Food intolerance is becoming much more of a household phrase these days. For those who have not thought about it much or never had a reason to look into it, this is a basic guide to what it is, what some of the most common intolerances are, and some other related information.
Food intolerances can come from a variety of sources. For example, some people can not tolerate citrus fruits or other acidic foods. The food intolerances that trouble most people are chemicals (such as aspartame or preservatives), natural compounds (like caffeine), wheat and gluten, and, of course, lactose.
Sometimes it's hard to distinguish a food intolerance from a food allergy. Their symptoms can be quite similar, but actually they are completely different bodily responses. A food intolerance is a digestive system problem.
If you have a food intolerance, you may experience headaches, gastrointestinal problems, or weight gain. (Wine, cheese and chocolate are notorious headache causers.) Gastrointestinal issues can include gas, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea, which are sometimes mistaken for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. You may also have allergy-like symptoms such as runny nose, hives, or difficult breathing.
Lactose intolerance is one of the most common things people suffer from. It is caused by a deficiency of the lactase enzyme. Instead of digesting lactose normally, people with too little lactase can not process milk sugars properly. When they consume dairy products, the result is fatigue, nausea, and a host of other digestive problems such as gas and bloating.
How serious is lactose intolerance? Children younger than two are especially susceptible to it. These children often need a special non-dairy formula to ensure proper nutrition. Most adults with lactose intolerance (5% of all adults in Ireland and the UK) can tolerate a tiny amount of dairy in their diets. Others can tolerate none at all.
Although more rare, foods that contain artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavor enhancers, and colors sometimes trigger painful symptoms in people with an intolerance to such substances.
Another very common intolerance is wheat or gluten intolerance. (Gluten is a protein found in wheat.) These conditions have gotten a lot of press lately, and for good reason: gluten intolerance, also called celiac disease in its most serious form, has been linked to behavioral problems, weight gain, and even autism.
Celiac disease is an incurable condition that causes the immune system to attack a person's own body. In this case, the autoimmune response is triggered by eating foods that contain gluten. Celiac disease can cause all of the symptoms of food intolerance, plus stunted growth and skin conditions. Left unchecked, it can ever cause bone disease, anemia, and even cancer.
Unfortunately, gluten is found in all wheat products, and even in some products made from barley, rye, and oats. That means that people with gluten intolerance need to avoid certain alcohol, like beer. Wheat can also be found in unexpected places. It's often used as a filler in ground meat and sausage.
There are many gluten-free and wheat-free breads, pastas, and cereals – but they're not created equal. Just because a product is gluten-free does not necessitously mean it's safe for people with wheat intolerance. Gluten-free products can contain other wheat substances. Likewise, wheat-free products might contain barley, rye, or oats.
Basically, people who suffer from a gluten intolerance must become very good label readers!
If you suspect wheat, gluten, or any other intolerance, speak with your doctor as soon as you can. They will make a firm diagnosis and give you dietary guidelines to follow.
There is a great food intolerance test on the market that I would recommend to anyone who thinks they may be affected by one or several food products. It takes the guesswork out of figuring out what is causing the problem.
If you find out you do have an intolerance, seek nutrition guidance, as when patients attempt to cut out the offending food group, it can cause malnourishment. For example, some people avoid dairy products altogether because of their lactose intolerance. Without a good substitute, they risk calcium deficiency.