4 Tips for Protecting Your Gut from Intolerance Reactions When Dining Out

The possibility of meeting friends and colleagues for a spot of lunch or a dinner should be such a pleasure, especially now that lockdown is lifting. However, for those who suffer with food intolerances, there can be feelings of anxiety surrounding the idea of dining out, and even more anxiety at the thought of turning down the opportunity to reconnect with friends and colleagues. The good news is that there are methods with which to address food intolerance reactions and provide a safety net so you can relax during your upcoming dinner date.

We caught up with Leyla Moudden, Naturopath and Educator for Enzymedica UK, who revealed her top tips for handling a food intolerance when dining out.

1. Identify the root of the intolerance

It is very common for those who are intolerant to a food to misinterpret the root cause of their intolerance reaction. Sufferers tend to describe an intolerance reaction to the food itself, instead of to a component part within the food, with statements such as I’m intolerant to strawberries” or “I can’t eat beans”.

There is a piece of the puzzle missing when we think of ourselves as being intolerant to a specific food item. It is rarely the whole food that is generating the reaction, but rather a specific molecule within the food. Lactose, for example, is a molecule within milk. Lactose intolerance is not an intolerance to milk, but an intolerance to the lactose within the milk.

Just like with milk and lactose, all foods are made of molecules, and these molecules can be addressed to reduce the severity of an intolerance reaction.  By understanding which molecules are causing the intolerance reaction, we are then able to reduce, or even eliminate, the food item that triggers digestive problems.

2. Think “digestive enzymes”

Digestive enzymes break down the offending molecules in foods; they do this throughout the digestive tract, but for the majority offood intolerances, it is digestive enzymes in the stomach that are ultimately responsible for preventing the intolerance reaction. Whilst chewing is the first part of digestion, the serious breakdown of food molecules occurs in the stomach, which is why the stomach is full of potent stomach acid to facilitate this process.

Most food intolerance reactions occur after food has passed from the stomach, into the small intestine, and this takes on average between 30 minutes to two hours after the food has been eaten. When we feel an intolerance reaction within this time frame, such as cramping, bloating, flatulence or diarrhoea, it usually indicates that there is some part of stomach digestion that is not effectively breaking down a molecule.  The missing aspect of stomach digestion in those suffering with a food intolerance symptom, is the digestive enzymes required to break down the molecules within the food just eaten.

Digestive enzymes are naturally produced by the body; they are most abundant when we are children and begin to naturally decline after the age of 30. Our digestive enzyme production isalso affected by genetics, lifestyle, stress levels and medications. This is why statistically we tend to see more food intolerances in those over the age of 20 than we do in children.

A tolerant stomach will successfully break down food intomolecules to such a degree that they cannot trigger an intolerance reaction, because the food molecules are not reaching the small intestine intact. So, how does that work? Let’s consider lactose for a moment. Lactose is a molecule made of glucose units bound together. Once lactose is broken down by an enzyme called lactase, lactose becomes glucose. Digestive enzymes have converted lactose, into glucose, so the lactose no longer exists. Now that the lactose no longer exists, it cannot generate an intolerance reaction because it is no longer there.

In the same way that digestive enzymes convert lactose into glucose, they can also convert other molecules like gluten, or fibre into smaller molecules that are completely different to the original food.

Every food can be broken down by the right digestive enzymes, which is why identifying the molecule that triggers the reaction, can help us to find the digestive enzyme that breaks it down – and liberate us from the severity of an intolerance response.  

When molecules are not broken down by digestive enzymes, they reach the small intestine in “too large a size” where they causeirritationleading to stomach pain, cramps and loose bowelmovements, or they sit and ferment, rather than passing through easily causing gas, bloating and water retention.

If you know that you are intolerant to a molecule such as lactose, or a group of foods such as carbohydrates or pulses, exposure is highly likely even when we are activity avoiding the food. Some studies* suggest that foods and ingredients like gluten and dairyare so prevalent that it is impossible to avoid them 100%,especially when eating out.

Knowing that total avoidance is going to be challenging, rather than missing out on lunch and dinner invites, one easy action we can take is to be sure to take a digestive enzyme that targets themolecule we are reactive to, to help our stomach break it down before it can reach the small intestine and trigger the reaction we seek to avoid.  For example, if you know you have trouble digesting foods that contain dairy, try supplementing with a digestive enzyme that contains the enzymes needed to break down all the components in dairy, such as Lacto by Enzymedica. A maximum strength dairy formula, Lacto includes lactase enzymes to help break down lactose (milk sugars), lipases to break down milk fats and protease and invertase enzymes to break down dairy proteins.

Whilst digestive enzymes taken as a food supplement will not cure an intolerance reaction, they can dramatically reduce the severity and intensity of the reaction.

3. Know the foods that lay ahead of you

Understanding the theme and style of the restaurant can give you a head start on preparing your order and can guide your choices when choosing where to dine out. For example, Asian cuisine tends to contain more nuts, Italian cuisine more dairy and gluten whilst vegan menus will contain more pulses.  

4. Support digestion to promote digestive enzymes

There are food habits and behaviours that can support digestion in general, and when we support digestion, we reduce the severity of intolerance reactions and also help the body recover more quickly if a particularly severe intolerance reaction has occurred.

Selective eating behaviours such as chewing food into a liquid form before you swallow, or beginning a meal with a bitter flavour such as rocket leaves, pomegranate, or citrus can help toset the digestive system in motion.

Raw fruits, particularly pineapple and papaya contain naturaldigestive enzymes and make for a great dessert choice, while hot and spicy herbs like ginger are lovely digestive stimulants that can promote digestion as a tea after a meal.