It is ironic how food – the very thing that is supposed to nourish us – can also be the cause of our suffering! What we are talking about in this article is Food Intolerance.
15-20% of the population suffers from food intolerances varying in severity. It is arguable if in the last few years the number of people suffering from food allergies and intolerance has been on the rise, or if it is just the case of people becoming more aware of it, and therefore an increase in the number of reported cases. Either way, we see a lot of people around us switching to alternate food products like never before. Soy milk, quinoa, coconut cream, buckwheat, almond flour and the list goes on!
Difference between Food Intolerance and Food Allergy
Food allergies are different from food intolerance. Allergy is when food causes an adverse reaction from the immune system. The reaction can vary from itching, swelling, etc to also being quite severe and life threatening. Food Intolerance, however, does not involve an immunological response and can be a mild irritant to begin with. It occurs when the gut bacteria starts acting on the undigested food residues. This happens in everyone to some extent – every body produces gas and most of it is reabsorbed by the body and gets released through the exhalation process, while the remaining passes through the intestine and out of the body, usually with your consent.
In case of food intolerance, the symptoms cause visible discomfort. Common symptoms include headaches, cough, runny nose, stomach ache, painful gas, bloating, etc. These occur within a few hours and may last upto 48 hours of consuming the offending food material. Most people live with these every day, taking medications to cure the symptoms without realising that their body is suffering with every meal.
Causes of Food Intolerance:
Incomplete indigestion can be a result of:
- Presence of certain chemicals (glutamates- contained in tomato, yeast extract, cheese; caffeine – coffee, carbonated drinks, tea; salicylates – plums, apples, banana, peas, etc)
- Lack of an enzyme (general reason for lactose intolerance, fructose intolerance, etc)
- Increased consumption of Food additives: namely nitrates, MSG, some food colorings are notorious in causing adverse reactions in a small section of the population
Diagnosis and Management:
Food intolerance does not mean that you need to impose a lifelong ban on the offending food products. Various life situations including stress, overconsumption, long course of antibiotics, etc. can produce temporary food sensitivities. Most of the time, you can live with it and once your gut bacteria balances out, you will notice that your tolerance for a particular food might even improve.
There is no definitive way to diagnose intolerance except to eliminate food groups and re-introduce them to notice change in symptoms. Some people who are desperate for a diagnosis, resort to test like hair analysis, iridology, kinesiology, pulse test, etc but these have no scientific validation for diagnosing food intolerance.
Elimination diet, along with trial and error every few weeks to test tolerance limits, is the most reliable way to deal with food intolerance. Some people go into extremes and permanently cut out fruits, dairy, wheat from their diet as if they are poisonous. Most have enough enzymes to process small portion of creamy sauce or an occasional fruit salad. Through trial and error, you can know how much quantity your system can cope with and start from there.
So don’t push that plate away yet. Moderation and breaks will surely help you enjoy your favourite meals without worries.
Article Credits – Jyoti Dabas