Are you avoiding particular foods or food groups because you suspect you have certain food sensitivities? Did you know that the more we restrict our diet, the more our food intolerances increase? Read the article below to find out what’s causing food intolerances (it’s not the food!) and how to approach food sensitivities intelligently.
Food is NOT causing food intolerances
Firstly, let’s make the distinction between food allergies and food intolerances. An allergy towards a particular food is a sever reaction of the immune system that causes shock and in some cases death. If you know you are allergic to certain foods, you must avoid them or else you would be putting your health and life at risk.
Food intolerances, on the other hand, are a digestive issue due to a gut microbiome imbalance. When the gut microbiome becomes compromised, we can no longer digest food properly and we become “sensitive” to certain foods, i.e. eating them causes us digestive discomfort. Note that, unlike food allergies, food intolerances are not caused by an overreaction of the immune system. Instead, food intolerances are simply a function of an imbalanced microbiome. Of course, an imbalanced gut microbiome that compromises your digestion can easily lead to leaky gut which, in turn, can trigger the immune system. But the immune system issues here are the result of, not the cause for food intolerances (as opposed to food allergies which are caused by an already malfunctioning/over-reactive immune system).
Now, what causes gut microbiome imbalances in the first place? Too much sugar, alcohol and highly processed food (all of which are more like a drug and not food), lack of sleep and exercise, stress and some medications are among the main reasons why we may suffer gut microbiome issues (e.g. indigestion, gas, bloating, IBS, weight gain, etc.). Crucially, when we restrict our diet and eliminate more and more foods from it, we are only contributing to less and less diversity of the gut microbiome and therefore increasing our food sensitivities. Have you tried eliminating a particular food for a long time and then gone back to eating it only to find out that it does indeed trigger you? It’s because you lack the necessary microbes in the gut to digest it. And you certainly won’t grow any of the necessary bacteria by severely restricting your diet. What you need is, in fact, just the opposite – more diversity in your diet so you can grow more diverse microbiome and therefore improve your digestion and food tolerance.
To be clear, when I talk about a diverse diet, this of course excludes highly processed foods, sugar and alcohol – these are not real food anyway, they act more like a drug causing addictions; they also feed the bad bacteria (e.g. candida) and destroy the microbiome. A diverse healthy diet includes real, minimally processed fiber-rich whole foods. If your digestion is already too compromised, prefer cooked (steamed/baked) meals over raw to start off with. But don’t eliminate too many real foods from your diet in an attempt to deal with food sensitivities. This will only exacerbate the problem as food elimination continues to impoverish your gut microbiome.
Other things you can do to improve your gut microbiome and therefore reduce food sensitivities: optimize your sleep, exercise regularly, reduce your stress, improve your emotional resilience, and practice intermittent fasting.