Coping with food intolerances

Coping with a food intolerance over the festive period can be difficult. Even trickier is being one of the many people who don’t realise that they have one, or that there are alternative food choices which can make life more comfortable.

Living with a food intolerance is much easier when you know you’ve got one. Many people live with annoying, painful symptoms without ever being diagnosed. If the symptoms listed below sound familiar, it might be worth a trip to the doctor.

A food intolerance is a reaction to a foodstuff you consume which does not primarily involve the immune system. Food intolerances are not usually life-threatening, whereas food allergies can be. If you think you may have a food allergy you should avoid that food, and see your doctor as soon as possible.

Coeliac’s disease is an autoimmune disorder associated with eating gluten. Coeliac’s disease can often present with similar symptoms to food intolerances, but unlike most food intolerances eating the food that gives you a reaction, gluten, can be harmful. Some people who were diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) in the past are now being diagnosed with coeliac’s disease using a blood test.

Lactose intolerance
Symptoms

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhoea
  • Flatulence
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Intestinal noises
  • Reflux

Lactose is the sugar found in dairy products. Lactose is broken down in the small intestine by an enzyme called lactase. People who are lactose intolerant have less lactase than normal. This allows the lactose to pass through the small intestine and into the lower bowel, where it is fermented. The fermentation process produces gases and chemical substances which cause the symptoms associated with lactose intolerance. Approximately 50 per cent of people who suffer from IBS are also lactose intolerant.

Fructose malabsorption
Symptoms

  • Bloating
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Intestinal noises
  • Reflux
  • Nausea
  • Possible depression
  • Possible zinc or folic acid deficiency

Fructose is the sugar found in fruits, vegetables and grains. People who suffer from fructose malabsorption are actually sensitive to fructose, fructo-oligosaccharides (chains of fructose molecules) and galacto-olicosaccharides (chains of molecules containing galactose, glucose and often fructose). These sugars are not absorbed properly by the stomach or intestine, and instead pass into the lower bowel where they ferment. This fermentation process produces gas and chemical substances which cause the symptoms experienced by fructose malabsorption sufferers. Approximately 70 per cent of people with IBS also suffer from fructose malabsorption. 

Click NEXT for more on food intolerances and for some great gluten, fructose and lactose-free recipes!

Sorbitol and xylitol intolerances
Symptoms

  • Bloating
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhoea
  • Intestinal noises
  • Nausea

Sorbitol and xylitol are sugar alcohols commonly used as sweeteners in sugar-free products. They are both absorbed much more slowly in the smaller intestine than other sugars, which in some people results in molecules passing into the lower bowel. Sorbitol and xylitol, as with lactose and fructose, are fermented by the flora in the lower bowel which produces gases and other chemicals. These by-products cause the symptoms associated with sorbitol and xylitol intolerances. Approximately 70 per cent of IBS sufferers are also sorbitol and xylitol intolerant.

Glucose, galactose, sucrose and maltose intolerances
Intolerances to glucose, galactose, sucrose and maltose are much rarer than either lactose intolerance or fructose malabsorption, and usually manifest in childhood. Both lactose intolerance and fructose malabsorption can, and often do, appear from your early twenties through to later life.

Testing
The first thing to do if you suspect you have a food intolerance is to keep a food diary. Write down what you eat every day, the time you eat it, any symptoms you experience and the time they occur. Once you have kept a food diary for a week or two, visit your doctor. He or she will be able to look at your diet and reactions, and suggest the appropriate tests.

The most common test for lactose intolerance, fructose intolerance and glucose intolerance is the breath test. Depending on where you live you will either go into a clinic, or perform the test at home. The breath test will take place over three or four separate days in a two week period. You will be asked to drink a concentrated sugar liquid (it’s a different one each day), and then breathe into a bag at fifteen minute intervals for a few hours. The clinic will then measure the levels of hydrogen and methane in the air in the bags, which will show how well you are digesting the sugar liquid. Other tests, such as blood tests and genetic tests, are also used to look for food allergies and intolerances.

Recipes
The most common treatment for food intolerances is to cut the fructose or lactose out of your diet. Cooking without onion, cheese or fruit can seem difficult, so we’ve put together a few tasty recipes to get you started – and they’re all gluten, lactose and fructose free!

Gluten-free chicken and vegetable pie

Gluten-free buckwheat bread

Orange and almond cake

Do you suffer from a food intolerance? Share your tips and recipes to help our newly diagnosed readers.

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