Managing Food Intolerances

In this day and age, it is very common for people to have food intolerances. Weak digestion, unbalanced bowel flora, hypersensitive immune function, stress and poor dietary habits can all play a role in contributing to the symptoms of intolerance. It is very common in clinical practice to see clients showing symptoms related to an inability to properly digest and assimilate certain types of food. Symptoms can be directly related to irritation that these foods cause on the digestive system, such as bloating, reflux, heartburn, flatulence, diarrhoea, bowel noises and constipation. Symptoms may also manifest in different systems of the body, such as skin problems, immune dysfunction or nervous disorders as a direct relation to the intolerance or as a by product of nutritional deficiencies or inflammatory pathways caused by the intolerance to a certain food group.

A qualified Naturopath is able to help their client to identify and treat food intolerances, through the use of allergy testing, or in some cases through a thorough diet and lifestyle analysis. So if you have been diagnosed with food intolerance either by a GP or natural health practitioner, what is the best way to handle it?

The most important thing to do first of all is to remove the offending food from the diet. This by itself will start to alleviate some of the symptoms that the intolerance may be causing. It is important that if a certain food group is being removed from your diet that it is replaced by other wholesome and nutritious foods so that the body gets its complete vitamin and mineral requirements, so as a sufferer it is best getting qualified advice on your nutritional requirements from a naturopath or nutritionist.

Removing the offending food source from the diet is only the first step on a way to recovery. The bodys ability to digest, assimilate and excrete food has to be balanced and supported so that the system can return to normal. This can be done by a few measures:

The addition of bitter tasting foods such as rocket, chicory and endive in to the diet will support the body’s digestive function by enhancing the release of digestive juices. There are also herbs that can be taken to stimulate the bitter response.

Pro-biotic (friendly bacteria) supplements or food sources will help to reduce the hypersensitive immune reaction and support digestion, absorption and elimination of food and toxins. These can be found in natural, unsweetened and unprocessed yoghurts or in fermented foods such as sauerkraut. Supplements are available at most good health food stores.

The removal of any bad bacteria or parasites from the intestinal system may be needed. Your naturopath will be able to prescribe herbs or supplements to combat these if necessary.

Foods that are high in natural fibre (raw fruit and vegetables, whole grains, but not necessarily bran products) will help to regulate bowel movements and support excretion of waste products from the intestines, keeping the digestive system at an optimal condition for absorption. Drinking around 2 litres of water a day will also help to regulate bowel movements.

Foods that are high in natural enzymes will help to support digestion and break down large food particles that can irritate the gut wall- papaya, pineapple and sprouted foods all contain enzymes that support digestion.

Highly refined foods require higher amounts of energy to digest, therefore leaching nutrients that could be used elsewhere in the body. The removal of refined foods from the diet will take stress of digestion and other systems of the body.

Introduce a wide range of foods in your diet that you are not intolerant to. Try some of the fantastic fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices and grains that are now available to buy that you normally wouldnt have tried. Speciality whole food shops and ethnic based supermarkets are able to offer some often fantastic and yummy alternatives to the food that has been removed from your diet. Instead of looking at intolerance as a problem, treat it as an opportunity to explore the world of food and to introduce fabulous new styles of cooking into your lifestyle.

Reducing stress levels will also help to encourage proper digestion. A prolonged stress reaction will shut down the body’s digestive processes as the body redirects the energy to be able to cope with the stress. Finding outlets for managing stress and making time for eating meals instead of having them on the run will help the body to absorb food easier.

Regular light exercise will regulate the movement of the bowels therefore excreting build up of toxic wastes that may be contributing to poor digestion. An addition of a good quality multivitamin will support the body back to optimal balance and processing, this can either from a food based source such as spirulina or a pure supplemental form.

If you do have a splurge one night when you go out for dinner on an offending food, make sure you really enjoy it. The guilt associated with doing the wrong thing can often be more detrimental than a one off addition of the food substance on the odd occasion.

With the right attitude, advice and necessary supplements, an intolerance can be easily managed, and in some cases even overcome. The best thing is to develop a treatment and lifestyle plan with a qualified professional such as a Naturopath or a Nutritionist. They will be able to personalise a treatment that will enhance your lifestyle and help you get back on the way to re-instating your health and well-being.