Are my symptoms from a food intolerance or sensitivity?


Food intolerances or “sensitivities” can affect you in a lot of ways, and they’re a lot more common than most people think. Do you have symptoms that just don’t seem to go away?  Not just digestive upsets, random aches, pains, discomforts, etc.?

Now, I’m not talking about anaphylaxis or immediate allergic reactions that involve an immune response. Those can be serious and life-threatening.  I personally have anaphylactic reactions to a couple of different food groups, so I’m urging you right here and now:  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.  This cannot be taken lightly, and in case of exposure you may have only seconds – did you hear me, SECONDS – to act.

What I’m referring to right now though, is an intolerance, meaning you may react to a specific food that causes immediate or chronic symptoms anywhere in the body. One of the trickiest things to figure out is whether a random symptom could be due to a food intolerance. That’s because symptoms can be delayed, or ongoing, and not even resemble a gastrointestinal symptom at all.  The issue can be located just about anywhere in the body, which is what makes them so tricky to identify.

In this post, I go over a few of the common symptoms, and two (very) common foods that you may be reacting to, but don’t even know it.

Symptoms of food intolerances

There are some common food intolerances, such as lactose intolerance or celiac disease,  that have immediate and terribly painful gastrointestinal symptoms.  These can cause stomach pain, gas, bloating, and/or diarrhea;  symptoms can start immediately after eating lactose or gluten.

However, other, more sneaky symptoms may not be linked to foods in an obvious way.

Symptoms like:

  • 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
  • A runny, stuffy nose
  • Anxiety or other emotional responses like sadness or depression\

If your body has trouble digesting specific foods or reacts in any of the above-mentioned ways, then think of the effects you can’t see, such as hormonal effects, metabolic effects or inflammatory responses.  All of these can affect any (or all) parts of the body, not just the gastrointestinal system.

Identifying and preventing 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, avoiding them at all costs.

I know, I know…this sounds so simple, and yet it can be SO HARD.  Elimination still remains the best way to identify your food/drink triggers.  Believe me, when I’ve had a reaction to a food, it’s been easy to immediately stop having that particular item.  In my case though, it’s simply a matter of comfort or suffering.

One way to track a symptom is to keep a record of everything you ingest for a full three weeks and monitor your symptoms or reactions. Take stock of your feelings, emotions, skin changes, energy levels, etc.  You’re watching for patterns – if you consistently note a feeling of fatigue or lethargy after having something with sugar, then it’s a safe bet you’re having some sort of reaction.  Try eliminating that one particular food and see what happens.  If things get better, then you need to decide whether it’s worth it to stop ingesting it entirely, or if you want to slowly introduce it back into your rotation of eating, all the while still looking out to see if/when symptoms return.

Remember, as mentioned earlier, symptoms may not start immediately following ingestion. 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!

Click here to download a free copy of my Weekly Food Journal to help you track.

One thing I don’t favor is eliminating all allergens at once (unless you have the previously mentioned anaphylactic reaction.  In that case, you have no choice).  If you remove everything at once, to me it’s more difficult to figure out exactly what was causing a particular reaction.  Now, if you note a reaction to say, bread and grains, then it would be valuable to see what happens when you eliminate that particular food group (gluten) and track your response.  Which brings me to this section:

Start Here: Two common culprits

Two of the most common triggers for food intolerances:

  • Lactose (in dairy – eliminate it 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).

This is by no means a complete list, but it’s a good place to start.  Lactose intolerance is thought to affect up to 75% of people. “Non-celiac gluten sensitivity” can affect up to 13% of people.  The percentage of actual, genetic celiac disease affects three million Americans, or about 1% of the population. This sounds like a low percentage, but 95% of people with celiac disease go undiagnosed, chasing symptoms over 7 providers in a 10-year period.

If you consistently have symptoms and suspect that lactose or gluten is at the root, eliminate all traces of lactose and gluten for three weeks.  That will give you confirmation of whether or not one or both is a source of your symptoms.   And don’t worry – you absolutely can get all of the nutrients you need if you focus on replacing them with nutrient-dense foods, even without diary and grains.

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?  Butter is put on top of a steak to give it that glossy look when it comes to your table even!  When in doubt you HAVE to ask the server in a restaurant about hidden ingredients, you have to read your labels, and even consider cooking from scratch depending on the circumstances of your particular sensitivities.

What if it doesn’t work?

If you absolutely cannot find a common thread among your food to your symptoms, you can take it further and eliminate all dairy (even lactose-free) and all grains (even gluten-free) for a few weeks.  Even then, if you’re convinced there’s a food correlation, you may need to see a qualified healthcare practitioner for help, and that’s OK. I don’t want you to continue suffering if you don’t need to!

For the lactose intolerant, here’s an easy peasy recipe for nut milk.  Now, obviously, if you have a nut allergy I wouldn’t run to the kitchen to try thist won’t help if you have a nut allergy

Homemade Nut/Seed Milk (dairy free)

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.


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