What is a food intolerance?

16 June 2017 by
First published: 24 June 2017

Every asked yourself, what is a food intolerance? We give you the lowdown

What is a food intolerance? A food intolerance is difficulty digesting certain foods and having an unpleasant physical reaction to them. Forty-five per cent of people suffer symptoms of food intolerance. Symptoms like stomach pain and bloating usually come on a few hours after consuming foods. Food intolerances manifest differently in each individual, so it can be difficult to pinpoint specific foods with specific symptoms. However, if you eliminate certain foods from your diet you could see benefits from around six to 12 weeks.

A case in point is runner Dani Rowlinson who improved her performance after becoming more aware of food intolerances. Athlete Dani had painful bloating and red, itchy eyes after eating. She was worried the symptoms would affect her performance and took a food allergy test which revealed she had a reaction to almonds, cow’s milk, eggs and wheat. Now she has eliminated them from her diet, she has never felt better. She says: ‘I am more comfortable training and competing now I have identified my trigger foods.’ Dani noticed a difference in her symptoms just three weeks after eliminating her trigger foods. And now you can do the same! Nutritionist Alison Orr has helped us identify the common culprits you can avoid to feel better.

Dairy is a reasonably common food intolerance and studies have associated cow’s milk with various symptoms such as digestive issues, eczema and migraines. If you feel dairy is a problem for you, Alison recommends substituting your usual intake for ‘vegan alternatives such as almond or coconut milk’. Remember to substitute all foods containing the proteins found in milk such as yoghurts, chocolate and cheese. Many nutritionists recommend keeping a food diary to try to identify the food groups that may be causing problems for you.

Eggs are often considered a superfood even though we cook them up weekly for breakfast. They contain healthy fats and proteins and are a staple in our diet. But our favourite fry-up friends can have their downsides. Alison says: ‘eggs can cause symptoms such as bloating, sluggish digestion or diarrhoea’. If you feel like you’re experiencing these symptoms, try eliminating eggs from your diet and see whether you notice improvements.

Gluten is a protein naturally found in wheat, barley and rye. Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition which is caused by an adverse reaction to gluten. Gluten is found in pasta, cakes, breakfast cereals, breads, sauces and types of ready meals. However, people can also be gluten sensitive without being coeliac and benefit from a gluten-free diet. Alison advises that symptoms such as brain fog, digestive issues and skin complaints could also improve by going gluten-free.

While seafood is often associated with anaphylaxis, a life threatening immune response, it is also a trigger for various milder reactions. Shellfish in particular has proteins that can cause food intolerance symptoms. Alison warns us to be careful, as ‘shellfish can often be in foods you wouldn’t expect such as curries’. Common symptoms include skin reactions, swelling, abdominal pain, congestion and dizziness. But don’t worry – you can easily identify these intolerances through testing.

Like seafood, nuts are also associated with anaphylaxis – which is a full-blown allergic reaction to nuts. Sensitivity to nuts can also cause symptoms such as hives and headaches. Identifying nut intolerances can be difficult to do through diet alone. Alison advises that keeping a diet diary if you feel you are struggling with nut intolerances. ‘Keeping a diet diary can help identify if certain nuts are associate with the symptoms experienced’.

If you suspect you may have a food intolerance or allergy visit your GP for advice.