One of my favourite quotes is “I feel as good as I eat.” Meaning what we eat has a major impact on how good or bad we feel.
Most of us recognize the connections when it comes to indigestion or acid reflux (the commercials help to bring it to our attention), but we may not recognize other symptoms like headaches, anxiety, skin issues or even depression. The best way to make the connection between what we eat and how we feel is to keep a food journal. What you do is write down what you’re eating and drinking over the course of a week, and then note on how you feel afterwards (physically and mentally). You can keep an actual journal, put it in notes on your phone, or write it on a napkin…whatever works.
One thing to note is that you could feel the effects right away or it might take a day or two for symptoms to kick in…that is why a food journal is so important. You can start to recognize patterns.
There are certain foods that have known side effects. I wrote about many of them in my book “Unjunk Your Junk Food.” So today I wanted to show you some examples of foods that have known side effects so you can be extra aware of when eating or drinking them.
Let’s start with artificial sweeteners. Examples of artificial sweeteners include: Aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame potassium (or ace-K), and saccharin. Artificial sweeteners can cause side effects like headaches, fatigue, anxiety, depression and even vision problems…just to name a few. In fact, there are over 90 different reported side effects of aspartame alone.
You can generally tell if a product contains artificial sweeteners if it’s labelled “diet,” “reduced sugar,” or “sugar free.” It doesn’t always mean that so it’s important to read the ingredients to be sure.
You can find artificial sweeteners in thousands of different foods and beverages including:
And over-the-counter medication for adults and children
In many cases products contain more than one artificial sweetener. Companies mix them together to get a sweeter taste. For example some brands of gum have 3 different types of artificial sweeteners including aspartame because it makes the flavour last longer. So if you tend to get headaches after eating or drinking certain foods—they man contain artificial sweeteners, so track what you eat in your food journal to see if there is a connection.
Another common ingredient that we eat that can affect how we feel is gluten. Many of us already know about that connection because gluten free is so popular. Gluten is a protein found in wheat. Gluten is found in foods like bread, deli meat, hot dogs, beer, and surprising places like supplements, and products labeled “wheat free.” That’s because gluten can come from other grains like spelt and barley, so just because a product is labeled wheat-free doesn’t mean it is also gluten free.
Gluten is a pretty controversial ingredient. Some people say it’s fine to eat, while others say we should avoid it. I personally can’t digest gluten. For me, it caused digestive issues, like bloating and stomachaches, and it made my head cloudy. I know someone who gets headaches and someone else who just doesn’t feel good overall. Others can become depressed, have loose stools or even feel tired. Everyone is different so if you suspect gluten is an issue for you, write down your symptoms in your food journal so you can make that connection.
Next we have dairy. About 75 percent of the world’s population has lactose intolerance—meaning they can’t digest the sugar in milk. The connection between being lactose intolerant and how you feel mostly presents as digestive issues like gas, bloating, loose stools, and stomach pain. I’m lactose intolerant and so is my middle daughter.
However if you have an allergy to dairy, then you allergic to the proteins in milk and that’s much more serious and can present as skin issues, hives, swelling, itchy throat and/or anaphylaxis. Dairy is found in obvious foods like milk, yogurt, butter, and milk chocolate. It can also be found in not so obvious foods like margarine, breadcrumbs, deli meats, tuna (some brands contain casein, a protein in milk), and dark chocolate.
If you want to be 100% sure that a product is dairy-free, look for the word “vegan” on the package.
Next we have MSG. MSG is used to enhance the flavour of food. It gives food an “UMAMI” or “savoury” flavour. MSG itself doesn’t have any taste…but when you add it to foods it helps to balance and round out the flavour of that food. MSG is often added to salty foods like chips, soups, noodles, and tomato cocktail juices. The way you know if it’s in a product is it will be written in the ingredients as “monosodium glutamate.”
There are also foods that contain naturally occurring glutamate in the form of an amino acid called “glutamic acid” like soy sauce, mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, sardines, and yogurt. Some people can tolerate MSG while others can’t. It’s estimated about 40% of the population is intolerant to MSG. Side effects for people who are sensitive to it range from headaches, to face flushing, tingling, numbness, hot flashes, chest pain, heart palpitations, nausea and/or excessive sweating.
Along with aspartame, MSG is one of the most complained about food additives. The important thing to note about MSG is that there are over 40 different names for it including autolyzed yeast extract, yeast extract, disodium 5-guanylate, disodium 5-inosinate, and the list goes on. So for those of you trying to avoid MSG, make sure you’re aware of all the different names it can be hidden as. And for those of you who’ve been experiencing unexplained issues, a food journal can ready come in handy, because MSG might the culprit.
Truthfully any food can cause an issue, even fruits and vegetables like mango, citrus fruits, apples and broccoli, …so the bottom line is the listen to your body and track how you feel. You can then work with your doctor or nutritionist, or dietician to come up with a plan that works for you.
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