Food intolerance or “sensitivities” can affect you in so many ways. They are much more common than most people think. Often going unrecognized as the symptoms created have become commonplace. General feelings of unwell, bloating, headaches all have become “normal” and many people just think that’s the way they are. It absolutely does not have to be the case.
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 any allergies, you need to steer clear of any traces of foods you are allergic to and speak with your doctor or pharmacist about emergency medication, if necessary.
What I’m referring to is an intolerance, meaning you do not tolerate a specific food very well and it causes immediate or chronic symptoms anywhere in the body. Symptoms can take hours or even days to show themselves and can be located just about anywhere in the body.
This is what makes them so tricky to identify.
Symptoms of Food Intolerances
Some common food intolerances have immediate and terribly painful gastrointestinal symptoms, such as lactose intolerance or celiac disease. These can cause stomach pain, gas, bloating, and/or diarrhea. These symptoms can start immediately after eating lactose or gluten.
On the other hand, other more insidious symptoms may not be linked to foods in an obvious way. It can take up to 72 hours after ingesting a food for a symptom to arise. This is part of the reason why it may not be linked to intake. Most people will consider the last meal they ate or look at the previous day. This may not revel the irritant. Symptoms may also occur after an accumulation of a certain food. One serving of yogurt for example may not be an issue. But have it for 3 days in a row and suddenly, you are not feeling well.
- 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, small red bumps on skin
- Inability to concentrate or feeling like your brain is “foggy”
- Shortness of breath
If your body has trouble digesting specific foods, it can 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 These Intolerance
The main thing you can do is to figure out which foods or drinks you may be reacting to and stop ingesting them.
I know, I know…this sounds so simple, and yet it can be SO HARD.
The best way to identify your food/drink triggers is to eliminate them.
Yup, get rid of those offending foods/drinks. All traces of them, for three full weeks and monitor your symptoms. Even having a little bit of the suspected problem food will inhibit your experiment. The body needs a full break for a period to heal. Every time you have a dose of what you are trying to avoid, you are starting from square one again. A little bit of milk in your coffee, or just one bite of a doughnut will set you back.
If things get better, then you need to decide what’s more important to you. Are those feelings of unwell worth it? For some, they will still choose to eat the foods they know don’t agree with their bodies to satisfy a craving. Understand that if this is what you choose, you are consistently taxing your immune system. You body is always in a fight with you and the foods you are consuming. Energy goes towards trying to keep you moderately well even though you are giving it aggravation. This is a concern for those who find themselves always run down and catching every cold or flu that crosses their path. Your body just doesn’t have the tools available to fight them off anymore. To get a clearer picture, after a full 3 weeks of abstinence, you may want to slowly reintroduce the foods removed one at a time. Continue to track your symptoms to see if/when they return. This will help you better understand what foods specifically you have trouble with.
Start Here: Two Common Food Intolerances
Here are two of the most common triggers of food intolerances:
- Lactose (in dairy – eliminate altogether, or look for a “lactose-free” label – try nut or coconut milk instead).
- 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” can affect up to 13% of people.
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 absolutely can get all of the nutrients you need if you focus on replacing them with nutrient-dense foods.
A reliable way to monitor how you feel after eating certain foods is to track it. After every meal or snack, write down the foods you ate, and any symptoms so you can more easily spot trends.
And, as mentioned earlier, symptoms may not start immediately following a meal. You may find, for example, that you wake up with a headache the morning after eating bananas.
You might be surprised what links you can find if you track your food and symptoms well. Be consistent, be honest and be tuned in. Your body is constantly trying to communicate to you. Its weather or not you are listening.
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 already know that sugar hides in almost everything, but did you know that wheat is often added to processed meats and soy sauce, and lactose can be found in some medications or supplements? These small amounts on a regular basis can be enough to create discomfort.
When in doubt you MUST ask the server in a restaurant about hidden ingredients. Don’t ever worry about becoming the annoying customer. This is your health we are talking about. If you are not feeling well, it is up to you to do the work to figure out what is the cause. The good news with this one is many restaurants cater to gluten and dairy free diets now so it is much less of an issue. Read food labels, looking not at the nutritional information, but the ingredients list. Seek out the hidden sources of dairy and gluten. Better yet, cook from scratch. This is the only true way to trust the ingredients in your food. Get creative in the kitchen, try different recipes, experiment with spices. An elimination diet does not have to be bland. There are countless resources for gluten and dairy free recipes. CLICK HERE for some inspiration.
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 lactose-free) and all grains (even gluten-free) for three weeks. Although less common, some bodies do not digest these well at all. They may need to be considered as potential culprits.
This is when you may need to see a qualified healthcare practitioner for help, and that’s OK. I don’t want you to continue suffering if you don’t need to! Working with a professional will save you time and agony trying to uncover what is best for your body. To give yourself the opportunity to learn how to build a meal plan that works specifically for you, click here to book a time to chat. Understand that not all foods work for all bodies. Take the time to find out what works for you.