When people first start their journey to making better nutritional choices, they can come across foods that their systems just don’t agree with. Whether it’s gas, bloating, diarrhea, or a number of other different possible reactions, it seems that adverse reactions happen every time a specific food enters their digestive tract. Phrases that your Rochester nutritionist will often hear misused by patients are “food allergy” and “food intolerance”. It is important to note that these two terms are not interchangeable and there are very distinct differences between them. Let’s talk about food allergies/intolerances, what the differences are, and how you can use that information to get better control of your nutrition.
How did I become allergic to certain foods?
The immune system is designed to identify substances that are dangerous and will activate mechanisms designed to remove the substance from your body. It’s why you get itchy when you touch poison ivy; the body is telling you to remove the dangerous substance from your skin. Unfortunately, this system can become sensitive to foods that aren’t dangerous. A food allergy is characterized when the body's defense mechanisms activate to a food that it perceives as a foreign threat. The reason why some people become allergic to certain foods is unknown, but there is strong evidence suggesting genetics plays a significant role. The fact that food allergies can run in the family reinforces this concept.
The symptoms of a food allergy can have varying degrees of severity; peanut allergies for example can range from a minor skin rash to severe difficulty breathing. One of the biggest differences between an allergy and an intolerance is that an allergy can be life-threatening and the reaction happens immediately. If an allergy is suspected it is important to get tested right away. An allergy test will check all of the common allergens and once completed you will know if that food needs to be avoided altogether. These tests can be done at your primary care office or by an allergist.
How is an intolerance different?
Food intolerances are simply digestive preferences. There is no immune response taking place and the symptoms take much longer to develop. Most symptoms of a food intolerance are not life-threatening but ignoring them long-term can lead to chronic conditions and an increased risk of certain digestive disorders. Symptoms of intolerance are typically due to an adverse reaction to certain additives in foods. It can also be reactions to chemicals that can be found in certain foods. Glutamine is an example of a common chemical people can be intolerant to and will produce headaches and muscle tightness.
Intolerances can also be caused by metabolic conditions which prevent the proper digestion of certain foods. Lactose intolerance is the body's inability to break down lactose. Instead, the sugar will be broken down by gut bacteria causing bloating, gas, and inflammation. There are genetic tests that can be done to check for metabolic intolerances. Unfortunately, other intolerances are only discovered simply through trial and error. The best course of action would be to keep a diary to track your foods and note how you felt after you ate them. This could be done through an elimination diet where foods are slowly re-introduced into your daily life and their effects are tracked each week.
If you feel like food allergies or intolerances are affecting your nutrition goals and are looking for help tracking foods, schedule a nutritional consultation with your Rochester nutritionist. At Rush-Henrietta Family Chiropractic, your nutritionist in Rochester has been helping people learn how to track their meals and understand how different foods are affecting their digestive systems. Give us a call and schedule a free consultation today.