You may have a food “intolerance”…
Food intolerances or “sensitivities” can affect you in so many ways and they’re a lot more common than you would think.
I’m not talking about anaphylaxis or immediate allergic reactions that involve an immune response. Those can be serious and life-threatening. If you have these types of allergies, steer clear of any traces of the foods you are allergic to, and speak with your doctor or pharmacist about emergency medicines.
What I’m talking about is an intolerance. Basically, your body just doesn’t tolerate a specific food very well and it causes immediate or chronic symptoms. Symptoms that can take hours or even days to show themselves and can show up anywhere in the body.
…and this is what makes them so tricky to identify.
Symptoms of A food intolerance
There are some common food intolerances that have immediate and terribly painful gastrointestinal symptoms. These can cause stomach pain, gas, bloating, and/or diarrhea, often right after eating the offending food. If left untreated, this can lead to decreased nutrient absorption, damaged gut cells, and intestinal permeability, or “leaky gut”.
However, other more insidious symptoms may not be linked to foods in an obvious way.
- Chronic muscle or joint pain;
- Sweating, or increased heart rate or blood pressure;
- Headaches or migraines;
- Exhaustion after a good night’s sleep;
- Autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s or rheumatoid arthritis;
- Rashes or eczema;
- Inability to concentrate or feeling like your brain is “foggy”; or
- Shortness of breath.
If your body has trouble digesting specific foods, it can also affect your hormones, metabolism, or even cause inflammation and result in any of the symptoms listed above. These can affect any (or all) parts of the body, not just your gastrointestinal system.
How to prevent A FOOD intolerance
The best thing you can do is to figure out which foods or drinks you may be reacting to and stop eating or drinking them.
Simple enough right??…well, not so much…
It will take some organization and diligence, but the first step is to stop consuming the potential problem foods for three full weeks and monitor your symptoms.
If things get better, then you need to decide whether it’s worth it to remove them from your diet altogether, or if you want to slowly reintroduce them, one at a time, while still monitoring to see if and/or when symptoms return.
Common food intolerances
The two most common triggers of food intolerances are:
- Lactose (in dairy – eliminate altogether, or look for a “lactose-free” label) – try nut or coconut milk instead. I wrote a blog about dairy intolerance specifically that you can read HERE
- Gluten (in wheat, rye, and other common grains) – look for a “gluten-free” label – try gluten-free grains like rice, quinoa & gluten-free oats.
This is by no means a complete list, but it’s a good place to start because lactose intolerance is thought to affect up to 75% of people, while “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” is thought to affect up to 33% of people.
So, if you can eliminate all traces of lactose and gluten for three weeks, it can confirm whether either or both of these, are a source of your symptoms.
Yes, dairy and grains are a part of many government-recommended food guidelines, but you can get all of the nutrients you need by replacing them with nutrient-dense foods.
What is happening to our food?
Let’s back up a minute…how did this happen? Many of us grew up drinking milk and eating bread and pastries with no problem, right? Well, there are a couple of issues at play here.
As we get older our body produces less of the enzyme lactase that breaks down the sugar component of milk (lactose) which leads to a sensitivity. Another potential problem with milk consumption is casein.
Regarding lactose and casein, Dr. Mark Hyman says:
I often find that symptoms of lactose intolerance are actually caused by difficulty digesting casein, the main protein found in milk, which is often used in other food products as a binding agent. Casein proteins can actually induce inflammation leading to things like eczema, ear infections, congestion, and sinus problems. So, I highly recommend avoiding casein, no matter who you are.
Unfortunately, the wheat that we grew up with is not the same wheat that is being mass produced now. According to Dr. Hyman:
American strains of wheat have a much higher gluten content (which is needed to make light, fluffy Wonder Bread and giant bagels) than those traditionally found in Europe. This super-gluten was recently introduced into our agricultural food supply and now has “infected” nearly all wheat strains in America.
Gluten is not considered an essential source protein, so removing it from your diet may be beneficial whether you have a sensitivity or not.
Now…back to food intolerances
With so many different symptoms and variables when we talk about food intolerances, how do we figure out what we can and can’t eat??
The simplest (and most cost effective) solution is to keep track of what you eat and how you feel after you eat it. After every meal or snack, write down the foods you ate and drank, and any symptoms you experience so you can more easily spot trends.
And, as mentioned earlier, symptoms may not start immediately following a meal. You may find that you wake up with a headache the morning after eating bananas, for example.
You might be surprised what links you can find if you are diligent in tracking your food intake and symptoms!
IMPORTANT NOTE: When you eliminate something, you need to make sure it’s not hiding in other foods, or the whole point of eliminating it for a few weeks is lost. Restaurant food, packaged foods, and sauces or dressings are notorious for adding ingredients that you’d never think are there. You know that sugar hides in almost everything, but wheat is often added to processed meats and soy sauce, and lactose can even be found in some medications or supplements.
When in doubt ask the server in a restaurant about hidden ingredients, read labels, and consider cooking from scratch.
But…what if it doesn’t work?
If eliminating these two common food intolerances doesn’t work, then you can go one step further to eliminate all dairy (even the lactose-free products) and all grains (even gluten-free) for three weeks and keep close tabs on how you feel.
If you are still experiencing symptoms, you may need to see a qualified healthcare practitioner for help, and that’s OK. Who wants to continue suffering if you don’t need to!
Don’t forget, download your free food diary here to get started.