How to recognize the signs of a food intolerance?

Food intolerances are digestive and irritative reactions following the ingestion of certain foods or molecules. They are triggered when the intestine is in contact with food that it cannot digest, because it lacks certain enzymes, or because its walls have lost impermeability. Irritation of the organ is generally accompanied by minor digestive problems.

The origins of food intolerance are multiple. They often result from a chronic illness such as Crohn's disease or irritable bowel syndrome or from a deficiency in digestive enzymes. Other factors such as genetics, the environment, a monotonous and unbalanced diet, high consumption of alcohol or processed products can also promote the appearance of food intolerances.

Food allergy or intolerance: what's the difference?

Although the two terms are used interchangeably, intolerance and allergy are two distinct problems. In the case of an intolerance, the disorder is essentially digestive. Allergy is a response of the immune system to the absorption, inhalation or injection of an allergenic agent. Our body defends itself by setting up inflammatory reactions, intended to fight the intruder. Physiologically, this can cause various ailments ranging from asthma attacks to hives, but also much more serious symptoms such as angioedema or anaphylactic shock. A food allergy can therefore prove fatal, unlike intolerance which, even if it is unpleasant, is often benign.

To read: Anti-inflammatory diet: instructions for use

What are the symptoms of a food intolerance?

Intolerances cause mainly digestive disorders such as stomach aches, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea and bloating. Other irritative reactions such as redness and pimples, but also headaches, cold sweats or a feeling of unease are also possible.
Typically, symptoms persist as long as the food is consumed. Once this is ruled out, the symptoms disappear on their own within a few hours or a few days, at most.

What are the different food intolerances?

We are likely to develop an intolerance to all kinds of foods. Sometimes it only concerns one, but when it concerns a molecule, an entire category of products must be eliminated. However, certain intolerances are quite common.

Gluten intolerance

Or the famous celiac disease. It is an intestinal and autoimmune disease of the intestine. The latter produces antibodies in reaction to the presence of gliadin, a gluten protein making up certain cereals. In the long term, these reactions can damage the organ, disrupting digestion and the assimilation of nutrients. The disease is also progressive, patients are sometimes asymptomatic until adulthood. On the other hand, once the disease is declared, it is necessary to follow a gluten-free diet. Gluten intolerance cannot be cured, but can lead to complications if not treated in time.

Lactose intolerance

Lactose belongs to the sugar family and is mainly found in milk. The latter, as well as all its derived products, should be avoided in case of lactose intolerance. This includes butter, cream and cheese.
Lactose intolerance is due to a deficiency of lactase, the enzyme responsible for digesting lactose. The latter cannot be digested, ferments in the stomach, causing gas, diarrhea and pain.

To read: Everything you need to know about cooking without lactose

Sulphite intolerance

Cold meats, wine, dried fruits… Have you noticed that more and more of these products display the words “sulphite-free”? But what are sulphites? To simplify, these are chemical compounds found naturally in fermented foods, which are sometimes added artificially to preserve foods.
Although the symptoms of sulfite sensitivity are similar to those of an allergy, it does not tax the immune system and is therefore classified as an intolerance.

Histamine intolerance

Like sulphites, histamine intolerance has symptoms similar to those of an allergy (runny nose, irritated throat, itching, etc.) without being one. Normally, histamine is broken down by the body. However, it sometimes happens that it is present in too large quantities, because our intestine does not have enough diamine oxidase, the enzyme responsible for its degradation.
As for foods containing histamine, know that there are many of them. Chocolate, tomatoes, yogurts, cold meats, spinach… However, we can tolerate certain foods better than others.

How do I know if I have a food intolerance and what should I do?

Have you noticed that your digestive problems occur right after consuming gluten or dairy products? Maybe it's intolerance. In order not to make a self-diagnosis, it is advisable to speak to a health professional. This could be your general practitioner, a gastroenterologist or a nutritionist. Generally, the first step is to eliminate the suspect food(s) from your diet for a few weeks. They are then reintroduced gradually in order to assess your tolerance threshold.
In certain cases, a blood test may also be prescribed by the practitioner.

Once the testing phase has been completed, you will know which foods to avoid and which to limit. Even if the intolerances are not serious, it is better to scrupulously follow these recommendations. This will prevent you from inconvenience and the problems from getting worse.

On the other hand, if you notice allergic reactions (asthma attack, angioedema, skin problems, etc.), rule out the responsible food(s) as quickly as possible and consult an allergist.

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