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Understanding and Managing Common Food Triggers and Sensitivities

Short episode for you today that comes from a podcast listener's question! It's a topic that affects many people: food triggers and sensitivities. If you've ever experienced digestive issues, skin problems, headaches, or other routine health problems after eating certain foods, you know how frustrating it can be to specifically identify the culprit and remove it from your diet. Today we'll explore some of the most common food triggers and sensitivities and what you can do to start managing them.

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Now this topic is super, super important, like the podcast listener suggested. And it's relevant to me too, because of the number of years of my life that I spent fighting my own intolerance. I was lactose intolerant for years and I just denied it just simply refuse to believe that the ice cream cone I ate could possibly be causing that stomach ache, or that the pizza could can't possibly be causing that bloating or that stomach pain, right? I just didn't want to believe it. Once I started to make that connection, I just relied on Lactaid pills - like they were my BFF in college. I would have them everywhere in every purse every pocket in my car, because I wanted to make sure that I would take a Lactaid pill before consuming any dairy so that I wouldn't have a treat, I wouldn't be triggered by it, I wouldn't have those adverse effects. And after fighting that battle for years and years, I just decided to cut dairy out of my diet completely. And all of those effects are gone, totally gone and I've had some bonus effects that I didn't even realize were a thing. My skin has been completely clear since removing dairy from my diet and that was something that I really struggled with. In addition to migraines - I was a very chronic migraine sufferer. I knew that the stomach triggers and the skin irritation I would definitely attribute to dairy. I don't know if the migraines are connected to dairy, but I do know that when I stopped consuming animal product, the severe migraines stopped. And now the only time I get them is if I have some sort of drastic change in my routine or intensely stressful situation. Whereas before I would get them multiple times a week!


Don't feel like reading? Listen to (and download!) this episode here:


So what do we mean by food triggers and sensitivities?

A food trigger is a substance that can cause an adverse reaction in the body. It can include allergic reactions, such as hives, or difficulty breathing, but also non allergic reactions such as migraines or digestive issues.

A food sensitivity is a little bit less of a severe response to a particular food. It might include symptoms like a little bit of bloating or gas, a mild skin irritation, something like that, that's usually not life threatening in any way. And sometimes people don't even realize that a food sensitivity like that that sensitive reaction is coming from the food, it could just be uncomfortableness, as opposed to a food trigger or a food allergy. That's going to cause a more severe reaction.


Some of the most common food triggers and sensitivities:

  1. Gluten: The protein that is found in wheat and also in barley and rye, and it can cause digestive issues. But it could also cause fatigue, or brain fog and people with celiac disease, or with a non celiac gluten sensitivity. So Gluten is a big one.

  2. Dairy: any people have difficulty digesting lactose. Lactose is the sugar that is found in milk, and then therefore in other dairy products, and it can lead to pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, any of that.

  3. Soy: is a common allergen. It can cause an allergic reaction for some people, or disrupt hormones in people who are sensitive specifically to soy. That is not the general population, but in the same way that some people are lactose intolerant, or gluten sensitive, you can also be soy sensitive.

  4. Eggs: Some people are allergic to eggs, others may experience digestive issues or skin problems after consuming eggs, nuts and seeds. Of course, there are lots of people who have nut allergies that can range from mild to really severe, and could include difficulty breathing, rash, bumps, cramps, vomiting.

  5. FODMAPs: That's a group of fermentable carbohydrates that are found in many foods, fruits, vegetables, grains, etc. There's a whole long list of FODMAPs if you want to look them up, they're usually connected to people getting an inflammatory response, specifically in the bowels and IBS and digestive issues.

So there's a whole category of foods out there that people can be sensitive to. But you can also be sensitive to anything else. I know people in my personal life, and you may too, who have sensitivities, allergies or triggered other triggers to shellfish, chocolate, pineapple, pumpkins, bananas, you name it. So because our bodies are so individual, our triggers can be very individual too.


What can you do if you suspect that you have a food trigger or sensitivity?

  1. Tracking: The first step is to keep a food diary and track what you eat, and how you feel afterwards. Now, I'm not as concerned here about the quantities and measurement or anything like that. But what is the food that you eat at a certain time? And then how do you feel? Do you notice any symptoms and what you know what's the timeline that those occur? This can really help you to identify patterns and to pinpoint specific foods that might be causing you problems.

  2. Elimination: Next, then we'd consider eliminating the suspected trigger food from your diet for a period of time. Typically, it's about two to four weeks that we eliminate something to see if your symptoms improve. Then we can slowly reintroduce the food and see if the symptoms return that could really help you determine if the food is indeed a trigger for you. It's also important to work with a healthcare professional to rule out any underlying health conditions, and to get personalized advice on how you can manage your symptoms. So you should talk to your doctor request bloodwork and any other allergy testing or seek out a registered dietitian. If you're looking for someone to help you with the food tracking component with eliminating triggers, creating allergen or trigger friendly meal plans, then a nutritionist like myself could help you to.

Food triggers and sensitivities are really common issue that can cause a wide range of health problems. By identifying and managing your triggers, you can improve your overall health and well being in addition to the way that you feel you don't have to live with those results.

You don't have to live with those symptoms if you can identify what's causing them. And then make sure that you are crafting nourishing balanced meals that don't include those foods. Remember, you can keep a food diary you can eliminate the suspected trigger foods and then you can work with a health care professional for more personalized advice.


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Steph Genco, plant-based wellness & nutrition coach for women.

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