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Is food intolerance making you sick? How to know

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Find out if you have a food intolerance

Food really is good medicine, but not all food is healthy for everyone. The truth is there are many ways food can make us sick. If you find yourself having difficulty with energy, itching, weight gain, bloating or other problems, maybe it’s what you’re eating that is causing the problem. The good news is there is an easy way to find out if you have food intolerance or sensitivity.

Food allergy and intolerance

Because we’re all cut from a different cloth, certain foods that are fine for some people can make others sick from toxins.

Food allergies and food intolerance are two different issues

Problems that can occur from food intolerance include gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, flatulence, headache, constipation, anxiety and diarrhea. Heartburn or GERD can also happen in response to eating certain foods. Intolerance to foods like dairy that is common can also make other health conditions worse.

Amy Shah MD is an allergy and immunology specialist who recommends restricting food for one week to one month that she shares at . Following her plan can help you detect which foods are causing undesirable symptoms.

Each time you eliminate a group of foods and then add them back you will need to pay attention to how you feel. If you experience bloating, fatigue, headache, anxiety, diarrhea, constipation, feel lazy or less than normal, eliminate the food from your diet.

Here’s Dr. Shah’s plan that can help you know if your food is making you sick.

  • No wheat or dairy and no eggs or soy for two to three weeks including food with egg in the ingredients. After the time period slowly add the foods back one at a time, three days apart.
  • Next eliminate shellfish, peanuts and corn for two to three weeks. You’ll have to be cautious at restaurants and read food labels. Then do the same as before - slowly add the foods back one at a time, three days apart.
  • Next eliminate tree nuts and fish - follow the same process outlined for the other foods.
  • Lastly, get rid of food and drinks with dyes, artificial sugars and preservatives and MSG for one week, then slowly add then back, again three days apart, but only if you feel you must. That means no alcohol or snacks for a week including popular diet sodas, which might be difficult Shah says - but remember - it’s only for 7 days.

The difference between food allergy and sensitivity

Allergy comes on suddenly and leads to itching, rash and even difficulty breathing that could be life-threatening.

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Food intolerance or sensitivity develops over time

Food allergy can happen if even small amounts of the allergen are ingested. Intolerance occurs when we eat the food frequently or in large quantities.

Keeping a journal can also help you figure out if you have an allergy or intolerance to food. An allergist can test you but eliminating food and paying attention to your body could be less costly and invasive.

What causes sensitivity to food?

Unlike food allergy that is an immune response, a sensitivity or intolerance to foods stems from toxins that react differently in each of us. An example is sulfites in wine that can cause itching and sneezing. Another example is lactose intolerance that affects up to ten-percent of adults.

Tyramine is in many foods including strawberries, yeast, chocolate, fermented cheeses and more.Some research suggests the amino acid can cause migraines. Sodium benzoate that is in thousands of foods and BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) can cause hives for some people.

Increases in asthma, eczema and allergic rhinitis (runny nose) has been implicated as stemming from increased consumption of processed foods that could contain ingredients not listed on food labels.

The bottom line

Eliminating certain foods and drinks from your diet is one way to find out what might be making you sick. If you’re not eating enough fruits and vegetables, try adding more to your diet. Some vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and lettuce help support digestive health that can protect from intestinal damage from eating unhealthy foods. You can feel better and get rid of common problems like headache, bloating, heartburn and low energy by paying attention to how you feel when you eat certain foods. If you have symptoms that persist, schedule a visit with your primary care doctor to find out if you have an underlying health condition. Understanding food intolerance or sensitivity that is different from having a food allergy by eliminating certain produce and drinks and adding food back slowly can mean the difference between unwanted bloating, headache, fatigue and more and feeling your best.


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