Are you experiencing bloating, weight gain, stomach aches, headaches, fatigue or irritable bowel syndrome and you can’t seem to figure out why? You may be experiencing a food sensitivity. After all, they are common in about 75% of the population. Believe it or not, even healthy foods like nightshade vegetables can be causing this.
What’s a Food Sensitivity?
A food sensitivity, also known as a food intolerance, is when our body is unable to digest a certain food. In reaction to this food, the body can show different signs like hives, bloating, stomach aches, a runny nose, coughing, or migraines, along with other similar reactions. The reaction can also happen in a few hours or days later, and can last for a while. This can make it really hard to figure out what’s going on, and also very frustrating.
We can also experience anxiety, depression, irritability and even insomnia in reaction to a food intolerance. Fatigue and a sluggish feeling can also be brought on by a sensitivity. Skin conditions, like eczema, can also be in reaction to a food sensitivity. There can be a whole lot going on!
It’s also helpful to know that a food sensitivity is not the same thing as an allergy, even though both are brought on by eating certain foods. In an allergic reaction, the immune system reacts. In a food sensitivity or intolerance, it’s usually just the digestive system that reacts and not the immune system. So there are two different reactions going on.
What Foods Trigger a Reaction?
Technically, we can have an intolerance/sensitivity to any food. What can trigger a reaction in one person may be completely harmless to another, and vice-versa. The most common food products we know to trigger a reaction are:
- Dairy products
- Gluten containing products
- Tree Nuts (like almonds, pecans, pine nuts etc.)
- Nightshade Vegetables (regular potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, spices from peppers)
What Causes a Sensitivity to Develop?
Eating too much of one food can cause a sensitivity to it to develop. Not enough healthy bacteria in the gut can lead to leaky gut syndrome, associated with food sensitivities. A host of different factors can cause an imbalance. For example, certain infections, using antibiotics or other conventional medicine a lot, junk food as well as psychological factors can lead to not enough healthy bacteria.
Sometimes we can be missing an enzyme (a type of tool) that our digestive system needs in order to digest a particular food. IBS and food poisoning can also trigger this reaction. Even psychological factors can lead to a reaction resembling a food intolerance. Food additives in a lot of the food items in the market can also trigger an intolerance. It can be very stressful to deal with this condition, and it can harm your health in other ways as well.
Frequent reactions to a food our bodies can’t tolerate can lead to chronic inflammation. That’s the inflammation that stays for a long while, and we want to heal it. Chronic inflammation can lead to a host of other health conditions, including cancer and also cause weight gain. Letting our bodies stay under such stress is really not good for it.
How to Test for a Food Intolerance
An DIY way to test for food intolerance is doing an elimination diet. One way of doing this, recommended by the naturopathic doctor Natasha turner, involves avoiding the foods that are common triggers for 14 days, and eating well. This way, the results of whether our symptoms go away or not may reveal whether there was a case of food intolerance in the first place.
A great way to keep track of what’s going on is through keeping a food diary. Basically, you write down all you’ve eaten and drank, and how you’ve felt afterwards. That way you can notice certain trends or triggers more easily and accurately.
You can also get a blood test done if you’d like. A lot of people doubt whether this really does the job accurately. According to many professional associations, there isn’t enough data to prove that it does, and sometimes results don’t make sense. The British Allergy Foundation recommends instead the elimination diet + diary approach, preferably alongside the support of an RD.
What Can We Do To Avoid This?
We can help our bodies by taking care of their wellbeing. We can feed them a balanced diet, watch out for any signs they show us, manage and limit stress, and avoid smoking/alcohol. We can also ensure we are eating a wide variety of different foods so that our bodies don’t develop an intolerance due to too much exposure. Trying to avoid using too much conventional medicine can also help.
Food intolerance doesn’t have to last forever, and can change every year; sometimes even detoxifying our gut or an elimination diet can do the trick. With symptoms vague yet so real, this can feel challenging to process. It can also feel challenging to make the changes, especially as sometimes our bodies develop cravings for the very foods that make it sick! However, understanding why we will help our bodies by making these changes can motivate us to take the steps our bodies need!
If you’re looking to get to the bottom of your food sensitivities seek out professional help that could include a naturopath, functional medicine doctor, or nutritionist!