Do You Have Food Intolerances? The #1 Strategy to Heal Food Intolerances

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Written By

Lauryn

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Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

Sure, we certainly can all agree that there are certain food intolerances that are not ideal for most human microbiomes, like

  • Processed foods
  • Industrial seed oils
  • Refined sugar

However, there are 100’s of other foods that fall into a “gray” area—meaning some foods trigger food sensitivity symptoms for some people…but not others. 

For example: Apples can make one person feel super bloated. Whereas another person immediately has to run to the bathroom if they eat sweet potatoes.

The “signs and symptoms” of food intolerances vary.

Common Food Intolerance Signs & Symptoms

Food Intolerances - Woman Suffering From Abdominal Discomfort

  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Acne
  • Anxiety or restlessness
  • Brain fog
  • Bloating and gas
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue/tiredness
  • Headache
  • Heartburn
  • Itchy skin or skin rashes
  • Joint pain
  • Nausea
  • Respiratory symptoms (sinusitis, asthma, rhinitis)
  • Runny nose

So how do you know if you have food intolerances and how do food intolerances happen to healthy foods?

Answer: the gut-immune-brain connection has a lot to do with it. 

The Gut-Immune Connection & Food Intolerances

First: gut-immune.

Seventy to 80% of your immune cells are housed inside your gut.

If you have an under-functioning gut (like gallbladder congestion, dysbiosis, leaky gut, low enzymes and low stomach acid, your body sees certain foods as a threat because it cannot digest them appropriately). 

This explains why some people can follow an elimination diet religiously and still don’t experience sustainable improvement.

If you have multiple food sensitivities—like you’re stuck with eating 5-10 foods, this is called loss of oral tolerance.

Loss of oral tolerance basically means “lots of food intolerances” and it happens when you have gut dysbiosis and your immune system goes haywire—due to chronic stress, losing its ability to properly recognize nutrients—instead seeing them as foreign invaders! 

The good news: if you have lost your oral tolerance and you’re sensitive to everything…you can improve it!

The Gut-Brain Connection & Food Intolerances

Then of course—the gut-brain connection. The gut and brain are directly connected by way of the vagus nerve and enteric nervous system (the nerve cells in your gut). 

Unresolved food intolerances often reveal that an “indigestible conflict” has not been completely resolved, and the brain links particular conflicts, stresses or emotions with foods that we eat frequently when we are in “fight or flight mode.”

For example, perhaps little Johnny eats a PB&J sandwich every day for lunch. He has for years! However, fast forward to age 7 during a time when his parents begin having marital problems and going through a difficult time. And say little Johnny is eating a PB&J sandwich on wheat bread when he witnesses his parents have an “all out” fight that leads to divorce. A few weeks later, he begins to develop symptoms when he eats this sandwich. It’s assumed that wheat, peanuts or both are the problem. But it is really related to how his limbic system “locks in” stress. 

Another example: a teen girl, Sarah, is going through puberty and middle school insecurities. She develops acne. It’s assumed it must be a dairy intolerance—she loves cheese and yogurt and eats it frequently (although she’s eaten it frequently for years without problems). However, the development acne is actually a common side effect when the brain senses an “attack”—like not fitting in and the mean girls who make fun of her. Is dairy the problem or is it how her body correlates dairy with stress. 

One more example: Lauryn (me) develops an intolerance to sweet potatoes, almonds and broccoli—seemingly super “healthy” foods that I ate for years with seemingly no problems. I developed these intolerances during a time of significant stress—when I was going through mold illness. Interestingly, these are foods I ate A LOT of during my dieting and eating disorder days—another time of significant stress. The brain remembers—correlating the track of ‘stress’ with ‘stressful foods’. Game. Set. Match! Intolerances. (Today, by simply recognizing my own tracks, I’ve been able to re-incorporate these foods—no symptoms). 

Testing: How Do You Know if You Have Food Intolerances?

Ok so, once you realize how food intolerances develop the next question typically is: how do you know exactly what foods are bothering you?

Food intolerance testing can be helpful, but keep in mind: The majority of food intolerance tests on the market are a waste of money. 

Food Intolerance Testing Problems

Food Intolerances - Woman Consulting Her Doctor About Her Issues

#1. If you go to your conventional doctor for a check-up and ask them for a food sensitivity test.

they will test you for allergy—IgE antibodies— that are an immediate reaction to foods; they don’t test for delayed reaction and food sensitivities (IgG, IgA, IgM)…so you’ll still be left in the dark. 

#2. Most food sensitivity tests are not the gold standard.

The majority of sensitivity tests only test foods in the raw—not cooked—forms.

Dietary proteins change their immune reactivity if they’re cooked or raw… For example, sensitivity to bacon increases ten times when it is cooked versus raw…But raw bacon, who eats that? Eggs or chicken may show up positive…but how many people eat raw egg or chicken or even raw broccoli vs cooked…

Number 3: Most food intolerance tests do NOT show cross-reactivity foods.

For example, if a person reacts to cow’s milk, 92 percent of people will also react to goat’s milk and cheese because they have the same amino acid structure…If you react to melon, there’s a 92 percent chance you will react to avocado, fruits, or watermelon…

For all these reasons, most food intolerance tests on the market only give you a piece of the puzzle. That said, if you do want to test your food sensitivities, the “gold standards” in my book are as simple as an elimination diet, followed by reintroduction—or taking the Food Swap challenge (below). As for clinical labs, I only recommend the gold standard lab: Cyrex Labs or Vibrant America’s IgG, IgA and IgM panels—both are well known for its high standards in the industry.

Heal: How to Overcome Food Intolerances

Ok, lastly, the big question of them all: can you really overcome food intolerances?

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to avoid all foods forever! 

Although some foods— like gluten and dairy—may be difficult to overcome if you have a true intolerance or an autoimmune condition, there are still 100’s of foods out there that can be re-won. 

My top strategies to overcome include: 

#1: Take a short term 30 to 90 day break from the foods you react strongest to

#2. Rebuild your gut!

Optimize digestion with hydrochloric acid, digestive bitters and high dose digestive enzymes at each meal. Also diversify your healthy gut bugs with a combination of spore-based probiotics, low histamine probiotics, plus short chain fatty acids and fiber—especially 6 tp 9  vegetables each day. Lastly, if needed, a 30-60 day antimicrobial protocol using herbs like olive leaf, berberine and oregano to cleanse out any unhealthy gut bugs, along with pure chlorella (binders) and possibly biofilm disruptors (like monolaurin, NAC and enzymes) may be helpful 

#3. Boost T-regulatory immune function!

T cells are immune cells that decide whether the immune system needs to mount an inflammatory response to foods or not. Top picks to boost T cells include: Vitamin D, glutathione, liposomal curcumin, colostrum, liposomal vitamin C, sleep and endorphins—The feel good chemicals that you get from exercise, laughter, healthy relationships, volunteering, etc. Endorphins dampen inflammation and modulate the immune system. 

The Bottom Line

Restriction and multiple food intolerances do not have to be your mojo forever. 

Check out the at home food intolerance test—the Food Swap Challenge—to figure out your sensitivities, and know the signs and symptoms to look for. 

Food Intolerance Test: Food Swap Challenge

Food Intolerances - Man Trying To Do Food Swap Challenge

Are you eating foods you are intolerant to? Find out with the Food Swap Challenge! 

Food Swap Challenge Directions

Step 1: Make a list of your top five foods or meals you eat every day (keep a food log for a day or two if you need to identify these)

Step 2: Replace your top five listed foods or meals for the next 3 days

Step 3: Observe how you feel using a 3-day food log once more. 

Step 4: Reintroduce your old favorite foods at the end of 3 days, one by one, to see if you discover any new revelations

Note: The top 5 foods or meals you eat daily are not “bad”…they may just be keeping you stuck from getting more variety into your diet, as well as preventing your from figuring out whether or not you may be intolerant to those foods. 

Example:

The Top 5 Foods I Eat (Most) Every Day Replacement Foods

  1. Sweet potato Butternut squash, roasted carrots
  2. Avocado Coconut butter, avocado mayo, extra virgin olive oil
  3. Eggs every morning for breakfast Chicken sausage, pastured scrambled egg yolks
  4. Spinach salad w/ chicken breast & Romaine lettuce wrap w/ fat free dressing chicken thighs & paleo mayo (instead of plain chicken breast)
  5. Broccoli Roasted zucchini, cauliflower, sautéed chard, kale

What are the most common types of food intolerances?

Common food sensitivities include:

Additives & Sweeteners

Aspartame, food colorings, citric acid, erythriol, carrageenan and gums.

Alcohol

A reaction occurs when your body doesn’t have the enzymes needed to break down the toxins in alcohol. Most commonly, the problems are caused by beer or wine and may be triggered by sulfites, histamines (from fermenting or brewing), chemicals or grains.

Caffeine

No explanation needed here! Some people are more sensitive to this stimulant, experiencing jitter, insomnia, restlessness, nervousness and anxiety.

Lactose

People who are lactose intolerant don’t make enough lactase enzyme to break down lactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy products. This food intolerance is the most common.

Eggs

Some people have trouble digesting egg whites and experience abdominal pain and diarrhea.

Histamine

Histamines are naturally occurring chemicals in foods like cheese, pineapples, bananas, avocados and chocolate. Red wine and some white wines also have histamines. People who are histamine intolerant don’t make enough diamine oxidase enzyme to break down this chemical.

Gluten

Gluten is a protein in wheat, rye and barley. Gluten sensitivity isn’t the same as having celiac disease a type of autoimmune disease. When you have celiac disease, gluten damages the small intestines. If you have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity, your body has a harder time digesting gluten.

Note: Gluten is often hidden in sources other than wheat (like MSG in soy sauce and Asian dishes, seed oils at restaurants, deli meats, etc.) Additionally, Gluten-free Grains can sometimes make people feel worse as well. This is often due to food processing, mycotoxins, pesticides and fertilizers used in these grains.

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