Understanding Food Intolerances and Sensitivities
Disclaimer: Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professionals with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.
If you suffer from food intolerances or sensitivities, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that up to 60% of the population experiences some type of uncomfortable reaction when eating certain foods. But what is the difference between intolerance and sensitivity?
What is a Food Intolerance?
A food intolerance is an adverse reaction caused by an enzyme deficiency in the body. This means your digestive system is unable to properly break down certain foods, resulting in symptoms like gas, bloating, cramping, diarrhea, headaches, and skin rashes. The most common food intolerances are dairy products, gluten-containing grains (wheat, barley, rye), eggs and soy.
What is a Food Sensitivity?
Food sensitivity occurs when your immune system reacts negatively to a particular food or type of food. This can result in inflammation throughout the body as well as digestive issues such as nausea and vomiting. The most common sensitivities are usually to nuts or shellfish but can also include other foods such as legumes and nightshades (tomatoes, peppers).
Food Intolerances vs. Sensitivities
While food intolerance and sensitivity are often used interchangeably, they are actually two distinct conditions. A food intolerance is an adverse reaction to a certain type of food that does not involve the immune system, and rather an enzyme deficiency.
On the other hand, food sensitivity is an adverse reaction that involves an immune response. It occurs when your body mistakenly identifies a harmless substance as something harmful and triggers an immune response against it.
Living With Intolerances & Sensitivities
The best way to manage food intolerances and sensitivities is to identify which foods are causing the reactions and eliminate them from your diet, as well as eating the best diet to strengthen the function of your digestive system. Many people find it helpful to try an elimination diet for 30 days where they completely remove all potential trigger foods from their diet for this period of time and then gradually reintroduce them one at a time to identify which ones cause reactions.
Working with a naturopath or nutritionist can help to identify, and manage either of the above conditions as well as support you in building up your gut health to potentially tolerate a wider range of foods in the future.