Let me start by saying if you aren’t feeling great after you eat, trying to figure out your food intolerances is a worthwhile pursuit. There could be a bunch of reasons you feel bloated or tired or uncomfortable after you eat. You might have other things going on too, but the likelihood of food causing irritation and more, especially certain foods, is significant. The odds of this being the case are increasing too.
Eating food should have you energized and ready to do more than you were before you ate. You shouldn’t be hunched over, hand on belly with a headache or be sprinting, like Usain Bolt, to the closest stall. That is unless this competition strategy is going to get you a few gold medals. Still, it’s not a long-term training plan. Your activewear sponsors aren’t going to be happy with how many track pants you go through. 😉
- Eating foods you are intolerant of, can having you winning races but hurting digestively. There are better strategies for race day.
Some people might look at you like you are a quack when you talk about a food intolerance. Others might think you are a drama queen or simply lying to get your preferences to be taken seriously. With the rise of the term orthorexia (don’t get me started on this one), they might think you are OCD about clean eating….Ohhh sin (a hint of healthy sarcasm thrown in here – pun intended).
Listen, I know there’s a big difference between a full-fledged food allergy and a food intolerance but it doesn’t mean you aren’t justified in wanting to figure out your food intolerances and enjoy better energy, comfort and health.
Food allergies are no laughing matter. I know. My daughter has severe food allergies and she carries an EpiPen wherever she goes. We’ve been reading labels on packages, speaking to chefs and restaurant staff, and visiting allergists and anaphylactic meetings since before she turned two. We are proactive in new situations and communicate clearly to teachers or any adult taking care of her.
It’s a serious task and responsibility. Thankfully she’s only had one major incident which could’ve been a lot worse. So trust me when I say, that food intolerances, which aren’t as serious as food allergies, are still real and something that can cause significant discomfort.
Considering 15 million Americans have food allergies, (while different than intolerances, they can fall into the same spectrum) we know that negative reactions to food are quite common. We know that food allergies can develop at any age which implies that an intolerance is likely to precede an allergy. While intolerances might never become full-blown allergies, there is a lot of ways your body might respond to an intolerance and a lot of different reasons you could be intolerant.
The science of allergies and intolerances is not as developed as we’d like. There are contradictions and disagreements. Ideas change and I’m sure we’ll be further ahead in the years to come. Still, waiting for clarity and definitive answers is not okay if you are suffering now.
Basically, food allergies are systemic, that is, they have an immune response that is non-localized and they have the potential to be acutely life-threatening. In contrast, intolerances don’t put your life at risk but they can make you very uncomfortable and if they are not addressed can cascade into more serious issues.
8 Warning Signs You’re Suffering with a Food Intolerance
If you’re suffering from any of these symptoms it is worth investigating further to see if you have a food intolerance.
- Other, more serious conditions, such as an autoimmune condition
- Fatigue / General Lack of Energy
- Issues with Digestion
- Nutrient Deficiencies
- Hard time Focusing
- Bad Moods and/or Depression
- Poor Sleep
To Figure Out Your Food Intolerances, Let’s Look At Some Of The Most Common Ones:
This is the most common intolerance and is caused by the intestines producing little or none of the enzyme needed to break down dairy. This leaves undigested food in the digestive tract and causes it to ferment.
What not to eat:
Most dairy, especially milk, will cause quick reactions. Some people are okay with yogurt, butter, and raw cheese. Personally, I would stay away from all dairy that isn’t organic and preferably from grass-fed cows. People do better with raw (unpasteurized) cheese, and even milk, regardless of an intolerance or not.
How to help it:
- If it’s a bad intolerance, avoid it.
- If you “must”, you can take a lactase enzyme by itself or with another digestive enzyme.
- You can try goat’s dairy and that might be more digestible too.
The ingestion of Tyramine or phenylalanine, both amino acid-like molecules, can lead to migraines, hives, swelling due to water retention, wheezing, and even asthma.
What not to eat:
- Fermented cheeses
- Pickled Herring
- Sour Cream
- Red wine
How to help it:
Although the full mechanism is not understood, you might not be neutralizing tyramine well which means it remains in your body and circulated through the bloodstream. Sulphuric foods can help detoxify the body of the excess tyramine or phenylalanine.
- Brussel sprouts
Preservatives And Additives Intolerance
There are more and more people reacting to benzoates, sulfites, artificial flavors and dyes (food coloring). If you don’t know why you are reacting to something, you might consider these things. Often when the amounts are very small, they are not required to be on the label.
What not to eat:
- Obviously, anything which lists these things if you know they cause you discomfort.
- Sadly, your best bet is to avoid process food as much as possible
How to help it:
- Eat whole food
- Read labels carefully
- Go organic
This could be the most talked about food intolerance there is and I could devote months worth of articles to this topic.
A whole industry of gluten-free products has exploded. A lot of these substitutes not being healthy whatsoever. Gluten has been associated with a laundry list of maladies.
The reasons for the increase in people who are intolerant have been cited as everything from it being genetically modified to us not being evolved to digest it to the prevalence of glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup Ready pesticide) in the fields to plain old gluten overconsumption.
While some still stubbornly hold on to the premise that there is only celiac disease and the rest is either a misdiagnosis or psychosomatic (“it’s in your head”)….
- Gluten’s soft comfort has hypnotized many people into dismissing the rise of intolerance as been psychosomatic.
The fact remains that many people respond favorably to the avoidance of gluten. So, does it even matter. You can get all your nutrients without eating gluten.
The gold standard in determining celiac disease can only be achieved through an endoscopic biopsy…ouch. Usually, you get a positive confirmation if a majority of the villi have atrophied. Basically, your intestines are in bad shape. Whether you are celiac or don’t feel good on gluten, I personally wouldn’t wait until I had this level of damage.
What not to eat:
- Gluten…found in…everything (just kidding)
- The type of gluten protein most blamed for intolerance is found in wheat, barley, oats, and rye.
- Some processed foods like candy, chocolate, and other surprising sources
- Certain cosmetics and personal hygiene products (I know you don’t eat these but they do get absorbed)
How to help it:
- Diligently avoid consumption
- Become aware of hidden sources of gluten
- Give your body time to recover without any exposure
Other Food Intolerances
In case, you are still having issues and you’ve cut out dairy, foods with tyramine and phenylalanine, preservatives and additives, and gluten, you can go forward with an elimination protocol. I know. That’s insane. There’s nothing left to eat.
First, the good news: you might not have any issue with the suspected foods I’ve already mentioned. You also don’t need to try all of the above at once.
Now, the good and bad news: the list of foods you might consider eliminating all at once will have a high success rate of helping to figure out your food intolerances (good news) and you should do them all at once for 21-days (bad news). After which you can reintroduce and which is offensive (good and bad news again). So here it is, including some of the aforementioned.
- Sugar (and artificial sweeteners) 😯
- Eggs 🙁
Relax. I didn’t say you would never eat these again. I just said give it a try. See how you feel. Reintroduce one at a time and when something causes discomfort you’ve had an A-HA moment. It’s a great way to figure out your food intolerances and move on.
Why is this even worth it?
On a positive note, if you eliminate the culprits, heal your body with nutrient-rich foods, get adequate sleep, practice good stress management, take a quality probiotic and use digestive enzymes habitually, you can enjoy a wide variety of delicious foods that also support your body, your brain, and your energy for years to come.
If you figure out your food intolerances, you will take control of your health, understand what is right for you and be empowered to choose whether ingesting certain foods are worth it, how often to indulge and what the consequences are.
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- Hafstrom I, Ringertz B, Spangberg A, et al. A vegan diet free of gluten improves signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis: the effects of arthritis correlate with a reduction in antibodies to foodantigens. Rheumatology. 40:1175-1179.
- Samartin S, Marcos A, Chandra RK. Food hypersensitivity. Nutr Res.
- Taylor SL, Hefle SL. Food allergies and other food sensitivities: A publication of the Institute of FoodTechnologists’ Expert Panel on Food Safety and Nutrition. Food Tech. 55(9):68-83.