Food intolerances, while not as serious as food allergies, can still be very problematic!
Food allergies can be life-threatening, but food intolerances and sensitivities can lead to digestive problems, rashes, skin conditions, intestinal upset, and other side effects that can make life quite unpleasant.
Here’s the thing: it’s estimated  that 1 in 5 people, or roughly 20% of the population in the world, suffer from some kind of food intolerance. Understanding how to spot the signs of a food intolerance and identify which food you’re intolerant to can save you a great deal of grief!
Simply put, a food intolerance is your body’s inability to tolerate a certain food. Unlike allergies, food intolerances are characterized by minor symptoms that tend to present within 1-3 hours of eating a certain food (though symptoms can be delayed by up to 48 hours) . Symptoms may last a few minutes, a few hours, or even several days, depending on the severity of the intolerance and the quantity of the food you eat.
Most of the symptoms of food intolerance manifest on your skin, in your respiratory system, or in your digestive tract. Typically, the symptoms will include (but aren’t limited to):
Flushing of the skin
Among the most common causes of food intolerances are:
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Dairy, specifically the lactose (sugar) found in milk and other dairy products.
Salicylates, a chemical produced naturally by certain plants as a defense mechanism, typically found in nuts, teas, veggies, fruits, spices, honey, and coffee.
Gluten, the protein found in many different types of grains and wheat.
Amines, which are produced by bacteria while food is stored, often found in fermented foods.
Caffeine, the stimulant in coffee, tea, and chocolate.
Fructose, the simple sugar present in veggies and fruits, but which is often added (in the form of high fructose syrup) into soda, artificial honey, apple juices, and anything containing high fructose corn syrup.
FODMAPs, or fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols, which are short-chain carbohydrates that are found in foods like milk, apples, beans, beer, bread, lentils, and honey.
Sulfites, which are preservatives added into foods, drinks, and medications to extend their lifespan, often present in wine, canned veggies, pickled foods, beer, tea, potato chips, and apple cider.
Eggs, particularly egg yolks.
Fish and shellfish.
Tree nuts and peanuts.
Food additives, including MSG.
These are the foods most likely to trigger negative reactions.
If you’re noticing any of the symptoms listed above show up after eating one of the foods and chemicals we listed, it’s very likely you’ve got a food intolerance. Food intolerances may be something you’re born with or something that shows up in your 20s or 30s—it’s different for everyone, but what remains consistent is that certain foods will trigger symptoms.
The problem is that you typically eat A LOT of food during the day. You may eat up to 100 different ingredients in a single day. If you eat out a lot, you may not know exactly what you’re putting into your body. It can be pretty hard to narrow down what’s causing the intolerance if you’re eating 20 different ingredients in a single meal.
That’s where an Elimination Diet comes into play. This is a diet wherein you specifically cut out certain foods in order to determine whether they are the cause of your food intolerance.
Let’s say your skin is presenting with a rash that shows up a few times a week. You’ve tried to narrow down the options and determined that you’re intolerant to dairy, gluten, fructose, or sulfites.
The first week of your Elimination Diet, you’re going to cut out dairy. No dairy for a whole week! During that time, you keep an eye on your skin to determine if the rash persists or clears up. If the rash is gone, you know that dairy is the cause of the intolerance. If the rash lessens but doesn’t disappear, dairy could be ONE of the triggers of the intolerance symptoms but not the only one.
For week two, you return dairy to your diet and cut out gluten. You go through the same steps of observing your symptoms and paying attention to what you’re putting in your body. Each week, you eliminate a different food trigger until you find the specific food or combination of foods that are behind the intolerance.
It is possible that your doctor can just order blood test or a skin prick test  to determine if you’re allergic or sensitive to any specific food. The problem with going the medical route is that there are so many different foods and potential triggers that it will be very hard to narrow down the options. That’s why it’s a good idea to try an elimination diet at home first for the purpose of identifying which foods may be causing the negative reactions. Once you’ve got a better idea about which foods are more likely to be the cause, you can take that to your doctor and use the information you’ve gained via your Elimination Diet to help them hone in on whatever is causing the intolerance.
Food intolerances, while not life-threatening, can still be very problematic. Constant digestive upset can lead to leaky gut syndrome and seriously impair the health of your gut bacteria. Regular breakouts of skin rashes can lead to poor skin health, which leads to advanced skin aging. Headaches, flu-like symptoms, and a constantly running nose can interfere with living a healthy, happy life.
It’s important that you take steps to 1) identify food intolerances and 2) eliminate food triggers from your diet. You’ll feel exponentially better once you know that there is nothing in your life causing these health problems!
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