Food sensitivities are more common than you may think. While many of us can eat anything we want, others suffer from a range of debilitating symptoms when certain foods are consumed.
What is food sensitivity?
Food sensitivity or intolerance basically means your body reacts physically or struggles to digest specific types of food or food additives. Symptoms can include stomachache, bloating, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and a general feeling of malaise.
We’ve all felt uncomfortable after certain meals due to overeating or eating food that has been deep-fried or over-seasoned. Typically, digestive discomfort after an indulgent meal is just a case of indigestion and relieves itself after a while. However, an intolerance appears every time you eat a certain food. It’s important to note food sensitivities are different and less severe than a food allergy.
Common causes of food sensitivity
- Gluten: A type of protein found in cereal grains like wheat, rye and barley
- Lactose: Natural sugar found in dairy products (milk, cheese, yoghurt)
- Fructose: Natural sugar found in all fruits. High fructose fruits include apples and watermelon
- Sulphites: Naturally occurring compounds found in wine, soft drinks and pickles
- FODMAPs: An acronym for Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and Polyols- carbohydrates found in onions, beans, lentils and stone fruits
- Food additives: Used to enhance taste or lengthen shelf life (MSG, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, caffeine)
How an elimination diet can help
Let’s say you suffer from one or more of the symptoms mentioned above after a meal that had either cheese, soy, shellfish or wheat. There’s no way to tell which exact ingredient causes the intolerance. This is where an elimination diet comes into play as an effective way of finding what causes the discomfort.
Start a food diary
Begin by keeping a simple food diary noting what is eaten daily and the ingredients. Be aware of how you feel after each meal and write down any symptoms felt and how long they last. The information garnered from the food diary will help make the planning of the elimination diet easier as you will notice a pattern when certain foods are consumed.
Set a timeframe
Set a time frame (two to three weeks is ideal) and take out the foods that may be making you feel unwell based on the food diary or that you have long suspected to be the cause. The next step is to reintroduce the food and take note of how your body reacts and how you feel. It could also be a question of the amount, so keep track of that, too. An easy way to do this is by splitting the food groups, e.g. start with eliminating gluten, dairy, soy and eggs for the first three weeks then slowly reintroduce each over three-day periods. Do the same with the other food groups.
Yes, this will take time and can be tedious. But it’s also an effective way of finding out what is causing you discomfort. It’s also a good idea to consult with a nutritionist or dietitian to ensure that you are consuming enough nutrients to sustain good health during the elimination period.