Food sensitivities and intolerances are a threat to more than 70% of the world population. So here’s everything you need to know about them.
When it comes to food, most of us know what our taste buds like. But how many of us know about how the rest of our body feels about what we eat?
If you have a food sensitivity or intolerance, your body might not be able to handle the things that you eat, and it could be affecting your quality of life.
Wondering whether you might have a food sensitivity or intolerance? We’ll cover some basic facts about food sensitivities and intolerances, including practices for identifying the foods that trigger them.
If you think you might have a food sensitivity or intolerance, talk to a doctor or registered dietitian before making major changes in your diet.
Defining Food Sensitivities And Food Intolerances
A food sensitivity or food intolerance is a condition that prevents some people’s bodies from digesting certain types of food correctly.
The terms “food sensitivity” and “food intolerance” are often used interchangeably.
But “intolerance” is sometimes used for conditions resulting from a well-understood mechanism such as lactose intolerance.
“Sensitivity” is a more general term for non-allergy symptoms triggered by food, even if the mechanism isn’t fully studied.
Food sensitivities and intolerances have a variety of causes, including a lack of the enzymes needed to digest food and changes in the gut microbiome.
They’re also often dose-dependent, which means that you may be fine eating a small amount of the food but will experience symptoms when you eat more of it.
Symptoms Of Food Sensitivity And Intolerance
Any or all of the following can be symptoms of a food sensitivity or intolerance:
- Gas or bloating;
- Nausea or vomiting;
- Diarrhea or constipation;
- Stomach pain or cramps;
Next, it’s time to learn about the food sensitivities and intolerances that can cause these symptoms.
Common Food Sensitivities And Intolerances
Did you know that more than two-thirds of the world population experienced at some point a food sensitivity or intolerance? Here are the most common ones:
1. Lactose Intolerance
Lactose is a sugar in dairy that many people’s digestive systems can’t break down. Lactose intolerance is the most common food intolerance, affecting as much as 68 percent of the world’s population.
Trigger foods include milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, or ice cream.
2. FODMAP Intolerance
What is FODMAP? Fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, or FODMAPs, are a class of carbohydrates that can cause digestive problems.
Trigger foods include onions, garlic, beans, high fructose corn syrup, or grains.
3. Histamine Intolerance
Histamines are naturally occurring chemicals in the body that are broken down by an enzyme called diamine oxidase (DAO).
When the body doesn’t produce enough DAO, it can cause unpleasant body reactions as histamine levels build up too high.
Trigger foods include alcohol, shellfish, fermented foods, spinach, beans, or tomatoes.
4. Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance
Gluten, the wheat protein found in all kinds of grain-based foods, is a major digestive upset trigger for many people.
Note that, as we’ll discuss shortly, a doctor needs to determine whether or not the celiac disease is the source of gluten intolerance.
Trigger foods include bread, pasta, beer, crackers, or baked goods.
Identifying Food Sensitivities And Intolerances
If you suspect you might have a food sensitivity or intolerance, the first step is to keep a food diary. Keep track of the foods you eat and note when you experience symptoms.
After a few weeks of keeping your food diary, there’s a good chance you may notice patterns in the foods that disturb your digestion.
An elimination diet is typically the next step. These diets remove a number of common trigger foods from your eating habits and then test your tolerance for each by reintroducing the foods one at a time.
Elimination diets can be tailored to your needs and typically test foods like dairy, starches, citrus, legumes, and even caffeine.
During the course of the diet, you’ll observe how your body reacts when you reintroduce each food and use that information to flag foods that your body might be sensitive to.
Ask a medical professional for help in creating and sticking to an elimination diet. A doctor or nutritionist will help ensure that your diet meets your nutritional needs while assisting you in pinpointing the foods that might be causing you trouble.
Food Intolerance vs. Food Allergies
Food sensitivities and food intolerances aren’t the same as food allergies.
An allergy is an autoimmune response that can be life-threatening, and it has to be diagnosed by a doctor, allergist, or immunologist.
Unlike food intolerance symptoms, which can take 30 minutes to several hours to manifest, food allergy symptoms usually start within minutes of eating.
Everyone should know the symptoms of a food allergy because some can be extremely dangerous. Seek immediate medical attention if you develop symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, and schedule a consultation with a doctor right away even if your symptoms are mild.
Unlike intolerances, allergies are not usually dose-dependent — even a small amount of a substance can produce a reaction in someone with a food allergy.
Food Intolerance vs. Other Conditions
Some other conditions can cause symptoms similar to food intolerance:
- Food poisoning;
- Celiac disease;
- Crohn’s disease;
- Cancers of the digestive system.
For this reason, it’s important to have your condition assessed by a medical professional. They’ll be able to evaluate whether you might actually be suffering from one of these other conditions.
I Think I Might Have A Food Sensitivity Or Intolerance — What Now?
Ask your doctor or dietitian. A medical professional should be your go-to source for dietary advice. They’ll help guide your dietary practice in reducing or eliminating certain foods safely.
Look for meal planning and preparation resources. For almost any dietary restriction, the Internet has resources available such as recipe collections and meal prep plans.
In addition, meal kit delivery services like low-FODMAP meal delivery are available to help you make fast meals that fit your dietary needs.
Find social support. Social support groups exist for almost every food intolerance, both online and in person.
Digestive problems can have a big impact on your life, especially if you have to give up favorite foods. So don’t hesitate to reach out for support from others with the same condition.