If you have digestive problems, you are not alone. Nearly two-thirds of American adults suffer from gastrointestinal symptoms. Symptoms of common digestive concerns may worsen with certain foods, but there is no one best diet to treat these issues.
Exploring the potential presence of food intolerance or sensitivities may be an important part of managing one’s condition. The use of food intolerance testing has been surging lately as folks try to decipher which foods don’t agree with them. Unfortunately, these tests may not only delay progress in improving health and quality of life, but may also result in unnecessarily restrictive diets.
Food sensitivity is not a true medical diagnosis nor is it the same as food allergies. Food sensitivities occur due to the lack of enzymes needed to properly breakdown and digest components of a food. Some people may be sensitive to food additives. People with food sensitivities may be able to tolerate a small amount of a food, but may experience symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating and pain when consuming larger portions of a food.
Many people with digestive problems find themselves on a long journey to seeking answers with little effective treatment or relief. While some digestive conditions are diseases that require proper diagnosis and care, other conditions are chalked up to be “tummy troubles” or “sensitive stomach”. Those with the latter are often instructed by their medical team to seek a lifestyle approach to improving their digestion.
At-home food sensitivity kits, marketed as a way to test the body’s immune response to nearly 100 different foods, are emerging as a potential tool for patients with digestive issues. In addition, some health care practitioners offer food sensitivity testing in the office. These tests typically measure the presence of Immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies in the blood. IgG antibodies have not been shown to be a reliable identifier of food sensitivities or food allergies. In fact, IgG antibodies may be produced after eating food, indicating regular exposure to the food more so than an actual sensitivity.
Since IgG food sensitivity tests have not been proven reliable by science, making dietary changes based on their results may lead to unnecessarily restricted diets.
Here are some steps to take if you are looking for guidance with digestive concerns:
1. Keep a food log. Track your typical diet and symptoms to help determine the presence of any patterns. There are many symptom tracker apps that are useful for keeping a food diary.
2. Speak with a gastroenterologist who may offer appropriate testing to rule out potential diseases.
3. If you or your doctor suspect food allergies, speak with a physician who specializes in allergies and immunology. This specialist may suggest a skin prick test or Immunoglobulin E (IgE) blood test for food allergies.
4. Seek nutrition advice. A registered dietitian can assist with nutrition counseling and meal planning for food allergies and intolerance. A dietitian can guide you through an elimination diet and reintroduction, or challenge, to help identify potential food sensitivities.
5. Manage stress. Some people with digestive issues find their symptoms worsen with increased stress in their lives. Implement stress reduction techniques for better digestion.
LeeAnn Weintraub, a registered dietitian, provides nutrition counseling and consulting to individuals, families and businesses. She can be reached by email at RD@halfacup.com.