Some don’t agree on the idea of a wheat or gluten allergy – with one leading doctor saying it’s a myth (with the except of auto-immune diseases such as coeliac’s) while others swear by it.
And don’t even get us started on the topic of sugar.
Amid all this chaos, I was seeking an answer to a question I’d had for a long time: are there any foods that don’t agree with me, and if so, what are they?
With so many of our habits formed in childhood, it can be difficult to tell whether gluten, dairy or wheat don't agree with us.
To answer this question, there are companies that test for food intolerances – which, it should be noted is different to allergies.
An allergic reaction to a food eg, nuts is an immediate, adverse response to whatever it has that has been ingested. Intolerance refers to sensitivity your body may have around a certain foodstuff.
One way of testing for this is to test for IgG antibodies in the blood – basically your body will produce the antibody as a defence against certain foods that may not agree with you.
YorkTest are one of the companies who do home testing, and for £275, they test for 133 foods. You also get two sessions with a nutritionist who will explain what alternatives to eat and other foods that make good additions to your diet.
The company has previously come under controversy for IgG testing firstly due to a BBC report in 2007 that revealed that a journalist had taken two tests with very different results, and secondly, there are scientists who think that IgG testing is a bit questionable.
Why? Because unlike an allergic reaction, you can’t tell how your intolerance may present itself. So without knowing the symptoms, it can be hard to swallow the fact that you have an intolerance to something (which may be wrong), and you have to eliminate these foods out of your diet.
However, Allergy UK, the leading charity around allergies has given their stamp of approval to YorkTest, so I wanted to test it out.
It's appropriate that the day I head to Whole Foods to hear the results of my food and drink intolerance test, my tummy's feeling a bit weird from the dinner I had the night before.
I'll spare you the details, but after slightly too much wine and curry, I feel in the right frame of mind to hear some truth-bombs about my eating habits.
Like Deal Or No Deal, the tension before my results are slipped out of the envelope ispalpable, and when I lay eyes on them, I’m shocked.
Naively, I think I expected to be told I had no intolerances, and at worst, suspected dairy might be on the list.
Intolerances are marked from one to four – with one being low.
It turns out dairy is fine for me, instead, I’m told that I have a number 2 reaction to yeast, which I don't think is so bad until I realise it is in practically everything, from soups to sauces. Soy sauce, all breads, Marmite and the worst – wine.
I've also got a reaction to wheat, gluten and egg yolk. The first two are not so traumatic as they may be for other people because I've been steadily cutting bread and pasta out of my diet because I find them quite bloating.
But the egg yolk – that stings. Eggs form a big part of my diet firstly because I like them and secondly, they fill me up far more than a slice of toast. I find myself less likely to snack after eating them, and they replace a big hole left behind by the wheat.
Going around Whole Foods to pick things out that reflect my new diet is challenging. Not only are products expensive, I find myself seriously mourning things I took for granted. When I make my mother's chilli chicken with tamari soy sauce, for instance, the flavour just isn't the same and a tiny bottle costs nearly £4.
I’m advised to cut these foods entirely from my diet for a week to see if I notice the difference, and I don’t.
Incensed as to whether this actually works, I studied around YorkTest and what I found was actually a 50-50 response. Some people thought it was amazing, while others were unconvinced by the results.
I called Gill Hart, technical director at York Test to find out more.
I wanted to know why some foods were still not agreeing with me – lamb, dairy – but didn’t show up on the test.
“That’s because it’s not an IgG food intolerance – that’s something else. IgG antibodies are produced in the body because what you’re eating is causing a problem, and your immune system wants to fight it.”
But it’s not very helpful, I ask, if you have no idea of symptoms?
“This won’t cure any symptoms because you are not diagnosing a disease," Gill says. "What this helps with is rather than picking things at random and doing an elimination diet, it cuts through that for you.”
After our call, I spent the next three weeks loosely monitoring what I was eating and how I felt afterwards, and the results were very interesting. (I would say I ended up eating humble pie, but I'm not allowed the wheat...)
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I’m confident that what I felt wasn’t psychosomatic (especially because I wanted, on occasion, to eat these things, but I definitely noticed negative effects after eating the ‘forbidden’ foods on my list.
Yeast – unsurprisingly – was the biggest trigger as it had a number 2 reading on my chart, and I noticed the effects it had on me. Wine, which contains yeast to ferment it, left me feeling out of sorts (and not because I had a hangover).
The effects were subtle so it took a while to pick up on, but I had trouble digesting food, my skin felt slightly itchy and I felt generally uncomfortable.
Yeast in soy sauce and oyster sauce did not really affect me in the same way, but after I ploughed into a bag of crisps and a sandwich, I felt bloated and uneasy. Again, I felt like the food sat in my body like a stone.
The eggs did not go off the list but although again, I felt slightly bloated, this wasn’t enough for me to cut my favourite foodstuff out of the mix.
The evidence was staring me in the face, but I didn’t quite want to accept it. The bottom line, is that for whatever reason, my body was just not feeling egg yolks, yeast and wheat. I could try and argue my way out of it, but the body is a machine that can’t be tricked, and if something isn’t agreeing with it, then regardless of what your mind wants, that isn’t going to change.
Since doing the test (touch wood) I also find it pertinent to note that I haven’t had a cold – I endured four almost back to back over the winter.
More evidently needs to be done around IgG testing, but with so much of the immune system located in the gut, it does make sense that what you eat is linked to antibodies.
“YorkTest provided three papers to support their claims for the FoodSCAN intolerance tests and believed those showed that the presence of IgG antibodies in the blood was indicative of food intolerances.
However, we were concerned that the studies were conducted on people suffering from chronic medical conditions such as IBS and migraine and considered that those findings did not support a general claim for diagnosis of food intolerance.”
In response to this, Gill says that doing the test on journalists is not ideal especially if we aren’t presenting overt symptoms. However, I’m glad I did the test. It has been a good curtailer of drinking (which can only be a good thing) and of mindful eating of bread, and since eliminating most foods, it’s actually widened my knowledge of food, if anything.
Who knew there was such a thing as sea spaghetti? (It’s delicious). Or that brown rice is much tastier, nuttier and more filling than a slice of bread? I think I got so caught up with what I was cutting out, that I didn’t really think about what I was gaining.