If you have a bad reaction after eating a certain food, you might have a food allergy or a food intolerance. A food allergy occurs when your body’s immune system incorrectly perceives a food as a harmful invader and attempts to fight it off. A food intolerance, or sensitivity, occurs when your body does not have a specific enzyme necessary to digest a food or an ingredient in it, such as a chemical or dye.
Food allergies and intolerances can produce similar symptoms, such as abdominal pain and bloating, nausea, vomiting, gas, and diarrhea. However, while food intolerances usually aren’t dangerous, a severe allergic reaction could lead to life-threatening anaphylactic shock. Therefore, you should call 911 or go directly to the nearest hospital emergency room if you experience difficulty breathing or swelling in your lips or tongue. Additionally, if you regularly experience gastrointestinal distress after eating, you should see a doctor who can pinpoint the cause.
Foods Commonly Associated With Intolerances
Many food intolerances can be linked to the following three ingredients:
- Lactose — A natural sugar found in milk, cheese, and other dairy products
- Sulfites — Preservatives found in wines, sodas, pickled foods, and canned vegetables
- Gluten — A protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and other grains
Even though a food intolerance is not life-threatening, it can be unpleasant. The best strategy is to work with a doctor who can identify the problematic food ingredient so you can avoid any foods that contain it.
Getting to the Bottom of a Food Intolerance
Because the symptoms of a food intolerance may take several hours or longer to develop, the source is not always readily apparent. As part of the diagnostic process, a doctor may suggest a general food sensitivity test, such as a skin test or a blood test, followed by a more comprehensive elimination diet.
After a skin test or blood test confirms the existence of a food intolerance, an elimination diet can help pinpoint the source. The process involves avoiding the foods most commonly associated with intolerances until the symptoms subside, then reintroducing each food, one at a time, while monitoring for the return of symptoms.
Are you interested in being tested for a food intolerance? If you’re a member of Optimum Direct Care, food sensitivity testing is included in your membership. Contact our direct primary care practice in Orlando, FL, to learn more.