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Understanding food intolerances and how they can affect you

April 14, 2021 • read

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Understanding food intolerances and how they can affect you

Is there a specific food you love that seems to wreak havoc on your stomach every time you eat it? Do you find that eating certain types of foods makes you feel uncomfortable, bloated, or causes you to suddenly experience headaches?

You could be experiencing a food intolerance — an incredibly common, and often unpleasant reaction to eating certain types of foods.

In fact, it’s believed between 15-20% of the population could have some type of food intolerance, although many people never discover the exact cause of their discomfort.

It can be difficult to properly identify and diagnose food intolerances because of their varied symptoms and similar behaviours to other conditions, like food allergies.

Understanding food intolerance signs, symptoms, and potential triggers is a great way to improve your health. 

What are food intolerances?

Contrary to what some people believe, food intolerances aren’t allergies. Both food intolerances and allergies fall under a term called “food hypersensitivity.”

Allergies involve a reaction from the immune system, while intolerances are usually caused by the digestive system.

Telling the two apart can be challenging, especially because there are a number of different types of food intolerances, each with their own triggers and symptoms.

What are the most common food intolerances?

While there are many types of food intolerances, some are more common than others. The most frequently occurring food intolerances include:

  • Gluten intolerance — caused by consuming gluten.This should not be confused with celiac disease, which is an immune response.
  • Fructose intolerance — caused by sugars in fruits, vegetables and honey.
  • Lactose intolerance — caused by a sugar found in dairy products.
  • Sulfite intolerance — caused by chemicals used as preservatives in food, drinks and some medications.
  • FODMAPs intolerance — caused by short-chain carbohydrates.
  • Amines intolerance — caused by bacteria that grow during fermentation and food storage periods.
  • Caffeine intolerance — caused by oversensitivity to the stimulating agents in caffeinated foods and beverages.
  • Salicylates intolerance — caused by chemicals produced by plants as a natural defense mechanism.

What are some signs and symptoms of food intolerances?

There are a wide array of signs and symptoms you could experience when you have a food intolerance. They could be mild or severe, depending on how sensitive you are to the food that’s causing the reaction.

Some common side-effects of a food intolerance include:

  • Headaches/migraines
  • Nausea or stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas or bloating
  • Constipation
  • Stomach inflammation
  • Restlessness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fatigue/malaise

As you can see, there is a wide range of signs and symptoms for food intolerances, which can make it difficult to narrow down a specific cause.

How can a doctor check for food intolerances?

If you believe that you’re experiencing a food intolerance, try keeping a food diary. Document what you’re eating throughout the day, what symptoms you’re experiencing, and when they’re appearing.

Monitoring the timelines of your reactions will allow the doctor to start identifying the potential cause of your symptoms.

Unfortunately, apart from lactose and gluten intolerances, there are no tests available to identify food intolerances with 100% certainty.

However, using an exclusion diet can help narrow down the list of symptom triggers. This involves completely removing certain foods from your diet to see if symptoms also disappear. 

When should I talk to a healthcare provider?

Have you been experiencing symptoms lately? Because there are so many different types of food intolerances, and they can present similarly to food allergies, it’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare provider right away. They may suggest a blood test or skin prick test in order to rule out allergies.

A healthcare provider can help you manage your food intolerances and minimize your negative symptoms by avoiding foods that trigger your intolerance.

Can Maple help me with my food intolerances?

We offer appointments with allergists who specialize in identifying and treating these types of conditions.

Together, our team is ready to help you start controlling your food intolerances, reduce your unpleasant symptoms, and help you start enjoying life again.

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