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All about food intolerances: how do I know if my child has a food sensitivity; what are signs of a food intolerance; 8 most common food intolerances and how to fix food intolerances.
All about food intolerances
If you would have asked me 10 years ago about food intolerances, I would 1. have no idea what you were talking about or 2. wondered about the validity of them. Now the funny thing is, I am lactose intolerant – so I should be a believer in them. But I guess I didn’t realize how prevalent they are and how they really can affect your life. Fast forward to now, and not only have I personally dealt with many food sensitivities, but I also have 2 children who have dealt with them as well.
It’s my hope that sharing some of my personal and professional information with you can help you if you or your child is in a similar situation.
How do I know if my child has a food sensitivity?
Personally speaking, I had the mom-gut knowledge that my (then) 5 year-old had a sensitivity. How did I know? Well for me it was that she always had dark circles under her eyes. I just knew that there was something behind it. Her regular pediatrician dismissed it, but Dr. Sheila Kilbane suggested removing dairy from her diet for 2-3 weeks. When I didn’t see any differences, I took her off gluten. GAME CHANGER. Not only did her dark circles go away, but her hyperactivity, which I would never have attributed to a food sensitivity.
- Go with your gut. If you feel like your child is “off,” proceed.
- Keep a journal to track symptoms (see below for symptoms).
- When ready, try an elimination diet.
- Seek out a health coach or medical help if needed.
What are the signs of a food intolerance?
Generally speaking, distress is related to the digestive system. Food intolerances can occur more often as you age since your digestion naturally becomes slower and your body produces less of the enzymes needed to break down food. With a slower digestive process, it gives bacteria a longer time to ferment in the gastrointestinal tract and can lead to digestive distress.
Over time, you can also become more sensitive to a particular food additive or chemical—for instance, sulfites found in wine, dried fruits, or canned goods, or the flavoring monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is sometimes found in Chinese food and snack foods like chips. Sugar alcohols, typically found in a lot of “sugar free” producs and even in many protein bars, can be distressing to the digestive system of sensitive individuals. All of these can lead to food intolerances, which may have one or more of the following symptoms:
Symptoms of food intolerance include:
- Nausea/stomach pain
- Gas, cramps or bloating
- Irritability or nervousness
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Skin-related conditions (acne and eczema)
- Joint pain
How long does it take for food intolerance symptoms to show?
According to the GI Society, food intolerances can occur as soon as 30 minutes after ingesting a potential trigger, to 48 hours afterwards. The tricky part? They dan last up to a couple of days! When you do an elimination diet, it is suggested to only reintroduce 1 food type at at time (for instance—if you are introducing dairy, have a spoonful of yogurt on day one). You then track any symptoms that you have for the following 2-3 days.
Not to confuse things, but FODMAPs can also cause digestive distress. The difference with FODMAPs vs. food sensitivities is that food sensitivities (or intolerances) can involve other symptoms that are not digestive in addition to digestive symptoms.
What are the most common food intolerances?
Did you know that up to 20% of the world’s population may suffer from a food intolerance? Since that number is pretty significant, and because there are soo many foods out there, use this list to try to see which foods you may have issues with.
- Dairy. Lactose is a sugar found in milk and dairy products. If you don’t have lactase—an enzyme which breaks down lactose—you may have digestive issues that result. Lactose intolerance is extremely common; yours truly suffers from it as well!
- Gluten. Gluten is the general name given to proteins found in wheat, barley, rye and triticale. Intolerances to glutens can cause celiac disease (an autoimmune condition) or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. (Read more here about the positive effects of a gluten-free diet).
- Peanuts. Peanut allergies are very common, but some people (me again!) also have a sensitivity to them. Signs of a peanut sensitivity are digestive or respiratory issues.
- Caffeine. Say it isn’t so! Yes, sad but true, caffeine can be a culprit for some, causing anxiety, jitters, nervousness and insomnia.
- Soy. Soy can be a common cause of IBS symptoms—and unfortunately it’s in many packaged foods as well as foods purchased at restaurants. Soy can cause gastrointestinal issues as well as irritability, migraines and headaches. It’s important to note that because most soy is genetically modified, some people believe that it’s the modified version that causes issues. In this case, organic soy can be a help.
- Corn. Similar to soy, corn is in a majority of foods and 90% of it is genetically modified. Corn’s proteins can irritate the gastrointestinal tract of people who are also intolerant to gluten and other grains, so if your symptoms haven’t subsided after cutting out wheat and/or all gluten, consider ditching corn for a while too.
- FODMAP’s. FODMAPs are are types of carbohydrates found in certain foods, including wheat and beans. They can cause GI distress for some; doing a low-FODMAP diet for 2-6 weeks can be helpful in determining if any of these are issues.
- Chemicals, Pesticides and Additives in Foods. So many foods are laden with colorings, additives, sweeteners and flavorings that it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of the intolerance sometimes. Some people who seem to have lactose or gluten intolerance can handle organic products, leading many to suspect it’s the chemical additives that are actually the problem.
The only way to know for sure is to keep a food diary, and note what causes your symptoms. If consuming homegrown or organic versions of the products cause you no ill-effects, it may well be a chemical sensitivity, rather than a food intolerance that you are suffering.
Why do I suddenly have food intolerances?
Before I fully answer that question – let’s remember that a healthy gut is not fond of processed foods, alcohol, unhealthy foods, etc. Eating the typical Standard American Diet can lead to your gut becoming damaged, which can later cause a reaction to some foods that cause inflammation.
But what about the foods that are typically healthy? Why do these suddenly not agree with you? In a nutshell, a food intolerance occurs when your body mistakes a harmless food protein as a threat and produces IgG antibodies—which can result in inflammation and discomfort in a variety of different ways. Something has to have changed in your body to now consider this food to be a threat. This could be due to anything from contracting an infection, stress/anxiety, or even certain medications.
Whatever the case may be—whether you’ve gotten a leaky gut or you’ve developed an intolerance, there’s a chance that some of these have actually been developing for years, and they just now have showed up.