Food allergies and sensitivities make it hard to know what you can eat. But, before you resign yourself to a bland diet, there are a few steps you can take to make sure you correctly diagnose your situation and make changes that will help you feel better -- rather than following misinformation that can do more harm than good.
The chemical makeup of most foods is very complicated, which is why food intolerances are misdiagnosed.
While it's easy to point to a high-level category as the cause of stomach issues (think dairy, gluten, nightshades), scientists are most excited about FODMAPS and how it might hold the answer for individual sensitivities.
FODMAPS stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, which are a natural set of components in the foods you eat. The bacterias in these different foods are what cause problems for different individuals. So, if you can understand your FODMAP sensitivities (if you have them), then you can navigate your diet and know what to eat (and what to avoid).
The "Myth" of Food Intolerance
Let's make one thing clear: When you have stomach issues, it's not a problem that's self-created. In other words, you can't eat food so often that you "eat your way" into stomach issues. Instead, the sensitivity -- if it appears out of nowhere -- could've been trigged later in life, similar to how some people suddenly develop allergies.
Like many issues in your body, scientists haven't solved the case of what triggers all allergies and sensitivities, or why some people struggle and others don't.
If you discover that certain foods are causing issues, it’s important to understand why your stomach might be sensitive to certain foods, and what you should do about it.
Why Your Stomach Hurts
Sometimes it seems like you can become sensitive to food out of nowhere. When that occurs, it’s possible that you have a food intolerance or sensitivity (the terms are interchangeable).
The symptoms most often associated with food intolerance are cramping, gas, bloating and diarrhea. But, there is a lot about food intolerance that we still don’t know.
It’s possible that changes to your diet lead to strong reactions. For example, if you change to a plant-based diet and are eating more greens and fiber, it's very likely that some foods could seem problematic, when (in reality) your body just might be adjusting to your new dietary habits.
Or, you could be eating food that has a hidden ingredient that causes stomach distress. Protein powders are a great example. Ladder Whey Protein and Plant Protein were created free of artificial sweeteners or anything that stresses your GI tract. These artificial sweeteners don't have a caloric value, but they can wreak havoc on your gut.
More importantly, foods that disrupt your gut might change your entire internal environment, and then many other foods that might not be a real issue for a body could signal a "false positive" and apparently be an issue for your body.
That's where fixing the symptoms becomes tricky. If you have a food intolerance (note: not food allergies), then removing the food and keeping it out of your diet might do the trick (more on this in a moment). But, if you have a bigger picture issue -- like gut inflammation -- removing foods that aren’t necessarily the problem might not be enough.
The good news is that if you fix the problem (such as reducing inflammation), you should be able to go back to consuming foods that became a problem.
Your Food Intolerance Plan
This is where FODMAPS becomes a friendly guide for returning you to a better stomach environment and a diet you can manage.
Simply look for foods that rate high on FODMAPS and remove them from your diet. That's the first step. Then, gradually add one food at a time back to your diet. It's a process, but it's better than always feeling like so many foods are a problem.
To get you started, here is a list of foods that you might want to consider removing if you have stomach discomfort.
- Oligosaccharides: barley, chicory, garlic, legumes, lentils, onion, wheat, rye
- Disaccharides: Dairy products containing lactose, such as ice cream, milk, or yogurt
- Monosaccharides: Apples, mango, pears, watermelon
- Polyols: Apricots, cauliflower, plums, and many artificial sweeteners (Maltitol, Mannitol, Sorbitol, Xylitol)
Remove one group for 2-3 weeks, and then add one food back every three days. If you have a reaction, then you know the food that's an issue.
Over time, hopefully, you’ll be able to add most foods back into your diet, enjoy many (if not all) of the foods your love, and know what you need to avoid.