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How to resolve food intolerance

Food intolerance (or sensitivities) are becoming an epidemic.  How prevalent they are is very difficult to determine, as many people are simply not aware they are suffering from intolerance.  Whilst there are various theories as to what drives food intolerance, in my mind, a few really stand out.

Before I begin, I just want to clarify that I’m writing of food intolerance, not an allergy.  Food allergies are acute, easily identified immune responses and quite different  from intolerance.  Intolerance involves a reaction to chemicals (either natural occurring or synthetic) and sometimes cause delayed reactions,  occurring even days after exposure.  The symptoms may be chronic and ongoing and not easily related to a specific food.  Because intolerance is quite different to allergy (i.e., doesn’t involve an immune response), allergy testing is of little use in determining what foods to avoid.

The types of symptoms that commonly occur when intolerance is an issue includes (but not exclusively), headache, migraine, skin rashes, abdominal discomfort, nausea, bloating, wind, diarrhoea and or constipation, aches and pains, fatigue, weight gain, heartburn or indigestion, sinus and nasal congestion, anxiety and mood disorders.  In babies and children, there may also be restlessness, irritability, and behavioural problems may be exacerbated.  These symptoms cause varying degrees of discomfort and are very often not related to food as their source.

If you feel you may be suffering from an intolerance, you need to seek the advice of a health practitioner.  I am not going to, at this point explain the complexities of determining if food allergy may be causing your symptoms.  The most common approach to determine if you are suffering an intolerance is via an elimination diet.  Once you have determined the offending food or foods, then you will be advised to avoid them.

But there’s SO much more to it…
It is not uncommon in clinical practice to see a patient developing a growing list of food intolerance.  That is, they start off being intolerant to one food, and become increasingly sensitive to various other foods.  Whilst avoiding the irritating chemical is important, I  don’t believe that this is the end of the story.  Steps need to be taken to reduce your overall chemical load, whilst also improving your bodies ability to tolerate them.

How to resolve food intolerance…

  • Improve your digestive function.  This is quintessential to resolving food sensitivities and being able to jump off the round about that food intolerance often becomes.  For some, this will involve seeking the help of a naturopath or herbalist.  But getting to know your digestive system, understanding common irritants and the things you can do to support its function is important.  I have written an in-depth post on digestion which you can find here.  It offers lots of simple strategies for improving the function of your digestive system.  If you have any type of food intolerance or even suspect that this may be the case, then the most critical thing you need to do is support your digestive system in every way possible. It is not enough to simply avoid the irritant food/s.
  • Clean up your diet – eating an S.L.O.W (seasonal, local, organic, whole) food diet is critical.  Yes, even naturally occurring chemicals can cause of food intolerance.  But if you reduce your overall chemical exposure, you may find you are able to tolerate small quantities of them.
  • Avoid genetically modified (GM) foods – I have read that there has been a 400% increase in allergies since GM foods were introduced.  I have spoken to so many Naturopathic friends in clinical practice over 20+ years and we can all clearly recognise a massive increase in the development of food intolerance (in both adults and kids).  As labelling laws are SO crappy, the only way you can be sure you are not consuming GMO’s is to avoid all packaged and processed foods. Especially avoid vegetable oils, including soy, corn, and canola (though these are often just labeled as ‘vegetable’ oils). Also, avoid any corn derivative including high fructose corn syrup (sugar).  Please also consider what we eat, eats; the meat you eat needs to be fully grass-fed (no grain supplement feed) as this is most often from GMO crops. For more on GM foods and how to avoid them, click here.
  • Lots of variety – by rotating foods, you will automatically reduce your exposure to any one chemical and thus reduce your symptoms.  The poor dietary variety I feel is a common cause of the escalating occurrence of food intolerance.  I find this is a catch twenty-two for many people, who eliminate one food only to replace it with a less irritating food, which they then eat too much of and subsequently develop a new intolerance. Variety is SO important, even nutritionally.
  • Herbal medicine – when professionally prescribed is amazing for supporting and rebalancing the systems of the body involved in the development of the intolerance (such as the liver, gut, nervous system). This can vary from person to person, so herbs need to be skilfully selected after a full health assessment. I’m a huge fan of herbal medicine for restoring health in a safe, effective way.
  • Stress less.  Many people when on holiday or celebrating an occasion, find they are able to tolerate foods they wouldn’t ordinarily tolerate in everyday life.  Stress management is critical.

Don’t just accept that you are, and will always be food intolerant.  By nurturing and rebuilding your digestive system, you can significantly improve your tolerance threshold and enjoy a wide range of delicious whole foods.

Comments or questions about food intolerance?  Post one below and I’ll respond or help if possible.  What’s more, your comment or question may help out another reader.

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How to resolve food intolerance

  • Sally

    Hi Georgia,

    I just wanted to write to say that your blog has become one of my *must reads* in my big list of blogs I follow in feedly. Really loving the content and the tone of your writing. You should be really proud 🙂

    I have a quick question I thought you might be able to help me out with. I understand the importance of homemade broth and during winter it is easy to include in our diet, but I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to include it as the weather gets warmer. I was wondering if you had any suggestions?

    Thanks,

    Sally (of black tahini hommus fame)

    • Hi Sally
      You’re very sweet and thank you so much. When I get comments like yours I am proud and pleased to be helping! In summer, I still do eat soups. I just make them with lighter flavours like my Immune building broth and I add in rice noodles or rice to make a meal of it or just have half a cup full before my meal. I also use it to make brown rice risotto (recipe will be posted at some stage). Eggs poached in broth is delicious too. I also do continue to cook bakes and casseroles, mainly because I find them convenient and serve them with a big fresh salad. If none of that appeals and you want to continue to nurture your gut, then Slippery elm powder taken before a meal is a wonderful, safe remedy. Hope that helps some, G x

  • Sally

    Both of my children are intolerant to many foods, unfortunately even to some of the naturally occurring irritants in fruit and veg. They have had to manage their intake of these foods for the past eight years with much success. But there is light at the end of the tunnel, my ten year old can now tolerate many of the fruits etc she previously couldn’t. We don’t worry about the processed food as we don’t want to eat it anyway. I’ve always given them little bits of the foods they couldn’t tolerate (eg coconut) over long periods ofmtime in the hope their bodies would learn to accept them, I think it has definitely helped with some foods now not causing such a significant problem. Do you agree in the science behind treating these intolerances with small amounts (i.e not enough to cause a severe reaction) of the food that’s actually causing the problem in the first place, similar I guess to what they are doing with kids that have nut allergies?

    • Yes, with intolerance I do but I also strongly advocate variety and most importantly supporting their digestion. Digestion must never be neglected where food intolerance is concerned and is especially critical if they need any form of medication like antibiotics, worm treatments, pain killers etc;

      In the case of “allergy,” this is something that will need to be discussed and conducted under the guidance of a qualified health practitioner.

      Hope that helps, G x

  • Sally O

    Thanks G, I do ensure variety, as you said, too much of anything is not good in regard to intolerance but I did find it interesting reading your comments in regards to too much liquid with or before dinner. Both of my children do tend to drink large amounts of water with their meals. I shall try curbing this and see what happens….I will try the apple cider vinegar but we couldnt do it every day because its high in salicylates and amines, but I guess every now and then is a good start. Thanks again.

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  • Lynsay

    Hi Georgia, great post. I seem to be amine intolerant though, which makes a lot of these suggestions very hard to follow as I have been advised to keep salicylates low as well whilst going through the elimination diet. Interested in any thoughts you might have on improving gut health in my position. But mindful eating / chewing, that I can definitely do!

    • Hi Lynsay,thanks for your question. I understand that salicylates and amines are a concern for many. As you know by following my blog that I advocate eating a variety of SLOW foods. This concept is ironically even more critical for those suffering with intolerance (within non-reactive foods of course).

      I really question where we have gone wrong for so many people to develop a sensitivity to a compound found in such a wide range of whole foods? I think changes in farming methods are largely to blame, so consuming organically grown foods should be a priority (as many pesticides are salycilate based)!

      So my thoughts are:
      Bone broth made with any range of vegetables that you tolerate or even just the bone only is very healing when consumed daily.
      Stress management – critical
      Slippery Elm is very well tolerated in my experience
      I’m hoping your health practitioner is working with supporting your digestion, immune and nervous system also. It really upsets me when a person is told to avoid a large range of product and that’s it! There are many remedies which support the body to become less sensitive to nature given foods and improve resilience. In extremely sensitive patients, homoeopathy is very effective and non-reactive.
      Hope that helps, G x

  • Lynsay

    That is awesome. Thank you so much. I have been thinking about finding a naturopath to work with the dietician, and you have just inspired me to do it. Thanks again, really appreciate it.

  • Angela

    It is amazing how many families out there have issues with intolerance and allergies. That’s what made me stand up and take notice a few years ago and make the choice to embark on a journey of cleaner and healthier living. I am still learning but loving it. My family are enjoying it too and love tasting the flavours of real food.

    • Good on you Angela for actively participating in you and your families health. Thanks for sharing, G x

  • Leanne H

    I’ve been looking into elimination diets and am getting more confused, the Gaps and Failsafe diets are very different. Do you have any recommendations?

    • Leanne, I really recommend undertaking any elimination diet under the guidance of a practitioner. Another perspective is always so valuable if you are not well. Good luck, G x

  • Genni

    Do you know the food detective test? Do you know if it tests for allergy or intolerances? Because they market it for food intolerances but I read that in fact it tests for immune response, so allergies?

  • I’ve just had a quick look, no they are testing for an IgG response to food antibodies (allergy initiate an IgA response). There is a big question mark over just how reliable and useful these tests are. Most clinicians agree that an elimination diets is the most accurate way of identifying an intolerance so I would just ask questions of the company promoting this test. Once again, you just can’t ignore treating the root cause of the intolerance. G x

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