Dealing With Food Intolerances

Food intolerance is a common health ailment that many people experience.

Very often, food allergies and food intolerances are confused with one another, despite being different issues.

According to Dr Ruhil Badiani, Family Physician at Cornerstone Clinic, "A person who has a food intolerance has difficulties with digesting certain foods. It is estimated that 15 to 20% of the population are affected, and is common in those with digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome."

On the other hand, as mentioned by Dr Lina Doumani, Clinical Dietician at Allied Medical Center said, "Food allergies are antibody reactions in the body to certain antigens in food."

Food allergies are issues that affect the immune system and can be life-threatening to a person, making it important to avoid them at all costs.

Unlike food allergies, food intolerances are not critical in nature and can start a few hours after consuming a certain item, with symptoms lasting for a few hours to over several days.

According to Dr Dana Al Hamwi, Clinical Dietician, Dubai London Hospital, the symptoms include,

  • Diarrhoea
  • Bloating
  • Flatulence
  • Tummy pain
  • Headache 
  • Tiredness 
  • Constipation
  • Rashes 
  • Joints pain 
  • Eczema 

Based on the severity of the food intolerance, the symptoms vary from person to person and will not be the same.

Some of the common food intolerances that people develop are towards milk, gluten, food colouring, preservatives and sulphites.

"Food intolerances only affect the digestive system, and the severity of the symptoms is often dependent on the amount of food eaten, so a small amount of the bothersome food may be eaten without a problem," Dr Ruhil Badiani of Cornerstone Clinic advised.

Additionally, with the help of your doctor or dietician, food intolerances can be identified and addressed, giving relief to the individual.

Dr Dana Al Hamwi of Dubai London Hospital added, "If there is a food intolerance, we have to try to avoid or reduce eating the foods that the patient is intolerant to, including foods where the patient is intolerant to any of the ingredients. But it's important to be done under the supervision of the dietician, who is the best to design a suitable diet plan according to the result of the food intolerance test."

People can also develop food sensitivity to certain food items, which cause mild reactions to the person.

Dr Lina Doumani of Allied Medical Center also said, "There has been a lot of hype about food sensitivity, and that is completely a different story. Food sensitivity reactions are usually mainly bloating, and these are detected by testing the IgE antibodies in the blood. For food sensitivity, one can eat these food items in moderation with no health risks except gastrointestinal discomfort."

Testing for food intolerances can be done in several ways, through a blood test, keeping a food diary, breath test and more, and the right test will be determined by the doctor on visiting.

On finding an intolerance to an item, some tips for dealing with food intolerances are:

Communicating with the staff at restaurants: While eating at restaurants, there are times that the food item with an intolerance to is added to the dish and unknowingly consumed. To avoid this, discuss with the staff on what is added to avoid dealing with the symptoms. As mentioned by Dr Lina Doumani of Allied Medical Center, "It is very important for individuals with food intolerances to ask the staff at restaurants the content of the dish they order and be diligent about it. Often there are substitutes for milk containing lactose, such as oat, almond, or soy milk."

Carry medication: One way to prevent symptoms of food intolerances when the item is consumed, is by carrying the medication prescribed by the doctor. Many times, when the food intolerant to is consumed without prior knowledge, having the medication on hand can prevent symptoms. Dr Dana Al Hamwi of Dubai London Hospital added, "When symptoms occur, we have to be prepared, so over-the-counter medicines like antacids or antidiarrheals can help."

Pay attention to details: One of the common mistakes made with food intolerances is buying without checking. While grocery shopping, it is vital to go through the ingredients in every product to prevent dealing with symptoms after consumption. Dr Ruhil Badiani of Cornerstone Clinic said, "Make sure to read the ingredients list of anything that you buy at the shops and avoid any that have troublesome ingredients."

As individuals, we understand ourselves the best, and it is key to check in from time to time on how our body is responding to certain food items and take the necessary steps required when the body needs it.

In comparison to food allergies which can be life-threatening, food intolerances are not as severe and have no cure, and visiting and talking to a doctor or dietician will help if finding the right step to manage it and live symptom-free.

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