The Mediterranean Diet is well known for its amazing health benefits. But can it do more harm than good for some people? The answer is yes! Find out why.
Food Intolerances and the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean Diet is well known for its variety of health benefits; its anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties, surplus of healthy fats, and plant based components make it one of the most revered diets to follow. It’s often touted as ideal and “healthy” for everyone and most are eager to incorporate all aspects of the diet into their lifestyle for the health benefits. Not only because it’s relatively easy to do so, but delicious as well.
However, if someone has food intolerances, foods used in the Mediterranean diet (or in ANY diet) are NOT ideal. Many ingredients commonly used can actually have an inflammatory effect on the body, rather than the optimal anti-inflammatory one. Read on to find out what food intolerances are, along with how and why they negatively impact the quality of your health.
“All disease begins in the gut.” ~ Hippocrates
What is Food Intolerance?
Food intolerance, also known as non-IgE mediated food hypersensitivity or non-allergic food hypersensitivity, refers to difficulty in digesting certain foods.
NOTE: food intolerance is different from food allergy.
The onset of symptoms is usually slower (but not always) than a “true allergy” and may be delayed by many hours or even days after eating the offending food. The symptoms may also last for several hours or days and symptoms are sometimes dose dependent; the more of the suspected food you eat, the more likely symptoms will occur. Symptoms often associated with food intolerance include but are not limited to:
- Runny nose
- Feeling under the weather
- Stomach ache
- Irritable bowel
- Inflammation (clinical and sub-clinical)
NOTE: Many times there is no rhyme or reason why a person may be intolerant to certain types of foods. While wheat, dairy, eggs, and legumes are common offenders, more and more individuals are experiencing intolerance to a variety of foods ranging from whole fruits, vegetables, and even spices.
Inflammation: it can make you sick
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to pathogens and or “foreign invaders.” Intolerant foods are perceived by the body as foreign and as a result put the body in a state of inflammation. The body’s natural response is to then “mediate” this inflammation. This “mediator release,” when constant and chronic (i.e. repetitively ingesting intolerant foods) will eventually cause damage to cells and tissues within the body. This damage not only results in observable symptoms like the ones mentioned above, but also has been implicated in health conditions with long term sub-clinical symptoms as well. Depression, arthritis, asthma and irritable bowel syndrome are just a few examples of health conditions linked to food intolerance.
Fun Fact: It’s interesting to note that over two thousand years ago, Hippocrates was the first physician to write about the negative effects that food could have on different people:
“For cheese does not prove equally injurious to all men, for there are some who can take it to satiety, without being hurt by it in the least, but, on the contrary, it is wonderful what strength it imparts to those it agrees with; but there are some who do not bear it well, their constitutions are different, they differ in this respect, that what in their body is incompatible with cheese…”
How food intolerances effect the quality of your health
Let’s look at some ways that food intolerances may be negating your efforts when eating Mediterranean style:
1. You may not be absorbing healthy fats, carbs, and proteins.
The Mediterranean Diet is well known for its healthy high fat content from olive oils and plenty of fresh fish. However, if you keep eating foods that you’re intolerant to, you may be damaging your ability to absorb these fats by impairing basic functions and structures of your gut. Microvilli, enzymes, and pancreatic function can all be impaired, ultimately hindering your ability to absorb and assimilate fat.
Enzymes are also needed for carb and protein absorption. Repeated ingestion of sensitive foods will lead to additional enzyme deficiencies affecting your ability to digest healthy carbohydrates and proteins found in the Mediterranean Diet. Inability to properly digest and assimilate your food will eventually lead to malnutrition.
“Bad digestion is the root of all evil” ~ Hippocrates
2. You will eventually cause leaky gut.
Inability to properly assimilate and digest food will eventually result in damage to basic foundational structures in the gut, resulting in what’s commonly known as “leaky gut.” Impaired gut permeability (integrity of the gut lining), a.k.a. leaky gut, has been implicated in a wide variety of health conditions and is something you definitely don’t want! In addition, the onset of leaky gut will cause more food intolerances.
NOTE: What came first? The chicken or the egg? Many people believe that leaky gut induced by other factors is the cause of food intolerances and others believe the opposite, that food intolerances cause leaky gut. Ultimately, it most likely doesn’t matter as long as both are identified and addressed.
3. You may upset your hormone balance.
Intolerant foods will activate cortisol in the body. is the body’s response to all stress (both internal and external) and continuously eating foods that you’re sensitive too will abnormally spike this hormone. As a result, cortisol dysregulation factors will eventually affect other hormones resulting in additional hormone-related health complaints.
4. You will become more susceptible to catching “stuff.”
Constantly eating foods you’re intolerant to will eventually make you more susceptible to “getting sick.” 80% of our immune system is in the gut and the chronic “stress” of eating sensitive foods will eventually affect SigA production within the gut. SigA is our main antibody and our first line of defense against ingested pathogens. Compromised SigA leads to weakened immunity.
You can fix it
What’s the easiest way to resolve symptoms from food intolerances? Once identified, simply stop eating the food! Easier said than done for some, since many of the foods we’re intolerant to are foods we love the most. The good news is that food intolerance, many times, resolves itself, just by taking the food out for an extended period of time. However, an additional gut healing protocol along with the identification of additional “stressors” is highly recommended.
“The natural healing force within each of us is the greatest force in getting well.” ~ Hippocrates
Keep in mind that food intolerances also change over time. So while an eliminating the problem food(s) may work for some, it’s usually not be enough and/or accurate.
In addition, many food intolerances present sub-clinical symptoms. By the time observable symptoms do manifest themselves, the symptoms may be so far removed from the actual cause (the ingested food) that making the connection between the two is almost impossible. Therefore, the best way to identify any food intolerances is to take a food sensitivity test. That way, there’s no guessing and/or trial and error.
Be aware of your own food intolerances. It’s one of the most effective ways to regain control of your health. For overall wellness, learn if certain foods promote disease and/or inhibit your health, and avoid them. While food intolerance is just one of many “stressors” in today’s world, removing this stressor will make a huge, positive impact in your journey towards good health.
Have questions or need more info on food intolerance? Email me.
More from Roula Marinos Papamihail:
She trained at Functional Diagnostic Nutrition, the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. and holds a Masters in Clinical Psychology from the University of Indianapolis. She’s also the proud mom of 4 little boys. Roula is currently accepting new clients in her office, at home, over the phone, or via Skype. Visit her website at www.myhealthysoma.com.
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