I have always experimented with nutrition. During my final year of university, I decided to forgo gluten but given my penchant for pasta, bread and all things carb-heavy, this lasted approximately six months and resulted in my peers assuming I had 'notions'. During a semester spent travel writing and touring India, I put vegetarianism to the test, more so due to a lack of sound refrigeration systems and the associated threat of food poisoning from nightly power cuts. Years later, while visiting my would-be Mediterranean in-laws in a bustling little mountain city somewhere outside Rome, I was on a dairy-free kick. However, the seemingly unending availability of the most delectable Buffalo Mozarella you ever set your eyes on meant I eschewed my lactose-free lifestyle and proceeded to indulge. This did not go well. I ate all the cheese and, as punishment, had all the regrets. Sometimes such regrets take the shape of digestive discomfort while out for dinner; sometimes as burning acid in my chest at night when I lay down; sometimes as a disconcerting feeling of unease in my body during my workday. Yes, I have always experimented with food, not because of our nutritional zeitgeist, but simply because I have never felt quite right. Two months ago, thanks to the Fitzwilliam Food Clinic in Dublin, I discovered why.
According to Martin Healy from Dublin’s Fitzwilliam Food Test Clinic, I suffer from a classic case of low-grade inflammation caused by my body's inability to process certain food groups: egg white, cow's milk, goat's milk, wheat, barley, yeast, peas, cabbage, soya, potatoes, as well as an assortment of nuts like cashews, brazil, almonds and the most devastating blow of them all, pistachio.
About Fitzwilliam Food Clinic
The Fitzwilliam Food Test Clinic is an Irish company and the exclusive representative and supplier of all Cambridge Nutritional Sciences (UK) laboratory test services in Ireland. In addition to the clinic, they provide this food intolerance test service for an increasing number of doctors, fertility clinics, nutritionists and associated healthcare practitioners throughout Ireland. Fitzwilliam Food Test Clinic was the first to introduce medical-grade, laboratory-based, IgG antibody blood tests for food sensitivity testing into Ireland in 1998.
Before taking my test—which arrived neatly packaged and took no more than five minutes to complete—I knew I didn't respond well to cow’s milk or any milk for that matter. But I did not expect the lengthy list of trigger foods that landed in my inbox just ten days later. All it took was a simple blood test. If this type of low-grade inflammation is left untreated, it can lead to diabetes, heart disease and obesity. My extensive food report, prepared by Martin, explains that, out of a possible four, I score….four! I am high risk. This comes as a surprise given my diligent dedication to eating healthfully, love of exercise and sometimes Type A focus on health—for the most part, that is.
As a teen and in my early twenties I suffered from bad skin. (In hindsight, my skin wasn't actually that bad) This led to a set of oppressive restriction diets: No chocolate. No cookies, cakes or biscuits. No sugar. No refined carbs. Nothing fried. No oil. It's only in the last two years that this prohibition era came to an end. These days I'm more laissez-faire where food is concerned. But back to my results:
“This means that you are considered at high risk for the development of low-grade inflammatory mediated conditions such as obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes mellitus and coronary heart disease. There is a clear link between elevated levels of food-specific IgG antibodies and this type of inflammation. Evidence has shown that a diet based on the elimination of foods showing the highest levels of IgG antibodies will significantly reduce inflammation in the vast majority of patients. Systemic low-grade inflammation may contribute to the development of obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes mellitus and atherosclerotic vascular disease.” Despite all the bad news, Martin explains, on a call, that I can still drink champagne, given its low level of yeast. This is comforting, albeit, worrying to my bank account! Wine is out. Beer is out. Bubbles, it would appear, are fair game.
To clear up any potential confusion, I am not allergic to these food groups they simply do not sit well with me. Food sensitivity, as it is known, affects a great number of people and can develop at any time of life. The symptoms of food sensitivity rarely occur immediately after the food is eaten. The reaction is usually delayed by several hours, maybe even days. For example, the milk you drunk on Sunday could be the cause of Tuesday's dodgy tummy. Such food sensitivity reactions are triggered by a specific antibody – IgG. It is these delayed reactions that make the detection of the trigger foods tricky for healthcare professionals.
It is estimated that 20% of the population suffer from some kind of food intolerance, so if you fall into that category it’s vital you get checked. Common symptoms of intolerance include:
Flushing of the skin
Since the test results landed in my inbox, I've swayed between good cop, bad cop, learning to live with food intolerance. I won't be perfect and some days I'll make bad decisions. Some situations are harder like when you're out and about and can't just grab a pre-packed sandwich. Mealtimes now look slightly different, although, I have found alternatives for almost everything, mainly oat or coconut-based. Violife have some incredible dairy-free cheeses, which I'm loving, while Tesco stock great options in their Free From range. Having a food intolerance doesn't mean you need to restrict yourself. You just need to be more mindful of food choices.
Today, I feel good! My digestion is back to its best, my energy levels are great, I no longer have brain fog and acid indigestion no longer keeps me awake at night, while I toss and turn by my long-suffering fiance. In one month I'll follow up with the team at Fitzwilliam Food Clinic to test my microbiome and level of inflammation once more. Here's hoping that this, the latest in a long line of nutrition experiments, is my last.
For more information on food intolerance and sensitivity contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call
Disclaimer: thank you to the Fitzwilliam Food Clinic for partnering on this post and gifting an intolerance test.