Can My Symptoms Actually Be a Food Intolerance?
Do you have symptoms that just don’t seem to go away?
Food intolerances or "sensitivities" can affect you in so many ways. And they’re a lot more common than most people think.
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.
What I'm talking about, is an intolerance, meaning you do not tolerate a specific food very well and it causes immediate or chronic symptoms anywhere in the body. Symptoms can take hours or even days to show themselves. And symptoms can be located just about anywhere in the body. This is what makes them so tricky to identify. The most common food intolerances include beans, cabbage, citrus fruits, gluten grains, and dairy.
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; 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.
● 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, metabolism, or even cause inflammation and result in any of the symptoms listed above. And these 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 ingesting them. I know, I know...this sounds so simple, and yet it can be so hard. Awareness is your biggest ally!
The best way to identify your food/drink triggers is to eliminate them. Yep, get rid of those offending foods/drinks. All traces of them, for three full weeks and monitor your symptoms. Six weeks, if you can!
Elimination diets are helpful tools to use when determining which foods may be causing sensitivities, allergies, or intolerances and may be irritating the gut. Even if you have done this in the past, keep in mind that reactions can develop or change over time – so what was once true for you years ago may not be the case today. Not to mention that the foods that you eat most frequently can also be the culprits.
Most elimination diets last three to six weeks. It’s believed that it takes three to four weeks after exposure for the body to decide that the offending food is no longer a threat and to, therefore, stop creating new antibodies. However, any existing antibodies can last in your system from weeks to years (get an IgG test to identify food intolerances). You may also need to work on strengthening your gut lining, as many intolerances can occur as the result of a leaky gut with poorly digested food particles aggravating the system. The intolerance may go away if the digestive system is given ample time to heal and repair.
Remember, we’re all different and as individuals, we can experience reactions to any type of food, but here are the most common offenders:
Additionally, it’s helpful to consider the foods that you eat most frequently, as these can also be suspect!
An elimination diet can involve temporarily removing just one or a variety of foods at once. The more foods you remove, the more likely you’ll be able to clearly identify any intolerances, as long as you stick to the diet and add foods back one at a time. However, if eliminating multiple foods, it’s important to ensure that proper nutrition is being upheld. Extensive elimination diets are best done with the support and guidance of a licensed nutritionist or healthcare professional.
If things get better, then you need to decide whether it's worth it to stop ingesting them, or if you want to slowly introduce them back one at a time while still looking out to see if/when symptoms return.
Start Here: Two common food intolerances
Here are two of the most common triggers of food intolerances:
● Lactose (in dairy - eliminate altogether, or look for a "lactose-free" label - try nut or coconut milk instead).
● Gluten (in wheat, rye, and other common grains - look for a "gluten-free" label - try gluten-free grains like rice, quinoa & gluten-free oats).
A more complete list is provided above, but start with these two. Lactose intolerance is thought to affect up to 75% of people, while "non-celiac gluten sensitivity" can affect up to 13% of people.
So, if you can eliminate all traces of lactose and gluten for three to six weeks, it can confirm whether either or both of these, are a source of your symptoms.
Yes, dairy and grains are a part of many government-recommended food guidelines, but you absolutely can get all of the nutrients you need if you focus on replacing them with nutrient-dense foods. You know that!
A reliable way to monitor how you feel after eating certain foods is to track it. After every meal or snack, write down the foods you ate, and any symptoms so you can more easily spot trends. Here’s a free download I created for you…
And, as mentioned earlier, symptoms may not start immediately following a meal. You may find, for example, that you wake up with a headache the morning after eating bananas. You might be surprised what links you can find if you track your food and symptoms well!
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 you HAVE to ask the server in a restaurant about hidden ingredients, read labels, and consider cooking from scratch.
After three to six weeks, start reintroducing one food back at a time, each week. Use the same food journal to keep track of all physical, emotional, and mental reactions during this time so that you can easily pinpoint which food(s) may be causing the reaction. If you’re still suffering, see a qualified healthcare practitioner and bring all this work with you to share.
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 to six weeks.
The best step is to see a qualified healthcare practitioner for help if things are not getting better. I don't want you to continue suffering if you don't need to!
Here’s a simple recipe to make your own nut/seed milk. Let me know what you think of it or your variation below in the comments.
Recipe (dairy-free milk): Homemade Nut/Seed Milk (makes 3 cups)
½ cup raw nuts/seeds (almonds, walnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, or sesame seeds)
2 cups water
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
1. Soak nuts/seeds for about 8 hours (optional, but recommended).
2. Dump soaking water & rinse nuts/seeds.
3. Add soaked nuts/seeds and 2 cups water to a high-speed blender and blend on high for about one minute until very smooth.
4. Strain through a small mesh sieve with 2 layers of cheesecloth. Squeeze if necessary.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: You can double the recipe and store the milk in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 7 days.
Leave a comment below and share your experience. Join our private Facebook Group here >>> and get more. And I’d love to stay connected!
Thank you for being here on this journey with me. I'm truly honored you're here.
I’m a small town Oregonian, a scientist, an integrative nutrition health coach, and a crunchy mom. Passionate about natural living, long distance cycling, cooking with my littles, kick boxing, cashew milk ice cream + margaritas (skinny, on the rocks - salt, please!).
My passion is helping people conquer their wellness goals and create a more natural, sustainable lifestyle. My love of nature and natural remedies have led me to dive deep into essential oils and creating simple, all natural household and personal care products on my own. My blog started on a simple premise of sharing my journey to a more natural lifestyle, including the science behind many natural remedies, DIY recipes, tips, and ways to save money using plant-based alternatives. Now, as I emerge from my health coach training program, I have married my passion to my purpose, combining all aspects of health and wellness with a holistic approach to create a platform that delivers online tools that bring you into alignment with where you want to be.
I don’t promote diets, fitness, or weight loss as a goal - I encourage my clients to seek out what works for their individual body chemistry + spirit. We will look at how all parts of your life affect your health as a whole.
I am so happy you are here, and I look forward to getting to know you. Learn more >>>
I am not a doctor. I am not here to diagnose, treat, or cure any of your illnesses. The content I share is for informational purposes only.
***Disclosure: If you purchase products linked in the content of my website, I may receive a small percentage from affiliates***