It can be important to have a clear understanding of food intolerances, especially in relation to food allergies and food addictions.
They are not the same as food allergies, which are abnormal immune system responses to certain foods. Food allergies are very serious. They can kill you.
Touching, inhaling, or ingesting a food to which you are allergic can sometimes trigger anaphylasis, which is a severe reaction that can impair breathing and cause loss of consciousness. Without immediate medical treatment or an injection of epinephrine (adrenaline), anaphylasis can be deadly.
If you had any food allergies, you are quite likely to know it. Exposure to even a trace amount of the food to which you are allergic can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, itching, hives, swelling, respiratory congestion, itchy or runny nose, sneezing, wheezing, or coughing.
Although nut, fish, and shellfish allergies tend to be exceptions, many childhood food allergies are outgrown by adulthood. If you suspect that you have a food allergy, I recommend that you consult with a physician who is board certified in allergy and immunology.
It’s important to understand that allergic reactions can differ: it’s possible to have a mild reaction on one exposure and a serious one on another exposure. Furthermore, allergic reactions can occur in phases. Anything that has come in physical contact with an allergen can be dangerous. Sometimes one epinephrine self-injector may be insufficient to quiet a serious reaction; a second may be necessary.
Food intolerances are quite different from food allergies. One difference is that food intolerances can become more common with age.
Food intolerances are digestive system problems. They occur when your body is unable to break down and absorb certain foods.
Typical symptoms are bloating, gas, and diarrhea. However, not all symptoms of food intolerances are digestive. Migraine headaches are an example.
Different kinds of foods can stimulate them. They are commonly caused by sugars (specifically lactose and fructose), cheese, chocolate, and wine.
Lactose is found in dairy products. Fructose is found is honey, fruit, and some vegetables.
Figuring out whether or not you have any food intolerances can be tricky.
I recommend starting with a thorough physical examination to rule out other conditions that may be causing your symptoms, such as another digestive disorder or side effects of some medication.
The next step is to keep a food diary of everything you eat. You may be able to correlate ingesting a certain food with your symptoms.
That, though, is not a fool proof method. For example, even if you are intolerant to lactose, you may be able to digest hard cheeses or fermented milk products like yogurt without much difficulty.
Furthermore, you may perceive what you are looking for, which is called “expectation bias.”
Even if you identify some food to which you are intolerant, it may not be easy for you to eliminate it from your diet.
If you suspect that you have food intolerances, what should you do?
I don’t know. For reasons that I’ve explained in other posts, nobody else does, either.
What I would do is this: I’d put myself on a paleo diet. Then I’d reintroduce foods one at a time to test whether or not any symptoms were triggered.
It’s because our diets have dramatically changed in the last ten thousand years. That’s too short a time for evolution to have caught up completely with our new diet. That may explain why certain individuals have food intolerances to certain foods.
Consider, for example, lactose. Guess what? Before farming, our prehistoric ancestors never ingested dairy products. Might they cause a problem for some of us? Duh!
What about fructose? Our prehistoric ancestors did, occasionally, find honey and, I’m sure, delighted when they did. However, they consumed it infrequently.
The fruits and vegetables that we eat are quite different from their wild ancestors that our ancestors ate. They do contain healthful phytonutrients and fiber, but eliminating their consumption temporarily won’t damage your health at all.
Similarly, our prehistoric ancestors never consumed cheese or chocolate. They also didn’t have wine until after the Agricultural Revolution.
So, whether you realize it or not, your body is well adapted to a “paleo” diet. If you return to it, you are likely to find that all your food intolerances have disappeared.
If you like that suggestion and want to learn more about it, you’ll find some relevant pages on my lasting-weight-loss site.
I also recommend the following books: Audette and Gilchrist’s Neanderthin, Cordain’s The Paleo Diet, Cordain’s The Paleo Diet Cookbook , and Wolf’s The Paleo Solution.
Here’s a final point, which is about food addictions, that you may find intriguing:
Food addictions can mask food intolerances.
At first, that seems to make no sense, which is why it is interesting.
Let’s suppose that you sometimes crave dairy products like ice cream. That craving may be a sign of a food addiction.
How, then, could that mask a food intolerance?
It’s because in such a case you are not actually addicted to the ice cream. In fact, although you don’t realize it, you are intolerant to ice cream!
What happens when you eat it is that, in an attempt to preserve homeostasis, your body secrets chemicals to counteract the ill effects of your consuming the ice cream – and it is actually these chemicals to which you are addicted!
If this topic interests you, I recommend Ross’s The Diet Cure.
As always, if you have any comments on this post, I encourage you to leave them below.