July 22, 2015

Why do you want to change your eating patterns? It might be for weight loss or to look better, but for the vast majority of people the goal is to alleviate symptoms of health concerns and to feel better. Food sensitivity can play a major role in well-being.

Sometimes the foods we grew up eating no longer suit. The growing incidence of non-coeliac gluten sensitivity is a perfect example. With symptoms as varied as fatigue, headaches, migraines, bloating, abdominal pain, reflux leading to heartburn, loss of ability to concentrate, foggy brain, depression, joint pain, skin rashes such as eczema and dermatitis, mouth ulcers, diarrhoea, and constipation, it’s no wonder people want to feel better.

Eliminating gluten-containing foods containing wheat, barley, rye and often oats helps and is surprisingly easy. The difficult part can be making the change: “Well if I can’t eat bread, cereal or pasta, what will I eat?” Rest assured, you won’t starve. Fruit and vegetables, meat, nuts, seeds, dairy, and fats are all gluten-free.

The next food which may cause a concern is dairy. Many people can’t digest the sugars in dairy products, which can cause symptoms such as diarrhoea, nausea, bloating, abdominal cramps and gas. Luckily most of these people can happily eat cheese or lactose-free dairy products.

Others find that it’s the specific dairy proteins in dairy that they can’t tolerate. Symptoms may include itchiness, rashes, swelling, watery eyes or nose, coughing or sneezing, difficulty breathing, hives, and abdominal issues. For these people, it’s best to avoid dairy completely.

Of course, gluten and dairy are not the only foods that could be causing discomfort, pain and other symptoms, but they’re so common in our diets that it’s worth considering these as potential causes of niggling health concerns.

So if you’re suspicious, what can you do about it?

Of course you can see your doctor, who will likely refer you to an allergy specialist. Unfortunately this is not always the best solution. Testing can be done for allergy, not necessarily for intolerance.

An allergy is defined as something that usually comes on suddenly, that a small amount of food can trigger, that happens every time you eat the food, and can be life-threatening. Complete elimination of a food is required.

An intolerance is something that usually comes on gradually, may only happen when you eat a lot of the food, may only happen if you eat the food often, and is not life-threatening. Despite being less severe, most people respond favourably if they treat the intolerance in the same way that they would treat the allergy – total elimination. Doing this for four weeks and then trying to reintroduce the food will usually tell you whether or not it’s a problem.

It’s important to recognise that if you’re taking a medication for symptoms, you’re not treating the cause. Where possible, look to food remedies and aim to reduce or eliminate medication. You’ll have far superior well-being than just masking symptoms.