A Practical Guide to Food Sensitivities

Food sensitivities, also known as food intolerances, affect many people and can cause a range of uncomfortable symptoms.

Understanding what food sensitivities are, how they differ from allergies, and how to manage them can significantly improve your quality of life.

What Are Food Sensitivities?

But let’s start with the basics.

It’s important to differentiate food sensitivities from food allergies.

Food sensitivities occur when the digestive system struggles to break down certain foods.

This condition is different from food allergies, which involve our immune system.

Food sensitivities primarily involve the digestive system and, thankfully, are not life-threatening.

Allergies, on the other hand…

Well, we’ve all heard those horror stories including peanuts.

They can cause symptoms such as gas, diarrhea, and stomach pain, making them inconvenient and uncomfortable.

Symptoms and Causes

The symptoms of food sensitivities can vary widely.

Have you ever enjoyed a slice of pizza, only to find yourself doubled over with stomach pain a few hours later?

That’s a classic sign of food sensitivity.

Common symptoms include stomach pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, headaches, fatigue, nausea, and skin issues like rashes.

These symptoms usually appear a few hours after eating the trigger food as it makes its way through the digestive system.

The severity of symptoms can depend on the amount of food consumed and your level of sensitivity.

Common Trigger Foods

Several foods are more commonly associated with sensitivities.

For instance, lactose intolerance is one of the most common food sensitivities.

People with lactose intolerance do not produce enough lactase, an enzyme needed to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk and dairy products.

Then there’s gluten sensitivity, which is another common issue, and you’ve probably heard about it.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.

People with gluten sensitivity experience digestive issues but do not have celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder.

Other common sensitivities include FODMAPs, which are certain types of carbohydrates found in some fruits, vegetables, and grains, histamines found in aged cheeses and fermented products, and food additives like artificial colors and preservatives.

Diagnosing Food Sensitivities

Identifying food sensitivities can be challenging.

Unlike food allergies, which cause immediate reactions, the symptoms of food sensitivities can be delayed and less obvious.

You know when you eat your favorite burger, and suddenly, a few hours later, you start feeling bad?

That delayed reaction can make it hard to pinpoint the culprit.

Especially you’ve “drowned” that burger with a soda drink :)

One effective method to identify food sensitivities is an elimination diet.

This means avoiding certain foods for a few weeks, then adding them back one at a time to see if any symptoms return.

Keeping a food diary to track meals and symptoms can also help identify problematic foods.

A more specific diagnostic tool is the hydrogen breath test, which can detect lactose intolerance.

During this test, you drink a liquid containing lactose and then breathe into a balloon-like container at regular intervals.

High levels of hydrogen in the breath indicate that lactose is not being properly digested.

Unfortunately, there are no specific tests for gluten sensitivity or histamine intolerance, making elimination diets and food diaries important tools for diagnosis.

Managing Food Sensitivities

Managing food sensitivities involves dietary changes to limit or eliminate problem foods.

For instance, people with lactose intolerance can consume lactose-free milk and dairy products or take lactase enzyme supplements.

And you can find those literally everywhere now.

Those with gluten sensitivity should avoid foods containing wheat, barley, and rye.

Over-the-counter medications like antacids and antidiarrheals can help manage symptoms when they occur, but you probably won’t be needing any if you supplement gluten food for gluten-free replacements.

It’s important to ensure that eliminating certain foods from your diet does not lead to nutritional deficiencies.

For example, people who avoid dairy products need to find alternative sources of calcium and vitamin D.

Those avoiding gluten should ensure they get enough fiber and B vitamins from other sources.

Consulting with a healthcare provider or a dietitian can help create a balanced diet that meets nutritional needs while avoiding trigger foods.

Living with Food Sensitivities

Living with food sensitivities can be challenging but manageable.

Indeed, most people can significantly reduce symptoms by identifying and avoiding trigger foods.

Although food sensitivities are often lifelong, they do not pose the same life-threatening risks as food allergies.