As a Nutritionist who specialises in the management of food intolerance, I often see patients who have unnecessarily endured restrictive diets for many years.
Today I’d like to talk to you about the road to recovery, so you can stop focusing on what to avoid and look forward to a life filled with your favourite healthy foods.
The food is not the issue: The intolerance is just a symptom.
Food intolerance is purely a symptom of poor gut health and an imbalanced, overactive immune system. Focusing only on eliminating foods without properly addressing the underlying issue will likely lead to further food reactions. This is what I call substitution syndrome.
Substitution syndrome is where we simply swap food a for food b, until we become intolerant to food b, now we replace foods a and b with food c, when we become intolerant to food c we substitute with food d – and so the list of ‘problem foods’ goes on until we have very few ‘safe’ foods remaining.
What causes food intolerance?
A food intolerance begins with poor gut health, which may result from an unhealthy diet, severe or chronic stress, medications, high alcohol or caffeine intake, restrictive eating, over-exercising or parasite infection.
Any of the above (and more) have the potential to reduce the ‘healthy’ microbes in our gut – responsible for digestion, nutrient absorption, controlling/balancing the immune system and maintenance and healing of the digestive lining.
With reduced healthy bacteria, it’s difficult to absorb nutrients, leading to deficiencies of vital nutrients – including those necessary for enzyme production and repairing the gut.
The combination of dysbiosis (microbial imbalance), poor enzyme production, inefficient nutrient absorption and inflammation leads to intestinal permeability (leaky gut). In leaky gut we see inappropriate absorption of large molecules from bacteria, yeasts, food particles and wastes. The immune system will now respond to these large molecules with substances called Immunoglobulin G (IgG) which bind to the substance.
Now that the IgG response has occurred, your immune system recognises this food as a disturbance/threat to your health and will bind to the food particles to ‘protect’ you each time you consume it.
In the case of food intolerances, this IgG response leads to sensitivity, inflammation and may cause destruction of tissues with the response (and resultant damage) increasing over time with continued exposure.
So how do we heal from food intolerance?
While each person is unique and requires an individual plan, I always recommend a three-step approach.
Step 1: Removal
Find your unique dietary requirements through testing or an elimination diet. It is always best to do this under the care of a well-trained Nutritionist or Dietitian to ensure you maintain a healthy, balanced diet and prevent further complications.
Step 2: Repair
Now that problem foods have been identified, it’s time to focus on healing the gut and balancing the immune system. This is the step that unfortunately many people skip and yet it is the most important. A personalised approach is important here as for some it’s as simple as some good supplements and adding some therapeutic foods daily, for others a complete dietary overhaul may be necessary – all depending on the starting point. During this phase, I also recommend general healthy living strategies such as mindful eating and stress support.
Step 3: Reintroduction
Reintroduce the ‘problem’ foods gradually – monitor your body’s response and find your optimum ‘dose’.
By reintroducing previously problematic foods gradually after a successful healing program, you should find that you are able to re-build tolerance. The aim of your healing program should be to ultimately return to a healthy, varied diet which is easily sustained in the long term.
Of course, it’s always best to speak with your health professional and to partner up with a Nutritionist or Dietitian any time you make a significant dietary change.
I hope that this article has helped you to better understand the truth behind food intolerances and helps to prevent you or someone you love from following a life-long restrictive diet. Please share with those you know are suffering or struggling with food intolerance or following a restrictive diet and of course reach out if you have any questions. My team would love to help you.
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