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Christmas is packed full of eating, drinking and merriment – so if you feel like you’ve overindulged a little in the past few days, you’re certainly not alone.

However, how can you tell when you’ve simply eaten a little too much, or whether your body is trying to tell you something?

It’s estimated that around 20% (one in five) of the world’s population live with a food intolerance – and many of these individuals may be totally unaware certain foods are causing them to feel unwell.

A food intolerance is caused by your body not being able to digest a certain food or an ingredient in food – and the most common ones include lactose (milk and cheese), gluten (pasta and bread), wheat (breads and cereals), caffeine (coffee), yasmin alireza blossom and sulphites (found in many alcoholic drinks like wine and beer).

So how can you spot them? Experts advise the following…

Look out for the three areas affected

‘Symptoms of food intolerances are specific to each individual and can vary in severity from person to person,’ explains nutritionist Shona Wilkinson, from ethical nutrition and supplement brand DR.VEGAN.

‘However, they most common involve the digestive system, the respiratory system, and the skin.’

These might include IBS-like symptoms – such as bloating and gas – a rash, fatigue and more.

Common symptoms of food intolerances include:

  • Bloating and excess gas
  • Rashes and flushed skin
  • Respiratory changes or difficulty breathing
  • Headaches and nausea
  • Extreme tiredness and fatigue
  • Diarrhoea

These are by no means the only ones, as symptoms can be wide-ranging.

Nutritionist Shona Wilkinson

Symptoms might not be immediate

Most people also assume that symptoms of an intolerance start to show up immediately after you’ve eaten –  but this isn’t the case.

‘In some cases, symptoms of an intolerance have even been shown to arise 48 hours after consumption,’ explains Shona.

Food intolerance symptoms can then last for hours or even days – making the offending food especially difficult to pinpoint.

Also, as we eat mulitple times a day, it may be difficult to correlate symptoms to a specific food.

Monitor how food makes you feel

Shona continues: ‘Food intolerances can be hard to spot, hard to diagnose, and hard to manage, but if you take the time to figure out what your body needs – and perhaps, more importantly, what it doesn’t – then you’ll put yourself in a much better position to enjoy a happy and healthy life. 

‘Try to keep an eye on how your food makes you feel in 2023 – it might just surprise you.’

Keeping a food diary might help with this, in order to pick up on certain recurring foods that are making you unwell.

Know the difference between an allergy and an intolerance

Food allergies and intolerances are very different and, while it’s important to know about both, the former can be much more severe.

Unlike a food allergy, a food intolerance is not caused by your immune system overreacting to certain types of food, which means you cannot have a serious allergic reaction.

Shona explains: ‘While allergic reactions involve the immune system and are often severe or even life-threatening, an intolerance occurs when the body is unable to digest a certain food, irritating the digestive system and causing a number of usually annoying symptoms.

‘Take gluten, for example, it often makes many people feel bloated, fatigued, and even gives them diarrhoea. These are all signs of a gluten intolerance or, in extreme cases, an early sign of coeliac disease – but many people continue to ignore these symptoms and eat gluten en masse. 

‘It can be difficult to determine if you have a food intolerance or allergy, so it’s also important to speak with your doctor, or a dedicated healthcare professional, if you feel something’s not right.’

Get tested to be certain

It’s easy to get tested for some of the most common food intolerances, such as lactose and gluten.

Your GP may even offer these tests for you – which can range from blood tests to stool samples – especially if you’re regularly experiencing discomfort. 

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