Often the most common thing people with food chemical intolerance say to their dietitian is ‘I am eating so healthily, but I continue to get symptoms, I do not understand what is happening!’ Yes, your diet may be very healthy, traditionally. But this may not be the right diet for you.
People with food chemical intolerance suffer from a variety of symptoms. The most common reactions are headaches, stomach and bowel irritation, hives and feelings of lethargy, moodiness and aches and pains. Symptoms are rarely identical between individuals.
Symptoms are caused by a combination of one or more natural food chemicals. These include salicylates, amines and glutamates, along with food additives.
It is important to remember that an intolerance is different to an allergy. Allergies are immune reactions to specific foods. Intolerances do not involve the immune system, they’re triggered when nerve endings are irritated, and thus causing symptoms. Sensitivity varies between individuals. The more sensitive you are, the less well you will be able to tolerate foods rich in the chemical(s) you are intolerant to. Speed of onset of symptoms also varies, from very quickly up to a few hours. Most reactions last a few hours, but very severe reactions may last up to several days.
How much can you eat? As with most of the other aspects of this condition, it varies between people and depends on your threshold. If you have a high threshold, you will be able to tolerate more than someone with a low threshold. It is also important to remember that chemicals eaten regularly may build up in your system, to reach your threshold before a reaction occurs.
Common high chemical foods include (but are not limited to) strawberries, cheese, spinach, berries, avocado, onion, mushroom, aged meat, processed meat, many herbs, olive oil and chocolate.
To determine which chemical(s) are causing your symptoms, you will need to undertake a food chemical elimination diet. Whilst on this diet, you will need to consume only foods which are low in natural food chemicals, and food additives, wait for any symptoms to subside, then challenge one by one. This can be a complicated, frustrating undertaking, as usually your ‘normal’ way of eating will need to change. The positive outcomes of undertaking the elimination diet and challenge process are fantastic though, as you will be able to determine what is causing your symptoms, then tailor your intake to ensure you stay symptom free. To make this process as easy as possible for you, it is essential you do this under supervision of a dietitian.