“What is food to one man may be fierce poison to others” – Lucretius. 95-55 B. C.
Food allergies and intolerance are estimated to affect 20-30% of the population. Intolerance can be due to not having specific chemicals or enzymes in the body that are needed to digest different types of food and can either be hereditary or environmental. For the other 70-80% of the population eating a huge range of foods is not a problem; however a food allergy or intolerance can occur after a viral infection or illness.
The most common types of intolerance are wheat (as well as coeliac) and lactose. As most people can eat a wide variety of foods it is difficult to get your head around not eating certain things. But for someone with an intolerance, it’s not a case of not wanting to eat wheat/lactose it’s a case of not being able to. Some people will react worse to certain foods than others and symptoms can range from being uncomfortable to severe illness.
There are differences between wheat allergies and wheat intolerance. A wheat allergy can cause breathing problems (similar to asthma), rashes, itchy eyes etc. Whereas a wheat intolerance cause symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain and can prevent you losing weight and also gain weight due to the body not being able to digest the food eaten properly. It may not occur immediately and can take a few hours or even days to affect you. Lactose intolerance in basic terms is the adverse reaction to cow’s milk. Like the wheat intolerance the symptoms can include bloating, diarrhoea and abdominal pain.
Coeliac disease occurs when a person has an adverse reaction to protein gluten and this includes wheat, barley and rye. It is not as common as an intolerance and it is thought to affect an estimated 1 in 100 people in the UK, with women 2-3 times more likely to develop it. Symptoms can include loss of appetite, bloating, indigestion, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach cramps and muscles spasms, to name a few.
In both cases a week or two without the problem food can help assess whether or not there is an allergy or intolerance, however alternative sources of any vitamins and minerals should be sourced to avoid deficiency. It isn’t as hard as you think; there are always different options for wheat/lactose and if you find you have an intolerance, alternatives can always be found!
Steffi Davies, Level 3 Personal Trainer