Identify food intolerances for a healthy and comfortable diet

It is important for us to be fully aware of how our bodies react to different foods and what we may need to add or remove from our meals to ensure a healthy and balanced diet. (Photo: Pexels)

Food is necessary for life and for many of us it is a source of great pleasure. However, some foods can cause us significant discomfort and can even be life-threatening.

It is important for us to be fully aware of how our bodies react to different foods and what we may need to add or remove from our meals to ensure a healthy, balanced diet that leaves us feeling fed and comfortable.

Food intolerances and food allergies are all reactions to specific foods. We need to watch what we eat to make sure we don’t put too much stress on our bodies. Let’s break down these terms, what they look like in our bodies, and how to get advice from a medical professional to navigate a diagnosis.

What are food intolerances?

Food intolerances are sensitivities to certain foods that affect your digestive system. People who suffer from food intolerance are unable to digest certain foods or specific ingredients in those foods, which further irritates the digestive system. Although food intolerances are not life-threatening, they can be very uncomfortable and disruptive for those affected.

Reactions caused by food intolerance usually occur a few hours after eating. Symptoms of food intolerance include:

Abdominal (belly) pain

Diarrhea

Gas and/or bloating

Stomach pains

Reflux

Stomach ache

Headaches or migraines

Stomach pains

Nausea

Irritability

Common food intolerances include lactose intolerance and wheat/gluten intolerance. Otherwise, it is possible that there is an intolerance to a food additive, chemical or contaminant. These types of intolerances can be a reaction to:

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

Caffeine

Alcohol

Artificial sweeteners

Artificial food colors, preservatives and flavor enhancers.

Toxins, viruses, bacteria or parasites that have contaminated food.

Some symptoms of food intolerances can be symptoms of other illnesses which can make them difficult to diagnose.

If you have observed any of the above symptoms after eating specific foods and are concerned that you have a food intolerance, contact your doctor for advice.

Difference Between Food Intolerance and Allergy

A food allergy is a reaction of your immune system rather than your digestive system. Your immune system sends a signal to protect your body from a threat mistakenly triggered by a particular food or ingredient. Symptoms of an allergic reaction often occur immediately after ingestion, unlike hours later as an intolerance. It can also be triggered by tiny amounts of particles rather than an excess. Common food allergies include seafood, shellfish, and tree nut allergies.

Symptoms of a food allergy can affect different parts of the body at the same time. It is important to point out that allergic reactions can become life threatening and require emergency care. Symptoms of an allergic reaction to food include:

Itching sensation inside the mouth, throat or ears.

A raised rash or hives

Swelling of the face, lips, tongue, eyes and palate.

Vomiting

Breathing problems that can lead to anaphylaxis

An over-the-counter antihistamine can be used to treat mild to moderate allergic reactions to food. Otherwise, injections of adrenaline and/or higher doses of antihistamine will be necessary.

How do I determine if I have a food intolerance?

Food intolerances can appear at any time in our lives. It is possible to break out of old intolerances and develop new ones as we age. The best tools we have for determining if we have a food intolerance is a process of careful observation and experimentation. Two main ways to do this are an “elimination diet” and a “food diary”.

An elimination diet involves removing the food from your diet that you think is causing problems. You won’t have this food at all for two to six weeks. You then slowly introduce that element back into your diet and consider how your body reacts to it and the amounts that cause reactions. On the other hand, a food diary includes keeping track of what you eat, what symptoms you experience after eating, and when those symptoms occur, without the need to cut out an item from your diet.

Once you’re sure you have a food intolerance, the only way to manage the side effects is to stop eating that food altogether. Or, from your documentation, assess what amounts of these foods cause reactions. Going forward, you need to stay alert and careful by watching your food intake and checking labels to make sure you’re protecting yourself against ingesting something you’re intolerant to.

None of these methods are highly scientific, moreover, they can also be time consuming and difficult to follow. However, the reward far outweighs any inconvenience.

Technological advances in healthcare, including telemedicine, give you 24/7 access to doctors. No matter what difficulty you may encounter during your elimination diet or food diary, your doctor can guide you anytime, anywhere. Also, once you identify the problem, your doctor can guide you in creating a safe and nutritious diet.

When should I consult a doctor for my food intolerances?

If you think you need treatment, food intolerances can be diagnosed and treated via telemedicine. Your GP can usually diagnose lactose intolerance, for example by observing your symptoms and reviewing your medical history. You can do this through online consultations on platforms such as MDLink, which can allow you to get treatment from the comfort and convenience of your home, especially if you are experiencing the uncomfortable symptoms of intolerance. You may be referred to a specialist if your GP deems it necessary.

For children, parents should contact a pediatrician to discuss their child’s symptoms. It is crucial not to limit children’s food as they grow. Therefore, your doctor will be able to guide you in developing a diet with all the necessary nutrients and intolerance considerations to give your child.

General practitioners, gastroenterologists (digestive experts) and pediatricians are all available online via MDLink. They can send you a prescription to treat your symptoms and refer you to recommended lab tests to guide you to a possible diagnosis. However, if you experience severe abdominal pain, extreme diarrhea, unexplained weight loss, or any other symptom that may seem emergent, it is crucial that you receive emergency in-person care immediately.

Having a food intolerance can be very uncomfortable and embarrassing. However, as with your overall health, paying attention to your body and responding appropriately to its cues can guide you to your healthiest and most comfortable life. While enjoying the benefits of telemedicine, you can receive personalized and private care from wherever you feel most comfortable discussing your digestive issues.

Dr. Ché Bowen, digital health entrepreneur and family physician, is the CEO and founder of MDLink, a digital health company that provides telemedicine options. Visit the Company’s website at www.theMDLink.com. You can also contact him at [email protected]

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