main banner

How-To-Find-Out-If-You-Have-A-Food-Intolerance

How To Find Out If You Have A Food Intolerance

Plagued by poor energy levels and quirky bowels? A night out with friends for a meal, and you can’t do up your clothes the next day? A food sensitivity could be the reason.

There can be some confusion around the topic of food intolerances and sensitivities; so let’s address this:

First of all, what's the difference between a food allergy, and a food intolerance/sensitivity?

A food allergy is a rapid reaction (from just a few minutes to a couple of hours) to a food that could be potentially life-threatening. Food allergies happen when the immune system mistakes an ingredient in food - usually a protein - as harmful and creates antibodies (IgE) to attack it. This causes your body to release chemicals which lead to an allergic reaction. The body does all it can to get the allergen out of the body i.e. vomiting, diarrhoea, wheezing, rashes, itching, mouth/tongue swelling and in serious cases, anaphylactic shock.  Common food allergies are shellfish, nuts, fish, eggs, peanuts and milk.

A food intolerance reaction, on the other hand, can strike many hours or even a day or so after digesting a particular food. When a food irritates the digestive system or can’t be properly broken down, that’s when unpleasant symptoms like those listed below kick in.  Although not life-threatening, having a food intolerance can be mightily uncomfortable.  A food intolerance or sensitivity is much more common than a food allergy.

Read Next: 8 Top Foods To Detox The Body

Common symptoms of a Food Intolerance are: 

  • IBS type symptoms – bloating, cramps, diarrhoea, constipation.
  • Poor energy – fatigue, tiredness.
  • Weight gain and not being able to lose weight.
  • Skin complaints – acne, rashes, hives.
  • Joint pain, muscle soreness, arthritis type symptoms.
  • Sinus problems.
  • Asthma.
  • Mood swings.
  • Excessive catarrh or mucus.
  • Headaches, migraines or brain fog.

How do I find out if I have a food intolerance?

Keeping a food and symptom diary can be helpful.  You may be able to pinpoint that you have symptoms only on the days where you eat a particular food.  This can be tricky though, as it can be difficult to identify problem foods and it can be common to react to more than one food; so you may find these options may be more useful:

1. Do an elimination challenge – Remove a food, or a couple of foods that you suspect may be causing you issues. Remove the foods for 4 weeks, then reintroduce the food back into your diet (if you are removing more than one food at a time remember to re-introduce the foods one at a time a few days apart ) and monitor for symptoms.

2. Have a laboratory-based food intolerance test done – These tests measure food-specific IgG antibodies, to determine which foods need to be eliminated.  They are usually a very quick finger prick test.

The really good news is that a food intolerance doesn’t have to be permanent, in a lot of cases and with the help of a nutritional therapist they can be managed and overcome.  On the other hand, little can be done about tolerating a full-blown food allergy besides complete avoidance and they are unlikely to ever disappear.

Read Next: Mastering Mindful Eating

Is lactose intolerance the same as a dairy allergy?

Nope, although the symptoms can be similar, such as gas and diarrhoea.  It is thought that 5% of Irish people are intolerant to lactose.  This means that the body lacks the enzyme 'lactase' to digest lactose (the sugar) in dairy products.  If you have a diagnosis of lactose intolerance you can consume lactose-free dairy.

A dairy allergy is when the reaction is to the casein or the whey in dairy and in this case dairy would have to be removed from the diet.

So, where does coeliac fit into all of this?

Coeliac disease is a whole other ballgame.  This is a lifelong auto-immune condition where the body reacts to gluten proteins found in wheat, barley, rye and oats.  Ingestion of gluten damages the gut wall, and prevents nutrients from being properly absorbed.  If you are coeliac, you will need to exclude these foods from your diet for life.

As you can see the subject of food reactions isn’t always a black and white issue.  Our digestive systems are complex and the way a food is digested and assimilated is dependent on many factors including our gut microbiome and our various digestive secretions.

It is important to work with a professional and have the appropriate tests, and support; to help you unravel any negative reactions to food.

Do you have a food allergy or intolerance? How did it get diagnosed? We'd love to hear.

Read Next: Healthy Food Alternatives for a Happier Body


About the Author

I'm Ciara Ryan, eumom's Nutritional Expert. I'm a Nutritional Therapist and member of NTOI. I'm also a mother to three sons, age 9, 7 and 2. I'm passionate about the power of nutritional therapy in helping with both prevention of illness and the promotion of optimum physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Comments

Please login to leave a comment.