Imagine going out for lunch with a friend and having to skip on all the offerings in the menu fearing what will come to be: Bloating, stomach pain, nausea, and worst of all, diarrhoea. A sense of worry strikes before every gathering involving food or drink, whether it is a peaceful dinner, or a plan to have some beers with friends. This is the life of a person who lives with food intolerance. But while it is difficult, it is not unmanageable.
The National Health Service, United Kingdom, defines food intolerance as difficulty digesting certain foods and having an adverse physical reaction to them.
Food intolerances arise when an individual’s body is unable to digest certain foods. The most common food intolerances include intolerance to lactose, gluten, egg, almonds and soybean.
Why does it happen?
“Food intolerance happens because of three key reasons,” says Dr Anju Sood, a Bengaluru-based clinical nutritionist. “One being the absence of enzymes responsible for digesting the food, the body producing small amounts of the same, and pre-existing conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBD).”
Dr Sood adds that she has seen many people who complain of sensitivity to food additives, causing food intolerance.
While food intolerance can be triggered by a number of foods, the symptoms follow a regular pattern: They usually present a few hours after consumption of the food the individual is intolerant to.
The symptoms of food intolerance include:
- Stomach pain
If one is suffering from any of these symptoms after consuming a particular food or drink, it is best to reduce the quantum of uptake or completely remove it from your diet.
Five common food intolerances
One of the most widely known food intolerances is lactose intolerance. An estimated 65% of the global population suffers from this. This is caused due to the absence of the enzyme lactase which hydrolyses lactose into absorbable sugars, glucose, and galactose.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, flatulence, stomach pain, and diarrhoea.
About 80% of the protein in bread comes from Gluten. And hence proves to be a poor protein source for someone who is gluten intolerant. Recent studies have shown that plant-based gluten-free protein is a good substitute for Gluten in bread. It has also been observed that the nutritive value of bread which use plant-based concentrated sources of protein was higher, making it a good substitute for normal bread.
Many people are afflicted by an intolerance to soybeans. Soybean intolerance presents itself as hives, swelling around the lips and eyes, and itchiness. Stopping the consumption of all soy products is advised for those who present themselves with Soybean intolerance. This includes all food items one can make from soybean, including soy sauce, soy protein, soy protein bars, and all milk substitutes made from soybeans.
A study conducted by M. Barbara and team in 1985 discovered a relationship between soy milk and cow milk intolerance in 23% of the cases. And a relationship between soy milk and seed intolerance in 41% of them.
Intolerance of Almonds and other nuts
Almonds and other nuts also cause intolerance among adults. The reason for this is the absence of Phytase, an enzyme necessary for the breakdown of phytic acid present in oil seeds, cereals and legumes. As much as one-third of the world’s population suffers from micronutrient malnutrition because of an inability to break down phytic acid. Phytic acid on its own, is infamous as a food inhibitor, making nutrients like phosphorus, iron and zinc, which almonds are a rich source of, unavailable to monogastric animals including humans.
Hereditary fructose intolerance, which presents itself in infancy, is characterised by symptoms like nausea, vomiting and abdominal distress. Extreme situations can lead to growth restriction, lethargy, seizures, and progressively, coma. Dietary exposure to fructose, sucrose and sorbitol is why an individual genetically predisposed to fructose intolerance develops symptoms. Young infants with HFI who are being weaned off breast milk with fructose-rich nutrient formulas are the most suspect to develop its symptoms. Acute manifestations include lethargy, seizures, coma, and renal and hepatic failure. Symptomatic treatment for HFI includes intravenous glucose (dextrose), and supportive treatment of hepatic and renal insufficiencies.
A diet that excludes fructose, sucrose and sorbitol is the way to deal with fructose intolerance. This means avoiding foods like maple-flavoured syrup, honey, corn syrup, palm or coconut sugar. As a preventive and surveillance measure, periodic check-up of liver and renal function, and growth is advised if a diet that complies with this is not possible.
How to live with and manage food intolerance
- Keep a food diary, recording the foods one has eaten
- Keep a record of foods that gives you symptoms of intolerance
- Try the Trial Elimination Diet: After identifying foods that give you symptoms, start excluding them one at a time. Reintroduce them into your diet in small quantities after a gap of two to six weeks and see if the symptoms persist. If the answer is yes, it should be completely excluded from your diet.
Living with food intolerance means making lifestyle changes and maintaining discipline when it comes to what one eats. Most common food intolerances are manageable, by consuming small portions of the food one is intolerant to. The problem presents itself with acute symptoms only when one consumes large quantities of the same.
So, the next time you have to plan an outing, make sure to check your food diary and the menu in advance, so your get-together can be a tension-free one.