Dealing with food intolerances, allergies, and chemical sensitivities can be daunting, especially if you have SIBO. You're already dealing with painful SIBO symptoms, so it's more frustrating and stressful when some of your favourite foods are suddenly off-limits too.
I've been there myself. Before my SIBO diagnosis, I was reacting to an ever-increasing list of foods. Some days I was fine, but other days I responded terribly to the food I used to love. I never knew what I would react to, or how severely. I remember the common culprits then were gluten, dairy, and high fodmap foods.
I know these food reactions can often feel overwhelming. That’s why I’ve written this blog, to help you better understand the difference between food intolerances, allergies and chemical sensitivities, how to know if you have one and some tips on managing them.
The difference between food intolerances, allergies and sensitivities
When you have a food intolerance, you have difficulty digesting specific foods and often react to the protein (e.g. gluten gliadin, dairy casein and whey) or sugar (e.g. fructose in fruit/vegetables). This can be caused by our body not producing enough digestive enzymes to break them down. Digestive enzymes help to shorten the molecules so we can digest and absorb them easily.
The purpose of our small intestine is to absorb the nutrients from our food. When we are lacking in digestive enzymes and our food isn’t broken down properly, the larger particles of food cross the small intestine lining and travel into the bloodstream, which can create an IgG immune response in our body. This can cause symptoms like bloating, diarrhoea, and stomach pain.
If you suspect you’re intolerant to specific foods, your practitioner may recommend you undergo an IgG blood test. This test will show if your body reacts to particular foods in a mild, moderate or severe manner.
Food allergy is the immediate immune system reaction to a particular food. There are two types of food allergies: IgE-mediated and non-IgE-mediated.
IgE-mediated reactions are the most severe and can occur within minutes to hours of eating the trigger food. Non-IgE-mediated reactions, on the other hand, are less severe and can take days or weeks to develop.
Symptoms of a food allergy can affect different areas of the body and mimic a histamine reaction. For other people, their body can go into a complete anaphylactic response which causes blood pressure to drop suddenly and airways to narrow. This reaction can be fatal and requires immediate medical attention.
If you're allergic to a particular food, you might need to avoid that food for life. However, some people also have success with low-dose immunotherapy. A study shows that Oral immunotherapy (OIT) is "an effective treatment for inducing desensitisation in patients with allergies to eggs, milk, and other dairy products."
If you think you have a food allergy, see a doctor immediately for proper testing and diagnosis. Once diagnosed, the best way to manage a food allergy is to avoid the trigger food altogether.
Chemical sensitivities are one of the most common culprits in digestive issues for many SIBOers. The main food chemicals SIBO patients are sensitive to are histamine, salicylates and oxalates.
When you have histamine sensitivity, you can struggle to eat fermented foods, aged cheese, ripened foods such as tomatoes and bananas, alcohol, leftovers and more. Meanwhile, salicylates are present in foods like cauliflower, mushrooms and pine nuts. Soy, spinach and potato are also high in oxalates, which can trigger inflammation and other painful symptoms.
Unfortunately, no lab tests can be undertaken to identify a chemical sensitivity. That's why it's essential to find a practitioner specialising in chemical sensitivities. They can help take a detailed history and track reactions to foods to help you uncover what's going on.
Tips for managing intolerances, allergies and sensitivities
Track everything you eat
Keeping a record of what you eat is beneficial in identifying symptoms you develop after eating certain foods. You can use a journal and start writing down everything you put into your body. This includes the ingredients of your meals, what you drink, and even the supplements or medicines you're taking.
If you need a guide on how to track your food intake, check out my Food and Mood Diary. This tool helps you tune in with your body and see patterns in your symptoms. If you're working with a practitioner, you can also share your Food and Mood Diary with them so they can see how your body is responding to foods.
Manage the intake of these foods
Once you've identified which foods you react to, you may need to reduce or remove these foods from your diet temporarily. How much you limit exposure to these foods will depend on how severe your symptoms are.
When reintroducing foods after a break from them, remember to take this phase slowly. For example, if you get symptoms after eating food made with cow's milk and you want to eat dairy products again, start with goat's cheese first and see if you can tolerate it. You can also add a digestive enzyme, such as lactase, to help break down the sugar molecule.
Finding a practitioner specialising in food intolerances can help you identify which foods are problematic. They can help you track reactions, do tests, create a list of food you can eat, and work on how to start food reintroduction.
Always remember that no two people are alike when dealing with food sensitivities. We're all on different journeys, so you need to ensure you're with the right practitioner who can help you manage your symptoms.
If you want to learn more about food intolerances, allergies and sensitivities, check out my 5WC Challenge On Demand.
When you sign up, you get instant access to 5 weeks of invaluable SIBO content and expert insights all in one place. You can access all the lessons, videos and other resources in this program in your own time, at your own pace, and use it as many times as you want.