If you feel constantly bloated and sluggish after each meal, your skin is acting up often, or you're having trouble losing weight, chances are likely that you have an intolerance to something you're eating.
Story time: Growing up, I was constantly feeling immediately bloated after almost every meal. I'd feel sluggish both physically and mentally, I had excess fat around my stomach that I couldn't shed despite exercising regularly, I had eczema on my neck, and I had majorly worrisome issues getting my bowels moving (if you catch my drift). Around 2015, I realized that I had all the symptoms of IBS-C, so I tested out a similar meal plan to the low FODMAP diet where I cut out dairy (except yogurt) as well as processed foods (including all bread, which I admit was tough at first since I live in France, the motherland of baguettes). I also reduced my caffeine intake by switching to herbal tisanes after reading about caffeine being a potential trigger. It was worth it since I ended up dropping 10 pounds and I started to feel more awake and focused than ever before.
What are the chances I'm intolerant to something?
More than 20% of the world's population suffers from at least one food intolerance- like me, you may even have one that you never noticed before you got tested or tried an elimination diet (more on that in a minute).
How to Tell if You Have a Food intolerance vs an Allergy
Being intolerant is different from having a food allergy. Here's an easy way to think of it: allergies can cause extreme reactions that can last for days. On the other hand, having an intolerance normally involves instant reactions that tend to be mild.
Here are the most common side effects of food intolerance (according to the UK's national allergy department and Healthline):
Trouble going to the bathroom (i.e. diarrhea or constipation)
Bloating (aka looking like you've got a major food baby)
Rashes & redness
Respiratory issues (like having a runny nose)
So as you may have noticed by now, symptoms of food intolerances can include everything from digestive issues to visible skin reactions to experiencing troubles with your respiratory system.
What are the most common foods and drinks that are known to cause these sensitivities?
It's estimated that over 65% of the world’s population has difficulty digesting lactose, especially anyone of East Asian, West African, Arab, Jewish, Greek, or Italian descent.
I know the photo I shared seems like a combination of all that's delicious in the world, but lactose not only causes digestive problems, it's also one of the main causes behind acne or blotchy redness on the skin!
It's also been proven to cause bad breath while your body struggles to digest it (you may want to lay off the cheese before your next romantic date).
But dairy isn't the enemy for everyone. If you're apart of the lucky 35% of the world who doesn't experience any negative effects from eating dairy, you shouldn't give it up. If you can find fresh and organic dairy products sourced from free-range cows, sheep, goats, or your source of choice, it's actually an incredibly good source of calcium that's highly beneficial for your bones, nerves, muscles, heart, hair, and teeth!
You don't have to be a celiac to experience gluten sensitivity. It's been found that at least 13% of the world population experiences digestive troubles with foods and beverages that include even the faintest traces of gluten.
Eating too much gluten on a daily basis can damage your intestinal lining, causing leaky gut, yeast overgrowth (i.e. candida), and IBS. Overconsumption of gluten can even trigger celiac.
Plus, have you ever heard of what gluten can do to your face? Similar to sugar and dairy, gluten can activate inflammation of your skin, causing everything from redness in your complexion to visibly dark under-eye circles!
It may surprise some of you that caffeine is on this list. Most people associate caffeinated drinks like coffee with doing, well, um, number two... But for many people, acidic caffeinated drinks such as coffee can lead to stomach irritation. It also worsens symptoms for those dealing with IBS, leaky gut, or heartburn.
For certain people, caffeine can also act as a diuretic, increasing urine production and leading to dehydration and constipation.
What's more, since caffeine has been shown to increase your body's adrenaline and noradrenaline hormones, this causes more blood to pump in your heart, indirectly decreasing blood circulation to your intestines and slowing down digestion.
Too much caffeine consumption, especially from highly-acidic coffee, can actually induce ulcers, cause irritation, and increase inflammation of your delicate stomach lining.
Having an allergy or intolerance to salicylates is pretty common. Unfortunately for those with a sensitivity to it, salicylate is surprisingly abundant in our everyday foods, beauty products, and health products. (Check this list out to get an idea of how many things include this chemical).
If you're constantly experiencing headaches, nasal congestion, itching, or stomach pain, you may want to try eliminating it from your diet for at least 2-3 weeks before reintroducing it to see if anything improves.
5. FODMAP Foods:
For anyone with IBS, Crohn's, or similar digestive issues, you've probably already heard of FODMAP. If you have trouble digesting food, feel constantly bloated, have either constipation or diarrhea, or feel bad after eating, you may have IBS. Surprisingly, at least 14 of every 100 people in the US have IBS, most of them without knowing it. The reason people are still undiagnosed is that the symptoms seem so "normal," so victims assume that everyone is dealing with the same issues. I have IBS too, and it took me about 10 years before I figured it out.
I also combined my new eating habits with intermittent fasting for the added detox and cognitive benefits. Long story short- eliminating triggers from your diet may be a tough sacrifice at first, but it's totally worth it.
Learning about FODMAP helps to understand what may be potential triggers. The term FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and Polyols.
In other words, FODMAP stands for a category of short chains of carbs and sugars that aren't able to be completely absorbed by your body.
Low-FODMAP diets can provide remarkable benefits for many people with common digestive disorders.
According to a recent study, 75% of people with IBS benefited from a low-FODMAP diet. Here are some of the high FODMAP foods you'd need to avoid. Prepare to feel sad, because it's just about everything that's delicious on this planet:
Fruits: Raw apples, apricots, blackberries, cherries, dates, figs, pears, peaches, watermelon
Sweeteners: ALL artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, and honey
Dairy products: ALL dairy products (including whey) that include lactose
Vegetables: ALMOST ALL root vegetables (including garlic and onions!) for whatever reason, plus mushrooms and okra
Legumes: Basically ANY legume that isn't soaked beforehand
Wheat: Essentially ALL gluten
Other grains: ALL grains with gluten (like wheat, barley, and rye)
Beverages: Beer, fortified wines, any drinks with high-fructose corn syrup, anything with lactose, soy milk, and fruit juices
After a few weeks of this low FODMAP torture, you can reintroduce these foods one at a time. As hard as it is, this temporary diet from hell could really help to determine which foods are responsible for your symptoms. (Plan B, a more realistic choice to achieve a similar objective, is the Whole30 diet).
Foods like wine and cheese are rich in an amine called histamine. Many people have a really hard time breaking down histamines in their digestive systems, which ends up causing allergy-like reactions like sneezing, headaches, and hives.
People who are intolerant to histamine can also experience stomach cramps and low blood pressure.
7. High Fructose Corn Syrup:
High fructose corn syrup has earned such a bad reputation by now that the fact that this ingredient made it on this list should be no surprise.
This highly-synthetic syrup basically causes all the same reactions as sugar does (but times 100). Unlike regular cane sugar which contains a natural combination of fructose and glucose, high fructose corn syrup doesn't have any chemical bonds between the fructose and glucose molecules, meaning the fructose is released into our bloodstream more instantly, triggering major spikes and crashes in blood sugar.
Health experts believe the regular consumption of this chemical is directly correlated to obesity, fatty liver disease, diabetes, gout, heart disease, and certain cancers. What's more, 9 out of 20 products with high fructose corn syrup have been found to contain mercury. Side effects of heavy metal accumulation include forgetfulness, chest pain, vision-related problems, anxiety, loss of appetite, and fatigue.
Even consuming high fructose corn syrup every once in a while can lead to instant inflammation in your body, increased appetite, and reduced feelings of fullness after a meal. It's already been proven that people are likely to eat more as an attempt to feel satisfied.
Be wary! Most labels have sneakily disguised high fructose corn syrup! To find this ingredient today, you need to look for HFCS-90, fructose, or fructose syrup. In 2015, the Corn Refiners Association stated, high fructose corn syrup "will not state high fructose corn syrup on the label [anymore]. They will state 'fructose,' '[HFCS-90]', or 'fructose syrup."
8. Food Colorings:
Americans are consuming more than five times as much food dye as we did in 1955. It's no coincidence that we've also been experiencing more digestive problems since then too.
Food colorings are so dangerous and detrimental for your health, this topic deserves its own article. But in the meantime, know this- food dyes have been proven to cause reactions in many people.
Most food dyes today are made from petroleum (gross), meaning they're highly synthetic and the furthest thing from natural. While most artificial food dyes have already been banned in Europe, the American FDA still allows many of them to be included in their products.
Consuming these food colorings can cause hyperactivity and ADHD, especially in children. They've also been known to trigger allergic reactions, gas, and bloating.
9. Sugar alcohols:
Sugar alcohols are major triggers for some.
Consuming "sugar-free” drinks that include sugar alcohols like aspartame, xylitol, lactitol, and erythritol are known to lead to major digestive issues like bloating, excess gas, and diarrhea.
So What's the Solution?
Temporary elimination diets that remove trigger foods like low FODMAP or Whole30 can help improve your symptoms by removing the foods that you're intolerant to.
Sticking to these diets for a month (or an absolute minimum of 21 days if you really can't stand it) is the most effective natural solution to majorly improving your symptoms. Once your diet is completed, introduce each previously-forbidden food one at a time while monitoring for symptoms so you can find the culprit and target your intolerances.
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