of time and not getting “glutened”.

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Example 2 & 3 – Diarrhea Predominant Gluten Intolerance: 

Client 2: Diarrhea Predominant Gluten Intolerance

Client 2 came to work with us due to diarrhea that was significantly affecting the quality of her life. After a thorough assessment, we determined that trialing a gluten free diet was the most appropriate for her. Client 2 is a healthcare professional herself, so she understood the challenge and the importance of complying with a gluten free diet. 

When Client 2 started the IBS Freedom 1:1 program, she had multiple bowel movements throughout the day (all diarrhea – Type 6 or Type 7 stool according to the Bristol Stool Chart). Due to her digestive symptoms, she found it difficult to do anything – chores and things that brought her joy drained her. Moreover, Client 2 experienced deep anxiety when eating or when leaving her home. 

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After starting the gluten free diet, Client 2 found symptom relief quickly and her bowel movements were more firm. The stool was still soft and not as solid as it could be, but the consistency was noticeably improving. 

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After more time on the the gluten free diet, Client 2’s stool became thicker and longer. This indicated that her gut spasm had reduced, and her symptoms were improving. 

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After being stable on the gluten free diet for a period of time and not getting “glutened”, Client 2 produced Bristol Stool Chart Type 4 bowel movements – stool that is long and stays intact. 

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By the end of Client 2’s program, she had gone so far as to revert to having some constipation, which we worked together to help her resolve. 

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Client 3: Diarrhea Predominant Gluten Intolerance

Client 3’s case study showcases another example of IBS-Diarrhea caused by gluten intolerance. The client 3’s physician recommended him to work with us once his diarrhea had significantly affected his life and once they ruled out all other life threatening conditions, such as IBD or celiac disease. 

In the beginning of the program, Client 3 experienced Bristol Stool Chart Type 7 bowel movements – extreme, liquid diarrhea.

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After going low FODMAP, Client 3’s symptoms and bowel movements improved slightly. However, he still had loose stools and diarrhea. The good news was that the urgency had reduced. 

Hover over with a mouse or tap with your finger on the image to un-blur it.

Once Client 3 implemented the gluten free diet, his stool improved further with his bowel movements resembling short blobs with pointy ends. This indicated a spasm may be occurring, but overall his bowel movements were improving. 

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As Client 3 got better with the gluten free diet and reduced his incidences of being “glutened”, his stool continued to improve. 

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At the end of the program, Client 3’s urgency was gone, and his bowel movements were a lot more normal looking.

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Conclusion:

As a reminder, individual responses to a gluten-free diet may vary. Some individuals may experience significant symptom improvement, while others may not notice a difference. Consulting with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian can help you develop a personalized diet plan that aligns with your specific needs, while taking into account any other health conditions or dietary restrictions you may have.

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be used to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with your healthcare provider.

Before undertaking a new health care or nutritional regimen, seek the advice of a medical provider and never disregard medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or seen on this website.

All the stool pictures featured on this website have been generously provided by participants in our IBS Dietitian programs. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to each and every client who has granted us permission to utilize their stool pictures, contributing to the development of this informative and educational platform. thank all of our clients for granting us permission to use their stool picture to create this educational website.

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