Have you ever noticed that you feel really crappy after eating certain foods? Maybe you have stomach cramps or maybe you just suddenly feel absolutely exhausted, like you can hardly function.
If I eat wheat, I can’t sleep that night. I bought some dandelion ‘coffee’ a few months ago and just discovered that it made my brain so foggy that all I wanted was to lay on the couch and watch TV after drinking it. Black tea gives me this brain-squeezing headache like nothing else does. What’s happening to me? Food sensitivities!
Chances are that there are certain foods that don’t make you feel your best – the trick is to find out what’s happening so that you can figure out whether it’s a food intolerance or something else.
Food intolerances are different from food allergies. I’m not talking about anaphylaxis or immediate allergic reactions that involve an immune response. Those can be serious and life-threatening. If you have any allergies, you need to steer clear of any traces of foods you are allergic to, and speak with your doctor or pharmacist about emergency medication, if necessary.
A food intolerance or sensitivity means that your body just isn’t well equipped to tolerate a specific food. A food intolerance generally causes an immediate or chronic symptom elsewhere in the body. Sometimes your symptoms don’t show up for hours or days either, which makes them very difficult to associate with particular foods! For example, it took me about 3 ½ years to correlate my sleepless nights with wheat.
Food intolerances are very common these days and people seem to develop more as they age. (Stay tuned…I’ll have more on this in another post!)
Symptoms of food intolerances
There are some common food intolerances that have immediate and terribly painful gastrointestinal symptoms, such as lactose intolerance or celiac disease. These can cause stomach pain, gas, bloating, and/or diarrhea. These symptoms can start immediately after eating lactose or gluten.
On the other hand, other more insidious symptoms may not be linked to foods in an obvious way.
Some other food intolerance symptoms can be:
- Chronic muscle or joint pain
- Sweating, or increased heart rate or blood pressure
- Headaches or migraines
- Exhaustion after a good night’s sleep
- Autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s or rheumatoid arthritis
- Rashes or eczema
- Inability to concentrate or feeling like your brain is “foggy”
- Shortness of breath
If your body has trouble digesting specific foods, it can affect your hormones and your metabolism; food intolerances can even cause inflammation and can affect any (or all) parts of the body, not just your gastrointestinal system.
How to prevent these intolerances
The main thing you can do is to figure out which foods or drinks you may be reacting to and stop eating them. Sounds simple, right? It’s actually quite difficult to pinpoint which foods are causing you issues. But, you can do it by keeping track of everything you eat for a few weeks and how you feel each and every day at specific times. Soon patterns will start to emerge and, as you listen to your body, you’ll be able to pick up on whether a food affects you.
Once you figure out your problem foods, get rid of them! All traces of them, for three full weeks and monitor your symptoms.
After 3 weeks, you can decide if you’d like to try introducing the offending foods back into your diet or not. You might be surprised at how easy it is to eat without those offending foods and decide not to reintroduce them!
Two common food intolerances
The two most common food sensitivities are:
Dairy is the number one food allergen and, because of the way it’s processed, it really doesn’t give your body any nutritional benefits. The calcium in it not absorbed and the protein are affected by the pasteurization process. If you can’t live without dairy, switch to raw, unpasteurized dairy products instead.
Lactose intolerance is thought to affect up to 75% of North Americans while ‘non-celiac gluten sensitivity’ affects up to 13% of people.
I know that both grains and dairy are part of Canada’s Food Guide but I assure you that you can get the nutrients (and more of them) from other whole foods. Focus on replacing dairy and grains with nutrient-dense foods like fresh vegetables and fruits, gluten-free grains, nuts and seeds, healthy oils and lean protein.
Tracking what you eat can seem tedious but I’m sure that you’re a bit sick of feeling, well, sick. Or, you’re frustrated because you don’t even know WHY you feel the way you do! Am I right?
To help get you started, use the free food diary below to track your food, symptoms and everything else you experience. Do this for 3 full weeks and start to identify patterns. If you’re not ready to cut out dairy and gluten entirely, try eating it on separate days and only eat it every 3-4 days.
IMPORTANT NOTE: When you eliminate something, you need to make sure it’s not hiding in other foods, or the whole point of eliminating it for a few weeks is lost. Restaurant food, packaged foods, and sauces or dressings are notorious for adding ingredients that you’d never think are there. You know that sugar hides in almost everything, but did you also know that wheat is often added to processed meats and soy sauce, and lactose can even be found in some medications or supplements?
When in doubt, ask your server about hidden ingredients, read labels, and consider cooking from scratch.
What if it doesn’t work?
If eliminating these two common food intolerances doesn’t work, then you can go one step further to eliminate all dairy (even lactose-free) and all grains (even gluten-free) for three weeks.
If you still feel not quite 100%, there are number of other common food sensitivities to consider – pork, corn, nightshade vegetables (especially if you have arthritis or other inflammatory conditions), bananas and citrus fruits are just few.
If you’re not quite sure you want to do this on your own, I can help develop an elimination diet program for you to follow for 4-6 months. We start by eliminating all the common food sensitivities and slowly add them back in one at a time. You’ll need some support for this as you transition away from common North American fare – I’ll make sure you’re getting enough nutrients to help your body overcome the problems associated with food intolerances.