When is it time to talk to a nutritionist?
Do you find that some foods don’t agree with you? Are you dealing with chronic inflammation symptoms you suspect might be food-related?
Food intolerances or sensitivities can be quiet annoyances or full-on frustrations. And they’re really quite devious—you can react up to five days after eating that food.
Do you remember everything you’ve eaten in the last five days? Nope, me neither. That’s why they’re so hard to identify. As well, it can be really hard to figure out if food is the culprit because it can trigger a whole range of symptoms, from digestive issues, to sniffling/sneezing, rashes, and inflammation anywhere in the body.
What’s the difference between a true food allergy and a food intolerance?
It’s important to differentiate between food allergies and intolerances. Both usually affect the immune system, but true food allergies are much more dangerous and dramatic.
With a food allergy, like peanuts or shellfish, a very small amount can quickly trigger a severe and sometimes deadly reaction. These are foods to stay away from permanently and inform all of your friends and family about.
Food intolerances are quieter. Sometimes, you can have a little bit and not have any symptoms; other times, some of your offending food sneaks into a meal and you’re running to the washroom all night. The trick with food intolerances is that the environment of your gut can play a big role in how strong your reaction is.
The role of a leaky gut
Our small intestine is where most of our food is absorbed, but it requires a very delicate balance. Nutrients are absorbed through our intestinal epithelium, which is only one single cell thick! This thin wall can get damaged easily. When it’s working perfectly, our small intestine only lets fully digested carbs, fats, and proteins along with nutrients through. But if any of those cells become damaged, then larger protein chains can make their way into the bloodstream.
This is where our immune system gets involved. To our immune system, those protein chains look a lot like a virus or bacteria, and it ramps up to attack.
But, this protein is just a bit of gluten or some casein from dairy, so it’s not actually harmful. Our immune system can’t tell the difference, so it mounts an attack and creates an antibody so it can remember what to do the next time it sees this protein.
In North America, we tend to get into dietary ruts pretty easily and we eat the same handful of foods day in and day out. If one of those foods is something the immune system has deemed an offender, then it is left on guard for days, weeks, or even years.
When we feel symptoms of our newly-minted food intolerance, it might start with a rumble of indigestion or a strong bout of seasonal allergies. Or your hands are achy or your joints hurt. For kids, this inflammation might hit their bladder and trigger occasional bedwetting.
Food intolerances are more common than you’d think—up to 20% of us have at least one mild food intolerance! It’s important to find these offenders and remove them from our diet for a period of time so our immune system can calm down and our gut can heal.
How to do an elimination diet
The most common food intolerances are gluten, dairy, eggs, caffeine, and corn. These are a good place to start unless you already have an idea of what your offenders might be.
Honestly, any food can become a sensitivity and finding the culprit can be tricky. Food intolerance testing is available through many naturopaths to help you nail down which foods your immune system is struggling with.
The first step is elimination—removing the offending foods for two to three weeks. Even a small bit of this food can trigger an immune reaction, so you need to be diligent and keep these foods out.
Then, do a food challenge—one at a time (with one week between each challenge), enjoy a few servings of one of the foods. Watch for any symptoms over the next five days.
Choose one day a week that’s your challenge day; it’s a good idea to pick a day off, in case you have any digestive symptoms. Enjoy that food for one day, and then remove it again.
Once you’ve challenged each of the foods you’ve eliminated, add back in any that didn’t cause any symptoms. Keep your new-found food intolerances out of your diet for three months and try again.
When to call in a nutritionist
A Holistic Nutritionist can be a great support throughout this journey, especially if you’re not sure which foods to eliminate, your list is super long, or you’re struggling because you have to remove all of your favourite foods (it’s a real problem for many!).
Also, your favourite nutritionist can help you heal your gut which might help you get those offending foods back into your diet sooner.
We’re here to help and we can help you find the easiest path through your elimination diet.
Lisa Kilgour, rhn is one of Nature’s Fare Markets’ Registered Holistic Nutritionists. She is Board Certified in Practical Holistic Nutrition and provides free half hour one-on-one nutrition consultations in our stores. Check out the appointment schedule on page four and book your free appointment in-store today or online at naturesfare.com.
Learn more: lisakilgour.com