Food intolerances

By Hayley White

Reading time: 7 minutes 

Your body has the potential to run like a well-oiled machine. With a well-balanced diet, the recommended amount of sleep every night, and keeping stress levels low, you up your chances of having a happy, healthy body. But of course, especially through COVID, it can be pretty hard to stay on top of stress, sleep, exercise, and eating habits. Unfortunately, big lifestyle changes like these make it easy to throw that indicator of gut health out of whack.

Your gut contains many tiny little warriors, collectively called the microbiome. They consist of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms that live in your gut, mostly in the colon or the large intestine. They work to break down and digest your food. The composition of a person’s microbiome is different in every individual, which is partly why everyone has different reactions to certain foods.

By Hayley White 

Reading time: 7 minutes 

Your body has the potential to run like a well-oiled machine. With a well-balanced diet, the recommended amount of sleep every night, and keeping stress levels low, you up your chances of having a happy, healthy body. But of course, especially through COVID, it can be pretty hard to stay on top of stress, sleep, exercise, and eating habits. Unfortunately, big lifestyle changes like these make it easy to throw that indicator of gut health out of whack.

Your gut contains many tiny little warriors, collectively called the microbiome. They consist of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms that live in your gut, mostly in the colon or the large intestine. They work to break down and digest your food. The composition of a person’s microbiome is different in every individual, which is partly why everyone has different reactions to certain foods.

Your gut microbiome can be sensitive, so whenever a big life change happens, or if you are stressed from work, or haven’t had much sleep lately, those things can have an impact on your gut health. These factors can culminate in the appearance of food intolerances.

Laura Payling is a registered nutritionist with the Nutrition Society of New Zealand who works with clients who have food intolerances at Studio Rubix in Palmerston North. When we have a food intolerance, it means that we experience gut symptoms in response to a certain food. In the case of lactose intolerance, the reason can be because our body lacks the digestive enzyme needed to be able to process the food. Lactose is the main sugar found in milk, and Laura says that it is a common problem.

“People with a lactose issue can normally tolerate a small amount of lactose up to the equivalent of about a small glass of milk a day,” she tells me.

Most people do well by limiting the lactose-containing foods in their diet. Lactose intolerance symptoms commonly include bloating, diarrhea, cramps, and gas. Though Laura says that a big factor in lactose intolerance can be genetic.

“Europeans tend to have better lactose tolerance than Asians. Lactose intolerance can sometimes be caused by an underlying wheat or gluten intolerance. When someone is gluten intolerant, their gut has a negative reaction to the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley.

“After treating the gluten or wheat issue, some people can then reintroduce lactose. So sometimes intolerances are linked,” Laura explains, and tells me that it’s possible that emigrating to another part of the world can also cause our gut to react: “When people move countries, the composition of their gut microbiome changes so there’s another bunch of factors involved,” she tells me. “Obviously, moving to another country can be quite a stressful experience in itself and the stress of changing time zones can have a huge impact on your sleep – so both situations are going to have some effect on your microbiome.”

But probably the biggest influence that moving to a new country can have on affecting and changing your gut microbiome is diet, particularly if the food there is very different from what you were used to in your native country.

“All of the issues involved in relocating can mean that you’re not in peak health, so then when you’re exposed to new foods you might be more likely to have a negative reaction to them,” Laura says. “The human body is so complex that it is hard to analyse some of these things because there are normally several aspects to consider.”

How to manage these kinds of intolerances is a little bit tricky, Laura says, because we do not yet have very good tests to check or diagnose them. If you suspect a food intolerance, be sure to see a registered nutritionist, dietician, or your GP for advice. Generally, they will guide you through an exclusion of the food you think is causing your symptoms. An exclusion period is typically six to eight weeks to give the gut a rest from those foods which will allow you to monitor any change in symptoms over time.

“If you wanted to avoid wheat for example, you would be avoiding bread, cakes, biscuits and also having to check some food labels and look at processed foods where that is added as well,” Laura says.

At the end of eight weeks, Laura tells me that, under professional guidance, those foods are often reintroduced in small amounts, to manage potential symptoms. From there, you can determine if there are any negative effects. “For some people, it may be necessary to leave those foods out of their diet for a more extended period of time, and for other people, when the gut has had a chance to reset and heal, they can reintroduce the foods that they were having issues with,” she says.

 

Omelette

Easy low-lactose and gluten free recipe

Ingredients

  • 2-3 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp milk (cow or plant, as preferred)
  • 1 cup baby spinach
  • ¼ cup crumbled firm cheese (blue vein, brie, cheddar, colby, edam, emmental, feta, gouda)
  • 1 tbsp toasted pine nuts or seeds
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  • Wilt the spinach in a pan with butter and fold through the cheese. Set aside.
  • Season the eggs with salt and pepper and whisk.
  • Fry butter in a moderate heat pan, add the eggs and cover the pan until the omelette surface is almost cooked.
  • Spoon the spinach cheese filling and nuts/seeds onto half of the omelette. Fold the omelette in half to encase the filling. Enjoy with gluten-free bread or rice cakes.
  • Add salmon, ham or chicken for extra protein!

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