Food intolerances or "sensitivities" can affect you in so many ways.
And they’re a lot more common than most people think.
We're not talking about anaphylaxis or immediate allergic reactions that involve an immune response. Those can be serious and life-threatening. If you have any allergies, you need to steer clear of any traces of foods you are allergic to, and speak with your doctor or pharmacist about emergency medication, if necessary.
What we're talking about, is an intolerance, meaning you do not tolerate a specific food very well and it causes immediate or chronic symptoms anywhere in the body. Symptoms can take hours or even days to show themselves. And symptoms can be located just about anywhere in the body.
This is what makes them so tricky to identify.
Symptoms of food intolerances
There are some common food intolerances that have immediate and terribly painful gastrointestinal symptoms, such as lactose intolerance or celiac disease. These can cause stomach pain, gas, bloating, and/or diarrhea; symptoms can start immediately after eating lactose or gluten.
On the other hand, other more insidious symptoms may not be linked to foods in an obvious way.
If your body has trouble digesting specific foods, it can affect your hormones, metabolism, or even cause inflammation and result in any of the symptoms listed above. And these can affect any (or all) parts of the body, not just your gastrointestinal system.
How to prevent these intolerances
The main thing you can do is to figure out which foods or drinks you may be reacting to and stop ingesting them.
We know, we know...this sounds so simple, and yet it can be SO HARD.
The best way to identify your food/drink triggers is to eliminate them.
Yup, get rid of those offending foods/drinks. All traces of them, for three full weeks and monitor your symptoms.
If things get better, then you need to decide whether it's worth it to stop ingesting them, or if you want to slowly introduce them back one at a time while still looking out to see if/when symptoms return.
Where to start: Two common food intolerances
Here are two of the most common triggers of food intolerances:
This is by no means a complete list, but it's a good place to start because lactose intolerance is thought to affect up to 75% of people, while "non-celiac gluten sensitivity" can affect up to 13% of people.
So, if you can eliminate all traces of lactose and gluten for three weeks, it can confirm whether either or both of these, are a source of your symptoms.
Yes, dairy and grains are a part of many government-recommended food guidelines, but you absolutely can get all of the nutrients you need if you focus on replacing them with nutrient-dense foods.
A reliable way to monitor how you feel after eating certain foods is to track it. After every meal or snack, write down the foods you ate, and any symptoms so you can more easily spot trends.
Check out this link for your free Food Journal Tracking sheet!
And, as mentioned earlier, symptoms may not start immediately following a meal. You may find, for example, that you wake up with a headache the morning after eating bananas.
You might be surprised what links you can find if you track your food and symptoms well!
IMPORTANT NOTE: When you eliminate something, you need to make sure it's not hiding in other foods, or the whole point of eliminating it for a few weeks is lost. Restaurant food, packaged foods, and sauces or dressings are notorious for adding ingredients that you'd never think are there. You know that sugar hides in almost everything, but did you also know that wheat is often added to processed meats and soy sauce, and lactose can even be found in some medications or supplements?
When in doubt you HAVE to ask the server in a restaurant about hidden ingredients, read labels, and consider cooking from scratch.
What if it doesn’t work?
If eliminating these two common food intolerances doesn’t work, then you can go one step further to eliminate all dairy (even lactose-free) and all grains (even gluten-free) for three weeks.
You may need to see a qualified healthcare practitioner for help, and that's OK. We don't want you to continue suffering if you don't need to!
Recipe (dairy-free milk): Homemade Nut/Seed Milk
Makes 3 cups
½ cup raw nuts/seeds (almonds, walnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, or sesame seeds)
2 cups water
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: You can double the recipe and store the milk in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 7 days.
Not everyone should be taking digestive enzyme supplements; and not all of them are created equal.
As health care practitioners, we find that many people with digestive issues want to jump straight into using a supplement. And many times we would rather they try other strategies first. Not to mention, that some supplements can be harmful if used inappropriately.
So, let’s dive into a few of the common digestive enzymes, what they do, and who should NOT take them.
What are digestive enzymes?
Technically, “enzymes” are compounds that help critical biochemical reactions to happen in your body. These reactions can be anything, from making neurotransmitters like serotonin, to burning food for energy, to breaking down food we eat into smaller pieces that our guts can absorb.
Oh, and they all end with “ase”.
As we just hinted, “digestive enzymes” are specifically those enzymes we use for digestion. They’re enzymes that our digestive system naturally make and secrete when we eat.
Now, all of the “macronutrients” we eat (carbs, protein & fat) need to be broken down into their individual (smaller) parts so that we can properly absorb and digest them. They’re just too big otherwise, and if we don’t absorb them properly, we can get symptoms of fatigue, malnutrition, digestive distress, or a host of other symptoms.
It is these individual (smaller) parts that our body amazingly rearranges and uses to create other larger molecules that our body needs.
The most common digestive enzymes you’ll see on product labels are:
Who should consider taking digestive enzymes?
We would always recommend that you see a qualified health care practitioner for an expert opinion on whether your issues can be related to digestion, and which, if any, supplements can help you.
In general, the most common digestive symptoms that enzymes may help with are bloating, cramping, and/or diarrhea. Particularly if it happens after eating certain foods (think lactose-intolerance symptoms after eating dairy).
One reason for these symptoms can be that food particles are not broken down properly, and the larger pieces travel further down the digestive tract to the microbiota where those little critters start breaking them down themselves. And this is definitely troublesome for certain people.
Don’t get us wrong, a healthy gut microbiota is absolutely essential for good health. And more and more research is showing just how it can affect not only our digestion, but also our immune system, and even our mood.
What do I need to know? - Medical conditions
Of course, you should read the label of any products you take, and take them as directed, especially if they’re not specifically recommended for you by your health care practitioner who knows your history.
Here are two critical things to be aware of:
1 - Digestive enzymes that break down carbohydrates into sugars are not recommended for diabetics, or pregnant/breastfeeding women.
This is because taking them breaks down more carbohydrates into sugars than your body normally would; so, anyone at risk of blood sugar issues should take caution.
2 - When it comes to enzymes that break down proteins into amino acids, there are a few people who should avoid them because of potential interactions. That is if you have an ulcer, or are taking blood-thinners or anti-inflammatories, or if you’re having surgery.
The reason is because the digestive enzymes that break down protein are thought to cause or worsen ulcers, as well as have the ability to “thin” the blood and prevent normal clotting.
What do I need to know? - Possible Side effects
Using digestive enzyme supplements for a prolonged period of time may well justify an appointment with a knowledgeable practitioner. There may be strategies other than daily supplementation that can serve you better.
If you find that your symptoms get worse, or even if they don’t get better, you should probably stop using them.
Allergies are always a possiblity, so if you know or suspect you’re allergic, then you should avoid them.
And, as always, keep supplements away from children.
Before considering a digestive enzyme supplement:
You shouldn’t just jump to supplementing with digestive enzymes without a proper diagnosis, or trying a few strategies first.
Our first recommendation for digestive distress would be to relax more, eat slower, and chew more thoroughly. This helps to break down food and can put less stress on your digestive tract.
The second step would be to try eliminating certain troublesome foods from your diet (dairy & gluten, for example) and see if that helps.
While many supplements are safe products, they’re not all for everyone.
We recommend that you:
Recipe (food containing bromelain & papain): Tropical (digestive) smoothie
1 cup pineapple, diced
1 cup papaya, diced
1 banana, chopped
1 cup coconut milk
ice if desired
Put all ingredients (except ice) into the blender and blend. Add ice if desired.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: The levels of enzymes in whole pineapple and papaya aren’t as concentrated as taking them in a supplement; so if you’re not allergic to these delicious fruits, you can try this smoothie.
Natural Medicines Database, Bromelain, Papain, Retrieved January 21, 2017 from https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com
During menopause women tend to gain weight. While this isn't great it’s pretty common and there are many reasons why.
Two reasons why women gain weight during menopause:
Reduced muscle mass. Muscle mass uses energy (burns calories) so when we have less of it the body burns less energy overall, leading to weight gain. Unfortunately, this weight gain may appear as increased belly fat.
During menopause there is an increase in the hunger hormone “ghrelin”. With an increase in this hormone comes the tendency to feel hungrier. Menopause also decreases the “satiety” hormone “leptin” that helps us feel full after eating, leading to overeating.
More ghrelin and less leptin = increased hunger and a decreased feeling of fullness...that’s a problem!
What does all of this have to do with breakfast?
Eating the right type of breakfast has been shown to help maintain muscle mass, balance levels of leptin and ghrelin, aid weight loss and helping to maintain that lower weight.
What makes a food “optimal” for breakfast in menopause?
Foods that help to increase metabolic rate, fill you up, and keep you feeling fuller longer.
Let's have a look at the characteristics of these “optimal” foods.
Make sure to get protein in the mornings. Eating protein is critical for women in menopause.
Protein helps to slightly increase metabolism and give your muscles the amino acids they need to stay strong. Protein also helps keep you feeling fuller longer which is great to try to offset that hunger hormone “ghrelin”.
Protein also helps to reduce bone loss that can happen very fast during this time.
Which foods are high in protein?
Read on and check out the great breakfast recipe for you to try tomorrow morning. It contains eggs which some say are the “perfect protein”.
Fibre is very important to help stabilize your blood sugars to reduce cravings. The reason this is particularly important in menopause is because the risk of diabetes and heart disease increases after menopause due to an accumulation of visceral fat in the abdomen. (Yes, we're talking about the infamous “belly fat”!).
Also, did you know that certain fibres you eat actually feed your friendly gut microbes? The ones that help you digest food and even make certain nutrients for you?
Which foods are high in fibre?
Here are just a few of the items you could add to your diet to increase fibre intake.
Bonus points if you get at least some of you daily fibre from flax. Flax not only contains fibre but it is also a source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Flax has even been shown to help reduce both hot flashes and the risk of breast cancer. Win-win!
What are “optimal” foods for breakfast in menopause? Ones that give you ample protein and fibre.
Recipe (Protein and Fibre): Vegetable Egg Muffins
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 red pepper (diced)
2 cups baby spinach (chopped)
1 cup mushrooms (chopped)
2 cloves garlic (minced)
1 tablespoon flax (freshly ground)
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Grease or line a 12 serving muffin tin.
Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Add oil and saute diced pepper until tender (about 5 minutes).
Add mushrooms and garlic to frying pan and cook for an additional minute.
Whisk eggs and flax together in a medium bowl.
Place veggies into prepared muffin tin.
Pour the egg/flax mixture over the veggies.
Bake for 15 minutes or until the tops are firm to the touch and eggs are cooked.
Serve & Enjoy!
Tip: Fresh farm eggs are best for health!
Do you get hot flashes?
Are they mostly at night?
Do they set the bed on fire (but not in that way)?
Let's get you some solutions!
Before we do that, just some quick info on why hot flashes occur so we can try to effect the root cause of these hormonal symptoms.
What causes hot flashes?
As you can imagine it's all about hormonal balance (or imbalance).
During the menstruating years your estrogen allows for your ovaries to respond when “luteinizing hormone” (LH) says to release those eggs every month.
When it gets to the point where your estrogen levels start dropping (i.e. perimenopause) those ovaries start to simply ignore the LH.
And guess what your body's response to this is?
It releases adrenaline!
This causes your body to heat up for a few minutes until it cools itself back down.
What triggers hot flashes?
You may have already identified some of the triggers of your hot flashes. Perhaps they're related to the food and drinks you consume (e.g. coffee, spicy foods, sugar, citrus fruit, large meals).
Maybe they're related to lifestyle factors (e.g. stress, alcohol, smoking, certain medications or intense exercise).
Or maybe they get worse as your weight slowly climbs? Did you know that some menopausal women who lose weight were able to eliminate their hot flashes? Win-win!
Let's reduce those hot flash triggers naturally, shall we?
Food #1 – Flax
Flax contains a “phytoestrogen” named “lignan”. Phyto (plant) estrogens are thought to help our bodies better balance hormones by mimicking them and binding to certain hormone receptors.
Flax also contains fibre and omega-3 essential fatty acids. Both are powerhouses for better gut and heart health, additional benefit!
But here's where it gets interesting.
One study looked at thousands of women who experienced at least 14 hot flashes per week. Researchers had them add four tablespoons of flax meal to their day.
Yes, just four tablespoons.
After 6 weeks the number of hot flashes they had dropped in half and the intensity of those hot flashes dropped by more than half!
Scientists think that's due mostly to the lignan content of flax seeds.
That's some super-food!
It's also pretty easy to increase your intake of flax. You can add one or two tablespoons into your smoothie or sprinkle it on just about anything (breakfast, salad, nut butters, etc.). Not to mention how easy it is to add to your baking. (Hint, see recipe below).
Pro Tip: Flax seeds should be ground up fresh in order to get most of their benefits because much of the healthy compounds in them are securely stored beneath the hard outer shell.
Food #2 – Water
OK, maybe this is more of a “drink” than a food but hear us out.
When you get hot flashes you're losing more water than you normally would. Similarly to when you exercise.
Make sure you replace those critical fluids by drinking enough water. A good habit is to make sure that you don’t get to the point of feeling overly thirsty by keeping a bottle, glass, or cup beside you all day long for frequent sips.
Water is definitely something to increase in your day when you're experiencing hot flashes.
There are two critical things you should do if you experience hot flashes: increase your intake of both flax and water.
Recipe (flax): Gluten-Free Oatmeal Muffins
1 banana (very ripe)
2 teaspoons olive oil
¼ cup coconut sugar (optional)
½ cup flax meal*
¼ cup oat flour* or other gluten-free flour
½ cup oats (gluten-free)
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup nuts or dark chocolate chips (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 F and line 6 muffin tins.
Add banana, oil, egg, and sugar (if using) into your blender and blend until smooth.
In a large bowl, stir together the dry ingredients (oats, flax meal, gluten-free flour, and baking soda).
Add wet ingredients into dry and stir. Do not over mix.
Add nuts or dark chocolate chips, if using.
Spoon into muffin tins. Bake for 15-20 min.
Serve & Enjoy!
*Tip: You can blend flax and/or oats to make your own freshly ground flax meal or oat flour.