Understanding the power of food: exploring food sensitivity

Published Apr 3, 2023


Have you ever experienced a sudden rash or upset stomach after eating a food that you once loved? You’re not alone. Many people develop food sensitivities over time, but they may not realise it until they have a reaction.

However, by practising mindful eating, you can listen to your body’s signals and explore any potential food sensitivities.

Mindful eating is an essential practice that can benefit our mental and physical health. It is about paying attention to our body’s signals, engaging our senses, and being present in the moment when consuming food. IOL Lifestyle spoke to nutrition experts to explore the world of food sensitivity.

According to Ashley Butler Lobb a National nutrition and wellness expert at Dis-Chem, the difference between a food allergy, food sensitivity, and food intolerance are how the body responds to these and the reason behind the response.

Food sensitivities occur when the body has difficulty digesting certain food. Picture: Brooke Lark /Unsplash

In contrast to food intolerance and sensitivity, which are more frequently the result of digestive issues, a food allergy is a reaction that is brought on by the immune system. The inability to metabolise or digest particular foods is a characteristic of food intolerance. One of the most typical examples is lactose intolerance, said Lobb.

Food sensitivities occur when the body has difficulty digesting certain food. The resulting inflammation from that can cause a range of symptoms from bloating, and gas, to skin rashes and headaches. By identifying your sensitivities and making appropriate dietary changes.

Faaizah Laher, Registered Dietitian, and ADSA spokesperson note that food sensitivities can fade away with time and also reoccur.

“Our bodies, immune systems, and the gut microbiome are continually changing, and what may not be well tolerated today may be fine to have later in a few months. Processing and the way different foods are processed can often trigger certain sensitivities,” Laher told IOL Lifestyle.

Why do we often feel sleepy and lethargic after eating a heavy meal?

Many factors can contribute to the feeling of fatigue and lethargy after eating a large or caloric-heavy meal.

“One common reason is the role that food must play on our hormone levels, such as insulin, CCK, and serotonin. For example, a slump in energy levels can be caused by the fluctuation in our blood sugar levels and the effect of insulin.

Heavier, larger meals also take longer to digest, which can leave us feeling sluggish while this is underway. Energy is used for digestion, so the bigger the meal, the more work there is to be done and the more tired we may feel,” explained Lobb.

She adds, “Carb-heavy foods are often the biggest culprit, as these have the greatest effect on blood sugar levels and are often high in caloric value as well. There are some underlying medical conditions (such as diabetes) that can be the cause of this too and so it’s important to monitor how you feel and consult with your doctor if this is occurring often.”

Are certain foods more likely to cause a sensitive reaction than others?

There are some foods, but not only these, that are more likely to cause intolerance or sensitivity than others. Food intolerances and sensitivities to lactose (dairy), gluten, and coffee are some of the most frequently observed (caffeine). The top allergies, on the other hand, are sesame seeds, fish, shellfish, fish, tree nuts, milk, and wheat. These allergies make up the vast majority of all food allergies worldwide, said Lobb.

Can food sensitivity develop later in life, even if someone has never had an issue with a particular food before?

She asserts that food sensitivity is quite common, stress, ageing, illnesses, and even drugs can all contribute to food sensitivity. Your digestive system ages along with you as you get older, and this could cause you to become more sensitive to certain foods than you were previously.

However, it is unclear exactly why this occurs.

Laher emphasised that making drastic changes to eating habits can be difficult, and may require additional measures to guarantee all necessary nutrients are still being consumed.

In some cases, such as when large groups of foods must be eliminated, a meal replacement or multivitamin supplement may be necessary to ensure adequate nourishment.