When you’ve eaten a varied diet all your life, it can be frustrating to find out that foods you previously enjoyed without issues are now causing you to feel unwell.
Likewise, many of us suspect there’s something in our diet that doesn’t agree with us, but we’re not quite sure what it is, and don’t want to know for fear of it being something we love and would hate to give up.
We often assume that food intolerances are fixed, and will cause lifelong problems, but that isn’t always the case.
What is food intolerance?
Food intolerances can occur when your body’s immune system mistakes a food protein as a threat, releasing antibodies to fight it. This reaction can result in a range of inflammatory symptoms, such as IBS and bloating, headaches, brain fog, skin complaints like eczema or acne, or joint pain.
There are a couple of food intolerances that are specific to a particular ingredient and for which testing is available on the NHS. These include lactose intolerance, a sensitivity to the sugars in milk and Coeliac disease, a specific sensitivity to gluten. For more general food intolerance, which could involve any, or a variety of foods, the NHS doesn’t yet offer testing.
It’s estimated that around 45% of the UK population suffers with a food intolerance, and for many adults living with the condition, the exact triggers causing them to feel unwell remain a mystery for a long time.
How is intolerance different to allergy?
Unlike food intolerance, which is believed to affect just under half of adults, allergies are quite rare, affecting around only 2% of the population.
While the biological processes involved in both food allergies and intolerances might seem similar, with the body reacting in response to a perceived threat, they involve different antibodies that trigger specific reactions.
Food allergies involve an immune response. When a person with an allergy consumes an ingredient it identifies as an allergen, the body overreacts, producing antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE). These IgE antibodies travel to cells that release chemicals, causing an allergic reaction. The reaction is usually fairly instant and presents in severe, life-threatening symptoms, such as anaphylaxis. People with allergies are usually born with them, and they will be active throughout their lifetime.
Food intolerances are much less severe. The process is similar, with the body releasing immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies, but the reaction time is usually slower and the symptoms, although often uncomfortable and frustrating, are not life-threatening. Unlike allergies, food intolerance can develop at any time, and it is possible to overcome them.
Are some foods more triggering than others?
It’s common for people to assume that some foods cause more problems than others. Dairy, wheat, and gluten are often blamed for conditions such as bloating or skin irritation.
But food intolerances are unique. What causes problems for you, might be completely fine for someone else.
It’s important never to make assumptions about your diet based on other people’s experiences, but to get the right information and support for you and your body.
It’s also a common misconception that it’s only ‘bad foods’ that cause problems. While it’s definitely true that highly processed foods aren’t always the best choice, even the healthiest diet can cause problems if it contains a food you happen to be sensitive to.
Giving your gut a break
Unlike allergies, which tend to remain a problem throughout your life, with food intolerance, it is possible to take a break from your trigger food for a period of time and then reintroduce it into your diet.
When you know what your trigger foods are, you can safely remove them from your daily diet, replacing them with healthy and nutritious alternatives. This gives your gut an opportunity to heal, without your trigger food causing inflammation. To make sure your diet stays balanced, it’s important not to cut problem foods out completely without substituting them with other foods that offer the same nutritional values.
When you have allowed enough time to pass, you can begin to introduce the food back into your diet in small amounts, keeping an eye on whether you see a return of those symptoms.
Many people find that after a break from their trigger foods, they can safely bring them back into their diet without adverse effects. The trick is knowing what they are in the first place, so you can eliminate the guesswork.
Take control of your diet
Getting to the bottom of a food intolerance can be frustrating. A common recommendation is the elimination diet, where you remove one food at a time for a few weeks to see how you feel. But this process can take a long time. And, although many of us commonly react to a few different ingredients, the elimination diet is often abandoned when the first trigger food is found, leaving an incomplete picture of what’s causing the problem.
Get answers faster with Smartblood
When it comes to food intolerance testing, it’s important to do your research and choose a reputable laboratory testing company.
At Smartblood, we offer a comprehensive test to help you take control of your diet quickly and discover your own trigger foods.
Our home-to-laboratory service gives you fast, accurate results that pinpoint exactly which foods you are reacting to. Tests are completed in our accredited laboratory by trained experts, with clear, easy to understand results sent to you via email within three days.