The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology says there is “no relationship” to consuming a large quantity of food and developing an allergy. Adult-onset food allergies are rare, but they do exist. However, the allergies are caused by other medical factors, meaning you shouldn’t worry about eating your way to an allergy or sensitivity.
Food allergies and sensitivities make it hard to know what you can eat. But, before you resign yourself to a bland diet, there are a few steps you can take to make sure you correctly diagnose your situation and make changes that will help you feel better -- rather than following misinformation that can do more harm than good.
The chemical makeup of most foods is very complicated, which is why food intolerances are misdiagnosed.
Take coffee, for example. Some people can drink gallons with no issue, while one cup will send others sprinting for the bathroom. Is it a built up tolerance for years of drinking coffee? Maybe, but more likely your body is not chemically matched to handle the combination of salicylates (a naturally occurring chemical that often functions as natural pest deterrent) and caffeine.
The complicated nature of chemical structures is the reason why scientists are excited about FODMAPS and its potential to simplify your issues with food intolerances and sensitivities. FODMAPS stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, which are a natural set of components in the foods you eat.
“The problem is that bacteria like to eat these things, and that can cause gas,” explains Danielle Flug Capalino, RD, and author of Healthy Gut, Flat Stomach. “In other cases, these foods tend to sit in the gut for a long time and water is drawn into the gut via osmosis and that causes diarrhea.”
We’ll help you understand how FODMAPS can be used to improve your diet. But first, we want to make it easier to understand what’s wrong, so you can dig in on all the different foods that will help you feel great and enjoy most (if not all) the foods you love.
The Myth of Food Intolerance
The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology says there is “no relationship” to consuming a large quantity of food and developing an allergy. When you have stomach issues, it's not a problem that's self-created. Instead, you've likely had internal issues that have been dormant.
“Most adult-onset food allergy comes on in our 30s, especially in women and those with underlying allergic diseases, like nasal allergies and asthma,” says allergist and clinical immunologist Dr. Matthew Bodish.
Bowdish adds that “While we occasionally hear of this in the clinic, I don't see much evidence in the literature about eating a lot of one specific food causing adult-onset food allergy.”
The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology goes a step further, stating there is “no relationship” to consuming a large quantity of food and developing an allergy.
Unfortunately, allergists aren’t sure why adults develop food allergies, but research is ongoing and nothing is pointing to your repetitive meal plan behavior.
Now, that’s not to say food allergies don’t exist. They do, and, if you suffer from them, you’re probably aware of the frustrating symptoms. Those symptoms hit quickly, often within minutes. So, if you had a food allergy, you would know about it almost right away. The reaction could be severe or deadly, which is why if you genuinely suspect that you have a food allergy or experience anything like what Bowdish describes, you need to see an allergist.
But even if you discover that you have an allergy, it’s not because you ate your way to a problem. What’s more important is to understand why your stomach might be sensitive to certain foods, and what you should do about it.
Why Your Stomach Hurts
Sometimes it seems like you can become sensitive to food out of nowhere. When that occurs, it’s possible that you have a food intolerance or sensitivity (the terms are interchangeable). In fact, according to a 2015 review of studies published in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, between 15-20 percent of the population suffers from some food intolerance. Here’s where things get complicated.
The symptoms most often associated with food intolerance are cramping, gas, bloating and diarrhea. But, there is a lot about food intolerance that we still don’t know.
Some intolerances, like lactose intolerance, scientists clearly understand. There’s an entire category of food intolerances called “idiosyncratic” intolerances, meaning we know they happen, but we don’t necessarily know why.
But even with idiosyncratic intolerances, excessive exposure to a single food over time isn’t the cause, according to Razvan Arsenescu, the chief of the Atlantic Digestive Health Institute in Morristown, New Jersey. He says there isn’t good research that shows a correlation between eating something regularly and becoming more sensitive to it over time.
It’s possible that changes to your diet lead to strong reactions. For example, if you suddenly start eating a dozen eggs a day when you start a ketogenic diet, your gut may be rebelling because of the much higher fat load in that diet.
Or, you could be eating food that has a hidden ingredient that causes stomach distress. Protein powders are a great example. Ladder Proteins were created free of artificial sweeteners or anything that stresses your GI tract. But, in other products, it’s possible that lactose or xylitol, a fake sugar that many people struggle to break down, could make your stomach twist.
Arsenescu adds, “If you have an infection or inflammation of the GI tract, then many food items will cause symptoms.” So the problem isn’t the food itself -- it’s a breakdown in how you process or digest foods you eat, with certain foods more likely to trigger a reaction.
That's where fixing the symptoms becomes tricky. If you have a food intolerance (note: not food allergies), then removing the food and keeping it out of your diet might do the trick (more on this in a moment). But, if you have a bigger picture issue -- like gut inflammation -- removing foods that aren’t necessarily the problem might not be enough.
If you feel better without certain foods --whether eggs, or whey, or grains --that’s a personal choice. Do what works for you. But don’t assume that will put an end to your discomfort. Other foods -- one’s you love and feel you can’t live without -- might also cause issues, and removing all foods isn’t a long-term solution.
The good news is that if you fix the problem (such as reducing inflammation), you should be able to go back to consuming foods that became a problem.
Your Food Intolerance Plan
Remember how we mentioned FODMAPS? For many people, just removing FODMAPS is an effective way to reduce GI distress.
The process is simple. Just remove foods that are high in FODMAPS and then gradually add one food at a time back to your diet. It can be frustrating, at first, but it’s often the most effective way to solve your stomach issues for good and let you know what’s causing problems.
To get you started, here is a list of foods that you might want to consider removing if you have stomach discomfort.
- Oligosaccharides: barley, chicory, garlic, legumes, lentils, onion, wheat, rye
- Disaccharides: Dairy products containing lactose, such as ice cream, milk, or yogurt
- Monosaccharides: Apples, mango, pears, watermelon
- Polyols: Apricots, cauliflower, plums, and many artificial sweeteners (Maltitol, Mannitol, Sorbitol, Xylitol)
Try removing one FODMAP group at a time. For instance, start with the oligosaccharides. Remove all of those for 2-3 weeks, and then add one food back every three days. Do you have a reaction or discomfort? If not, you should be fine with that food. If so, you know that’s a food sensitivity.
Over time, hopefully, you’ll be able to add most foods back into your diet, enjoy many (if not all) of the foods your love, and know what you need to avoid.