Could Your Symptoms Be a Food Intolerance?

A food intolerances or sensitivity can affect you in so many ways and they’re a lot more common than most people think.

I'm not talking about serious food allergies that cause anaphylaxis or an immune response. Those can be serious and life-threatening.  If you have any allergies, you need to steer clear of any traces of foods you are allergic to, and speak with your doctor about emergency medication.

What I'm talking about, is an intolerance, meaning you do not tolerate a specific food very well and it causes immediate or chronic symptoms anywhere in the body. Symptoms can take hours or even days to appear. And symptoms can be located just about anywhere in the body.

This is what makes them so tricky to identify.

Symptoms of Food Intolerances

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

On the other hand, other more insidious 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

If your body has trouble digesting specific foods, it can affect your hormones, metabolism, or even cause inflammation and result in any of the symptoms listed above. These can affect any (or all) parts of the body, not just your gastrointestinal system. 

How to prevent these symptoms

The main thing you can do is to figure out which foods or drinks you may be reacting to and stop ingesting them.

I know, I know...this sounds so simple, and yet it can be SO HARD.

The best way to identify your triggers is to eliminate them. Yup, get rid of those offending foods and drinks. All traces of them, for three full weeks and monitor your symptoms.  

If things get better, then you need to decide whether it's worth it to stop ingesting them, or if you want to slowly introduce them back one at a time while still looking out to see if/when symptoms return.

The Two Most Common Triggers of Food Intolerances:

  • Lactose (dairy)

    • Eliminate altogether, or look for "lactose-free" on the label

    • Try nut or coconut milk instead.

  • Gluten (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 because lactose intolerance is thought to affect up to 75% of people, while non-celiac gluten sensitivity can affect up to 13% of people. 

Let’s talk about the main components of milk that people react to: lactose, casein, and whey.

Milk Sugar (lactose) Intolerance

It’s estimated that up to 75% of adults are lactose intolerant. Lactose is the carbohydrate “milk sugar” naturally found in most dairy products. Lactose intolerance is so common you can buy lactose-free milk in your regular grocery store. Lactose-free products are treatedwith the enzyme “lactase” that breaks the lactose down before you ingest it. It’s this lactase enzyme that is lacking in most people who are lactose intolerant.

The lactase enzyme is naturally released from your intestine as one of your digestive enzymes. It breaks down the lactose sugar in the gut. When someone doesn't have enough lactase, the lactose doesn't get broken down the way it should. Undigested lactose ends up being food for the resident gut microbes. As they ferment the lactose, they create gases that cause bloating, flatulence, pain, and sometimes diarrhea.

Lactose is in dairy but is in lower amounts in fermented dairy (e.g. cheese & yogurt) and butter. Steering clear of lactose isn't that easy as it is added to other foods like baked goods, soups, and sauces. And if you're taking any medications or supplements, check to see if it's in there too, as lactose is a common ingredient in them.

If you have symptoms of lactose intolerance, keep an eye on food, medication, and supplement labels.

Related: Find out how to make your own dairy-free milk

Milk protein (casein & whey) allergy 

Milk is a known, and common, food allergen. "Curds and whey" are the two main proteins in milk. The solid bits are the curds (made of casein), and the liquid is the dissolved whey.

Unlike lactose intolerance, casein and whey can cause an actual immune response. It’s an allergy and this immune response can cause inflammation. In fact, we don’t know how many people have these milk allergies, but most estimates put it far below that of lactose intolerance.

Like lactose, these allergenic milk proteins can be found in other products too. They're not just in dairy but are often in protein powders as well. Some of the symptoms of milk protein allergy differ from that of lactose intolerance; things like nasal congestion and mucus (phlegm) are more common here. And casein seems to be linked with belly fat.

Interestingly, people who have gluten intolerance are often allergic to milk proteins like whey and casein as well. These can go hand-in-hand. 

Like lactose intolerance, if you're allergic to casein and whey keep an eye on labels so you can avoid these.So, if you can eliminate all traces of lactose and gluten for three weeks, it may indicate whether either (or both!) of these are a source of your symptoms.

Yes, dairy and grains are a part of many government-recommended food guidelines, but you absolutely can get all of the nutrients you need if you focus on replacing them with nutrient-dense foods. A reliable way to monitor how you feel after eating certain foods is to track it. After every meal or snack, write down the foods you ate, and any symptoms so you can more easily spot trends. 

And, as mentioned earlier, symptoms may not start immediately following a meal. 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 accurately.

IMPORTANT NOTE: 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? 

When in doubt, ask the server in a restaurant about hidden ingredients, read labels, and consider cooking at home from scratch.      

What if it doesn’t work?

If eliminating these two common food intolerances doesn’t work, please see a qualified healthcare practitioner to rule out other health conditions.

TL;DR -

If you get gassy, bloated, or diarrhea after eating dairy, you may have a lactose intolerance. If you often get a stuffy nose and mucus, then you may be allergic to casein and/or whey.

While dairy may be an entire food group, it is not an essential nutrient. All the nutrients in dairy are available in other foods. If you experience these symptoms, you can try removing dairy from your diet. You may find improved digestion and fewer gut issues. Or you may find improved nasal congestion, or even less belly fat. 

References:

http://www.dietvsdisease.org/11-warning-signs-you-have-a-food-intolerance/

https://authoritynutrition.com/lactose-intolerance-101/

https://authoritynutrition.com/signs-you-are-gluten-intolerant/

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/food-sensitivities-health-infographic

https://authoritynutrition.com/11-proven-ways-to-reduce-bloating/

https://www.dietvsdisease.org/how-to-get-rid-of-bloating/

https://www.dietvsdisease.org/11-warning-signs-you-have-a-food-intolerance/

https://authoritynutrition.com/dairy-foods-low-in-lactose/

https://authoritynutrition.com/lactose-intolerance-101/

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/whey-protein-allergies-intolerances-bloating

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-food-sensitivities

https://www.thepaleomom.com/the-great-dairy-debate/

https://nutritionfacts.org/video/is-milk-and-mucus-a-myth/

https://nutritionfacts.org/video/milk-protein-vs-soy-protein/

https://examine.com/supplements/casein-protein/

https://examine.com/supplements/whey-protein/

http://foodallergycanada.ca/about-allergies/food-allergens/milk/

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blood-pressure/milk-protein-may-lower-blood-pressure

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Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor or Registered Dietitian. The information presented is purely to share my experience and for entertainment purposes. As always, check with a doctor before making any fitness or nutrition changes. The author and blog disclaim liability for any damage, mishap, or injury that may occur from engaging in any activities or ideas from this site.