At some time we have all felt bloated and full after a meal. This can be scary and induce us to eliminate any doubtful food, without assessing the consequences. What is a food intolerance? What are they? A food intolerance is the incapacity to digest a nutrient; that is, a small component of particular foods. The only true, scientifically demonstrated, food intolerances are those to lactose and gluten.

Lactose is a sugar present in milk and its by-products; the human organism digests this sugar with the help of a specific enzyme called lactase. The intolerance occurs when the enzyme is completely absent in the organism from birth, or if there is a reduced production of it or, again, a physiological malfunction. Gluten is a protein of grain and the intolerance occurs when one or both of the enzymes (gliadin and transglutaminase) that digest it are missing; today, this condition is called gluten sensitivity.

In both cases, the organism is not able to digest this protein, therefore every time it transits through the intestine it is immediately eliminated through liquid faeces. Coeliac disease is quite another question, and is an autoimmune type inflammatory process. The immune system identifies the components of gluten as pathogenic micro-organisms and attacks them to eliminate them.

In this inflammatory process, the intestinal mucosa with the gluten digestive enzymes is damaged and the organism loses its capacity to digest it. There are now many lactose and gluten free products available. What are they? Lactose free milk and by-products are obtained industrially using the lactase enzyme that digests the milk’s sugar before the product is packaged.  The vegan alternatives are naturally lactose free because they do not use animal products and by-products and do not contain lactose even as a preservative. Gluten-free foods can be such either naturally or chemically.

What are the differences? The chemical elimination process of the protein part of the grain (gluten) entails the production of a starch-rich food, a complex sugar, not suitable for people who have glycemia or hepatic steatosis problems. Cereals naturally free of gluten are: corn, rice, tapioca, quinoa, amaranth, chia, teff. It should be noted that, of the commonly used cereals, rice is the one that the organisms metabolises best. It is advisable to choose quinoa, amaranth, chia and teff due to their high digestibility as they are starch powders. Recently, ancient gains such as Kamut, Senatore Cappelli and Timilia have been regained popularity.

These are non-GM (genetically modified) cereals that have conserved all the original characteristics of the grain. Not growing in a genetically forced way, they have maintained excellent nutritional values; indeed, they do not produce much gluten or starch. In any case, it is always a good idea to seek the advice of a specialist who can prepare a personalised diet. Often, transitory intestinal inflammations that can be mistaken for real food intolerances are not taken into account.

I’m talking specifically of irritable bowel syndrome. In this case, the inflamed intestinal mucosa can be temporarily damaged and lose some digestive enzymes (lactase, gliadin and transglutaminase) and the ability to digest the respective nutrients (lactose and gluten). The symptoms are similar but in this case the intestine lengthens the digestion time, causing greater

fermentation of all the sugars consumed during the meal. The food therapy must be different and take into consideration temporary dietary sensitivities.

Eat responsibly.

Dr. Fabiana Venezia
Nutritionist and biologist
Nutrigenomic Specialist

Read the article in the Vivi Bene magazine