Food intolerances are so common now that we can find ‘free-from’ sections in most shops and the majority of places we go to eat. Whether it’s a restaurant, event, meeting, or retreat, you will often be asked if you have any food allergy or intolerance.
Around 1-10% of the population has a serious food allergy with symptoms ranging from skin redness, hives and swelling to, in the most severe cases, vomiting, diarrhoea, difficulty breathing and anaphylactic shock.
However, a larger number of us have some kind of food intolerance, which, although not life threatening, is at the best case uncomfortable and at worst can lead to disease if ignored.
It’s estimated that 3 in 4 of us suffer from some form of food intolerance, varying in severity. Everything from entire food groups to specific chemicals found in foods can leave us with various symptoms.
Our bodies change as we get older and you may find that in your 40s you cannot eat the same foods you ate when you were younger. A lot of women I work with suddenly find they cannot tolerate gluten, for instance.
In this article I‘m going to look at food intolerances and what you can do about them.
What is a food intolerance?
Food intolerances occur in response to poor digestion of a specific food, whether it be from intestinal dysfunction or lack of essential enzymes. Food intolerances are highly unique issues since they can manifest differently between individuals.
Common symptoms of food intolerances can range from digestive distress (such as gas, bloating, abdominal cramping, diarrhoea, nausea, and vomiting) to seemingly unrelated issues (like headaches, mucus production, and brain fog). While we often regard these problems as not severe, they can advance to more serious problems if left unattended.
Signs you may suffer from a food intolerance include:
- Various digestive distress
- Respiratory issues
- Water retention
- Unexplained weight gain
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Increased seasonal allergies
- Post-nasal drip
- Joint pain
- Puffy eyes
- Food cravings
And unfortunately, there are many more.
Food allergies and your gut health
Leaky Gut Syndrome, or LGS, is often linked to food intolerances. It occurs when the intestinal lining becomes so permeable that it allows large molecules, such as undigested food particles and toxins, into the bloodstream. This is because of the cells of the intestinal lining becoming inflamed and damaged. In response, the immune system retaliates by attacking these ‘invaders’ much as we see in food allergies.
When LGS is untreated, a continual cycle of damage occurs. This causes further digestive distress, nutrient deficiencies, and more immune reactions. The symptoms are very similar to food intolerances and are treated by thorough nutritional therapy and repair of the gastrointestinal system.
Inflammation is our body’s natural response to any form of damage or foreign invader and facilitates the healing process.
Chronic inflammation, however, is very dangerous. Research suggests that we can find chronic inflammation at the root of almost every chronic disease. It can be caused and sustained by unresolved infections, persistent stress, or…you guessed it, regular exposure to foods that you are allergic, intolerant, or sensitive to!
Allergy symptoms are usually easy to diagnosis and avoid when recognized. Intolerances are often harder to identify. Although there is no true immune response with these food sensitivities, it still triggers the defence mechanisms within our immune system and the inflammatory response.If left unresolved, this inflammation becomes chronic and produces a host of other health issues.
Testing for Food Intolerances
There are many tests available to decode food allergies, such as skin or scratch tests, various blood tests such as an IgG panel, as well as bacterial breath tests. However, it is unclear how effective these tests are for all intolerances and sensitivities.
I recommend first trying a comprehensive elimination diet to remove and analyse your body’s reaction to certain foods. Sometimes further testing is required to get the full picture, but this diet strategy is a great tool to begin discovering your best health!
The Elimination Diet
With an elimination diet, you eliminate potential problem foods for a minimum of three weeks or until you feel symptom free. You then reintroduce foods back into your diet one-by-one, keeping a close eye on how each food makes you feel. If they start to bother you again, they are taken out again to provide a clean slate for the following food group.
Food Journaling to help identify Food Intolerances
The elimination diet is a bit of a process, but your body is better than any diagnostic test at indicating how you feel.
Food journaling is an incredible tool for tracking your food-related symptoms. (This goes for any step of your healing journey, but especially throughout an elimination diet!)
For example, say you are at the end of your three weeks elimination diet, and you are feeling fantastic! As you introduce, for example, gluten back into your diet, you begin to experience increased gas, headaches, and trouble focusing. If this continues for two days, note it in your food journal. Take it back out of your diet, wait until the symptoms subside and continue including different foods back into your diet.
Say the next food you reintroduce is soy. Two days go by, and you are still feeling great. Note that, and continue the process. That way, you can go back to measure your reactions to certain foods and investigate what is bothering you.
Allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities can really impact your quality of life, but it is important to know that it doesn’t have to be a struggle forever! Changing your eating habits and taking control of your health requires a lot of effort, but is incredibly rewarding.
If you‘d like to find out more about Food Intolerances and take control of your health then get in touch.