top of page

Food Allergy or Sensitivity Part 2: Food Sensitivity

Ready to pick up where we left off? Great! Let's dive into food sensitivities.

Where food allergies are immune mediated, food sensitivities (or intolerance) are a bit more of a mystery. There is also no tried and true test to validate food intolerance, which can be extremely frustrating for many people. There are a couple of factors that can play into a sensitivity:

Enzyme Deficiencies: Ever heard of lactose intolerance? Yes, this is what I'm talking about. Some intolerances are related to missing enzymes. Now, that doesn't mean that anything is wrong with you! Some of these deficiencies just happen naturally with age. Some common intolerances from enzyme deficiencies are lactose intolerance (missing lactase) and fructose intolerance (missing fructase). Common symptoms that you may notice are bloating, feeling gassy, and diarrhea.

Caffeine: One of the most common pharmacological sensitivities is caffeine, something beloved to many, however, for some people, it can lead to unpleasant effects. Caffeine is a stimulant that can some people may be sensitive, or hypersensitive to. Genetics may be to blame for this one. There have been some really cool studies published on nutrigenomics (the science of "personalized nutrition") that start to associate certain genotypes with caffeine tolerance. This may mean that person A can have caffeine all day and feel little to no effects on energy or any physiological symptoms. Person B however, may experience a racing heart rate, sweating, headaches, insomnia, and even heightened anxiety. All this means is that some people would benefit from listening to their bodies and cutting down on the coffee, black tea, and maybe chocolate in a severe case.

Non-Specific Reactions: Now, these are the react

ions that most people with a food intolerance will experience. A very common example is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is, in a nutshell, characterized by frequent bowel pain that includes constipation, diarrhea, or both. There is still no reliable "cause" of IBS or even diagnostic test, however, anyone with IBS will let you know that certain foods can trigger some unpleasant reactions.

Psychological/Behavioral: This is an important one to address. From my experience as a mental health dietitian, I see this one the most often, and I also see that people struggle with acknowledging that their food sensitivity may be caused by a psychological trigger. Some common examples are expectation, conditioning, sleep deprivation, and anxiety to name a few. Have you ever had a bad experience with a certain food (let's say jelly beans), and at another point, you're faced with the food again. In these moments, has your stomach ever started to hurt? Maybe you start feeling nauseous, or even have to run to the restroom! This may be a psychological reaction. With any food fear or anxiety, we increase the chance of having an unpleasant reaction to the foods in front of us. It can become very easy to start to draw a connection between jelly beans and diarrhea or nausea, but maybe that's because they're associated with anxiety, and the anxiety triggers some uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms.

These are just a few of the potential causes of food sensitivities/intolerances. I mentioned earlier that sensitivities/intolerances are difficult to diagnose. It's true. There aren't any immune tests because this isn't regulated by our immune system. At the end of the day, we are the experts of our own bodies. If you say that jelly beans, make you nauseous, then they make you nauseous. However, it's also important to avoid cutting a bunch of foods out! This can lead to nutritional deficiencies and further anxiety with certain foods. This can also exacerbate or lead to an eating disorder.

What can you do? See a Registered Dietitian and see physician!!! As a Registered Dietitian, our role is to help navigate any type of urges to eliminate foods and navigate any food anxieties that lead to a desire to eliminate foods. We can also help you find substitutes so that you don't have to eliminate entire food groups or give up on social events because of feeling restricted. It is also important to discuss certain symptoms with a qualified physician (bowel symptoms: gastroenterologist, rashes: dermatologist, etc.). The goal is to manage any symptoms, and potentially eliminate them.

Hope this helped provide some insight!


bottom of page