9 April 2018
There is a lot of Information regarding food allergy and intolerance, but how can you really tell if you suffer from a food intolerance?
Food intolerances are different from food allergies. An allergy elicits an acute, almost immediate reaction; the worst of which is anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction. Food intolerance is less severe and therefore much more difficult to diagnose. Intolerance is usually because the body is lacking an enzyme that is needed to properly digest and eliminate a food or substance. Symptoms may be delayed and might include bloating, headaches or skin rashes. Skin prick testing and laboratory blood tests are available but the most effective, accepted and accurate way of identifying problem foods is via an elimination diet.
An elimination diet is a free, non-invasive way of working out if you have a food sensitivity. You don’t need any pills or potions, just a fair amount of willpower. Compliance and commitment are key to getting results.
Before you embark on an elimination diet, arm yourself with all the information you might need. Consult a qualified health professional to ensure your nutritional requirements are met and to address any other considerations. For example, where testing for coeliac disease is recommended, do not eliminate any foods from your diet until the tests have been completed.
Start by removing suspected foods and food groups – gluten, dairy, eggs, caffeine, and alcohol, to name a few, for 6 to 8 weeks. A useful practical tool is to create a comprehensive list of ‘foods to exclude’ and ‘foods to include’ and to keep a food diary of how you feel, your symptoms and their severity etc.
After the period of elimination, reintroduce one food at a time from the exclusion list in normal amounts. Test the food on its own on an empty stomach. If symptoms return within 48 hours, then you probably have your answer. Leave at least two days between testing different foods. If there is no reaction after four days, bring the food carefully back into your diet. If you do experience a reaction, wait until you feel well again before continuing the reintroduction and avoid the culprit food for three months before testing again.
Wheat is one of the most commonly cited foods for causing digestive upsets including abdominal bloating. When trying to decipher wheat intolerance, it is important to eliminate flour and flour-based products entirely as well as other foods which may contain wheat or wheat-derived ingredients. Wheat intolerance varies between individuals, some people are able to tolerate alternative grains. If you suspect you have wheat intolerance, try eliminating wheat entirely. You may find that you can tolerate small amounts of older varieties of grains such as spelt or Kamut which are higher in fibre, lower in gluten and more nutritious.
Gluten is the glue-like protein found in many grains but especially in wheat, rye, and barley. Its elasticity makes it a key part of many bakes. Some people are intolerant to the gluten in all of these grains, others just find that wheat is the trigger. A diet that is high in refined carbohydrates can contain large quantities of gluten, which can effectively ‘glue-up’ the digestive system. If you have discovered you cannot tolerate any gluten-containing grains, try rice, corn and potato flours. However, before you embark on an elimination diet, be sure to consult your physician. It is essential that if you suspect gluten to be a problem, that you make no changes to your diet until you have completed all of the appropriate medical tests to determine what the problem may be. This is because if you eliminate gluten before tests are completed for coeliac disease then you risk a false negative result.
All animal milk contains a sugar called lactose. We make an enzyme in our gut called lactase to digest the lactose in milk. Without lactase, the sugar is left to ferment in the gut and causes symptoms such as bloating, wind and diarrhea. Many adults do not produce enough lactase, so suffer from what is known as lactose intolerance which is essentially a lactase deficiency. If you are intolerant to lactose, you may be able to tolerate a little butter, cheese or yogurt before symptoms arise. Others choose to avoid dairy products completely.
Alcohol intolerance may be caused by alcohol or the food the alcohol is made from like grapes from wine and grains from whiskey. Alcohol can affect the integrity of the gut which may justify why some people experience digestive discomfort to food when it is coupled with drinking alcohol. Red wine is a common trigger, followed by whiskey and beer. Alcohol intolerance can cause unpleasant symptoms such as nasal congestion and skin flushing. Once again, intolerance is linked to an enzyme deficiency making it hard for the body to break down alcohol. Intolerance may also be due to other ingredients commonly found in alcoholic beverages, especially beer and wine, including sulphites, preservatives or chemicals.
Above all, listen to your body and learn to feel when you have eaten something that has not agreed with your digestive system so you can make sure you avoid those foods the next time.
At Nature’s Choice, we cater for people who have the need to follow one or all of these specific diets and work hard at providing you with an extensive range so that you don’t have to feel like you are missing out on anything.