Food Intolerances Basics: What You Need to Know?

Nutrition
Mar 11, 2020
Nutrition

Food intolerances affect many Australians, causing them to have to change their diets.  However, it is important to understand that food intolerance is not the same thing as a food allergy.  Food intolerance is a reaction to a specific food or ingredient every time that food is eaten, especially if it is eaten in a larger amount.  This reaction is caused by the nerve endings in various parts of the body being irritated.  A food allergy on the other hand is much more serious because it involves the immune system of the body.  Food intolerances are much more common than food allergies.

Symptoms of Food Intolerances

There are different symptoms that may occur as a result of intolerance to a certain food.  These include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • bloating
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal pain
  • bowel irritation
  • sweating
  • headaches or migraines
  • nervousness
  • rapid breathing
  • palpitations
  • a burning sensation in the skin
  • tightness in the chest or face
  • breathing difficulties
  • tiredness
  • mood changes

It is important to note that the reaction suffered by a person is dependent on the amount of the food that they eat.  As an example, someone that is highly sensitive to a certain food will only need to eat a very small amount of it to feel unwell.  This effect is often cumulative as you eat small amounts of the food over a number of days or weeks.  However, if you have a relatively low level of sensitivity, you may only feel unwell after eating a rich meal or eating a lot of foods that have high levels of artificial colours, preservatives or flavours.

Common Causes of Food Intolerances

There are many foods that may not be tolerated well by certain people.  These include:

  • dairy products, especially milk (lactose intolerance is common)
  • chocolate
  • eggs, specifically egg whites
  • additives
  • preservatives
  • artificial colours
  • artificial flavourings
  • flavour enhancers such as monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • wine, especially red wine
  • tomatoes, strawberries and citrus fruits
  • foods containing histamines or other amines

Treating Food Intolerance

The easiest way to find out if you have an intolerance to a certain food is to undertake an elimination diet, before reintroducing foods into your diet one by one to see which one causes the intolerance.  This is best done under the supervision of a doctor or dietician to ensure that you are not missing out on valuable nutrients.  Once the offending substance has been identified, your doctor or dietician can advise you on how to avoid the substance in your daily diet and what suitable replacements would be.

If you suspect that you are lactose intolerant, these can be tested for by undergoing a lactose tolerance test, a hydrogen breath test and a stool acidity test.  These are easily organized by your doctor.

Identifying Troublesome Foods

With all the different foods out there, it can be daunting to think about trying to identify and steer clear of the ones that may affect you.  However, Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code requires that food labels identify certain foods and food substances such as:

  • cereals with gluten or gluten products
  • crustaceans (such as shellfish)
  • eggs or egg products
  • milk or milk products
  • nuts, sesame seeds, and their products
  • peanuts, soybeans and their products
  • sulphites that have been added in concentration of 10mg/kg or higher
  • royal jelly, bee pollen and propolis

All of the above foods must be declared regardless of whether they are used as a whole product or not. They must be declared if they are an ingredient, an element of a compound ingredient, an additive or part of an additive, or a processing aid or part of a processing aid.  This is because the smallest concentration is enough to cause a reaction.

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