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Food Intolerances: The facts, symptoms and treatments

Stephanie Ashley
by Stephanie Ashley Published on December 10, 2013

Everywhere you look, there are organic food markets, natural products, and miracle dietary cures, but most people still suffer from basic discomfort or even major health problems caused by their diet. If you suffer from constant bloating, nausea, or even headaches, it may be time to find out if you have any food intolerances and switch up your diet.

If you search online for any type of recipe or food, more than likely you will find a 'healthy' or 'organic' version. Healthy eating is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, particularly after the sugary, buttery holiday season.

Though everyone seems concerned with healthy eating and lifestyle, food and diet are still some of the main causes of many minor health problems. From bloating and constipation to headaches, the culprit could be some of the foods you eat.

Before you declare yourself ‘dairy free’ or ‘gluten free’, jump on the juice cleanse bandwagon, or start a crash diet, though, you need to know all the facts about food intolerances.

We talked with The Nutrition Twins, Tammy Lakatos Shames and Elysse “Lyssie” Lakatos, registered dietitians, personal trainers, and authors of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure, about food intolerances, symptoms, and what you can do to promote a healthy diet.

What are food intolerances?

According to Tammy and Lyssie, “A food intolerance is a reaction that occurs when a person’s digestive system has difficulty digesting a particular food.”

For example, if someone is intolerant to lactose, this means their body produces too few lactase enzymes to digest the lactose, a sugar in dairy products. Those who suffer from gluten intolerance experience symptoms after eating foods like wheat, barley, oats, and rye.

Food intolerances, though not to be confused with food allergies, may cause many of the same symptoms. Whereas a food allergy affects the body’s immune system, no food intolerances involve the body’s immune system, which is why they don’t cause anaphylaxis and are not life-threatening. Food intolerances are more subtle, causing more chronic, long-term issues, and are harder to diagnose.

You can develop and intolerance to foods other than dairy or gluten products, especially those that have been processed and contain unnatural additives. However, intolerances vary from person to person.

What are the symptoms of food intolerances?

Symptoms of food intolerance vary from person to person in type and severity, but can include:

  • Bloating
  • Abdominal Cramping
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Headaches

Unlike food allergies, the symptoms of food intolerances are not life-threatening, but they can cause a level of discomfort that significantly lowers a person’s quality of life.

If you suffer from these symptoms, it may be time to see if you suffer from a food intolerance.

How do I know if I suffer from a food intolerance?

Unfortunately, there is no simple solution for discovering if you are intolerant to a specific food. Unlike food allergies, skin prick tests are not conclusive for food intolerances since the reactions do not involve the immune system.

Several laboratories across the United States offer blood tests you can perform at home, often ranging from $200 to over $1000, or in-house consultations and blood testing, but doctors are still skeptical on the effectiveness of these tests.

A more cost-efficient test recommended by The Nutrition Twins is a simple one: keep a food diary of symptoms for two weeks.

Tammy and Lyssie note that the diary should be very detailed: “It’s important that the journal includes times, foods, portion sizes, and any symptoms experienced. This is all important as some intolerances, such as lactose intolerance are dose dependent.”

After keeping your diary, take it to a gastroenterologist or registered dietitian, who can try to find which foods are causing you problems.

“From there, you may be referred for a breath test or elimination diet of the food intolerance culprits,” the twins say. “Although it may take a little investigation to get to the bottom of it, it will be worth it so that you can avoid the food that is getting in the way of you feeling your best.”

What now?

Now, after all your detective work with your gastroenterologist or dietitian, you know what food or foods are causing you such unpleasant symptoms. What comes next?

If your symptoms are quite severe, you will need to cut those food culprits out of your diet completely. No need to panic; cutting out foods and substituting healthy alternatives is not too difficult.

For example, for those suffering from lactose intolerance can cut out all aspects of dairy from their diet. As Tammy and Lyssie say, “The easiest way to cut dairy is to use dairy substitutes. Go for hemp, almond, soy or other milk and dairy alternatives.”

​Lactose intolerance can also be preemptively treated with a lactase enzyme pill such as Lactaid.

If you are gluten intolerant, the twins say, “Focus more on veggies and even on getting your complex carbohydrates from veggies like sweet potatoes and butternut squash!”

However, the twins say to be careful around foods claiming to be “gluten-free.” While anyone can feel healthier by going gluten-free for a while, “In fact, gluten-free products can often be high in calories, fat, and carbs,” Tammy and Lyssie warn, “and some people who go gluten-free actually gain weight!”

To be safe, focus on eating more natural, non-processed foods like fresh produce, meats and fruit juices. Still need a little help?

Try reading The Nutrition Twin’s Veggie Cure, where they tell you step by step how to do their 10-Day Weight Loss Jumpstart and Detox plan, “that is perfect for anyone who wants to instantly get on the healthy path and who is looking to lose weight, flush out bloat, feel better and more energetic, and bring an abrupt end to the damage and symptoms that may have been caused by eating and drinking too much.”

Sounds like a great solution for the post-holiday guilt. If you still need a few hints and tips, check out a few of our suggested diets.

How will you change up your diet this New Year? Tweet us @wewomenUSA.

by Stephanie Ashley