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So you think you have a food intolerance?

by Nicole Dynan

Some people have mild reactions to food that are not as severe as allergic reactions but can still cause pain or discomfort. These symptoms are collectively called ‘Food Intolerances’. They can appear in the skin (e.g. rashes, itchiness, eczema, hives or swelling), the gut (e.g. pain, wind, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, reflux or nausea), the airways (e.g. asthma like symptoms, nasal congestion, shortness of breath), the central nervous system (headaches, migraines or painful joints) or can be a general feeling of being unwell.

Food intolerances can come on at any time in life and may not last forever. They may be triggered by something like a stomach bug or just appear with no apparent cause.

Some people tolerate symptoms of food intolerances for years and may not directly associate them with specific foods. They can be caused by naturally occurring food chemicals or food sugars.

Food chemicals are present in most foods such as fruit, vegetables, meat, grains and dairy. They include salicylates, amines and glutamates among others.
Food sugars occur in some foods such as cabbage, onion and garlic. You may know them as ‘windy foods’. The most problematic sugars are called FODMAPs (Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols) and are difficult for some people to break down in their small intestine and hence they make it through to the large intestine where they can be responsible for producing pain, wind and sometimes diarrhoea.

Identifying whether food chemicals or food sugars are the main source of your discomfort is not easy. So knowing how and where to get help for food intolerances can save you a lot of time, pain and money as unreliable testing methods (e.g. IgG, vega testing, hair analysis and kinesiology) are flooding the market and are often offered by unqualified practitioners at exorbitant prices. Scientific and clinical evidence for these tests is dubious.

The gold standard testing method for food intolerances is via accurate recording of a detailed food and symptom diary together with an appropriate diet under the supervision of a qualified practitioner, such as an Accredited Practising Dietitian specialising in food intolerance. It is recommended that the diet be followed for a two to six-week period until symptoms subside, prior to a period of structured reintroductions of foods by food chemical or food sugar group. This method of diagnosis is suitable for most people.

Remember, a food chemical or food sugar elimination diet is a test diet and doesn’t necessarily mean that you will need to avoid certain foods forever. That is why getting support is important.

If you think you could be suffering from a food intolerance, call SSMC for more information or to book an appointment with one of our Dietitians.

Note: Keeping a ‘Food and Symptom’ Diary [Download PDF] for one week prior to your visit can save time and help your dietitian to make a more accurate assessment of your condition.
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