Food intolerances or “sensitivities” to certain foods can affect people in a variety of ways.
And they’re a lot more common than most people think.
I don’t mean anaphylaxis or immediate allergic reactions that cause an immune system response. Those are often very serious and life-threatening. If you have any allergies it should go without saying that 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 am talking about, is an intolerance, meaning your body does not tolerate a specific food very well and it causes immediate or chronic symptoms anywhere in the body. Symptoms are not always immediate and can sometimes take hours or even days to show themselves. And symptoms can pop up almost anywhere in the body.
This is why they can be so tricky to identify.
Symptoms of food intolerances
There are some common food intolerances that have immediate and terribly painful gastrointestinal symptoms, such as lactose intolerance or celiac disease. These intolerances can cause bloating, stomach pain, gas and/or diarrhoea; symptoms can start straight away after eating foods containing lactose or gluten.
On the other hand, other more insidious symptoms may not be linked to foods in an obvious way, making them hard to link to an intolerance.
These symptoms include things like:
- Headaches or migraines
- Chronic muscle or joint pain
- Sweating, or increased heart rate or blood pressure
- Rashes, skin irritation or eczema
- Exhaustion after a good night’s sleep
- Autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s or rheumatoid arthritis
- Inability to concentrate or feeling like your brain is “foggy”
- Shortness of breath
If your body has a difficult time digesting specific foods, it can affect many things; your hormones, metabolism, or even cause inflammation and result in any of the symptoms listed above. And these can affect pretty much any (or all) part of the body, not just your gastrointestinal system.
How to prevent these intolerances
The best thing you can do is to figure out which foods (or drinks) you may be having reactions to and stop ingesting them.
I know…this sounds super 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 foods and drinks that are causing you trouble. All traces of them, for at least three full weeks and monitor your symptoms.
If your symptoms get better, then you need to decide for yourself whether it’s worth it to stop ingesting them, or if you want to slowly introduce them back one at a time while still looking out to see if/when symptoms return.
Some people can ingest small amounts of the food or drink before they get any symptoms, this is something you will need to work out for yourself.
Start Here: Two common food intolerances
Below 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. However, it is a good place to start because lactose intolerance can affect up to 75% of people, while “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” can affect up to 13% of people.
That’s a lot of people with intolerances!
So, if you were to eliminate all traces of lactose and gluten for at least three weeks you will be able to figure out if either, or both, of these are the reason for your symptoms.
Yes, dairy and grains are a part of many food guidelines recommended by the government, but you can totally get all of the nutrients you need if you replace them with nutrient-dense foods.
The best way to monitor how you feel after eating certain foods is to track it. After every meal and snack, write down what foods you ate, and any symptoms suffered so you can more easily spot trends and patterns.
As I said before symptoms may not start right after finishing a meal. You may find, for example, that after eating bananas you wake up with a headache the next morning.
You’ll be surprised at the links between food and symptoms if you keep a food journal.
IMPORTANT NOTE: When you eliminate something, you need to make sure it isn’t actually hiding in other foods, or the whole point of eliminating it for a few weeks is lost. Packaged foods, sauces, dressings and restaurant food are notorious for adding ingredients that you would never think are there. Most people are aware that sugar hides in almost everything, but did you also know that wheat is often added to processed meats and soy sauce, and lactose can even be found in some medications or supplements?
When in doubt you HAVE to ask the server in a restaurant about hidden ingredients, read labels, and consider cooking from scratch.
What if it doesn’t work?
If eliminating these two common food intolerances doesn’t work, then you can go even further by eliminating all dairy (even lactose-free) and all grains (even gluten-free) for three weeks.
You might even like to get some help from a qualified healthcare practitioner, and that’s OK.
I don’t want you to continue suffering if you don’t need to!
Recipe (dairy-free milk): Homemade Nut/Seed Milk
Makes 3 cups
½ cup raw nuts/seeds (almonds, walnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, or sesame seeds)
2 cups water
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
- Soak nuts/seeds for about 8 hours (optional, but recommended).
- Dump soaking water & rinse nuts/seeds.
- Add soaked nuts/seeds and 2 cups water to a high-speed blender and blend on high for about one minute until very smooth.
- Strain through a small mesh sieve with 2 layers of cheesecloth. Squeeze if necessary.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: You can store the milk in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 7 days. So, why not make a double batch?!