I'll never forget the day my husband came home to tell me that he was intolerant to a long list of foods.
"I can't eat anything," he said, feeling a little sorry for himself.
I didn't know what to do or say since I had just given birth to my son and my hands were full. Neither of us knew much about food intolerances, or how they differ from food allergies. Two years later, my husband can indeed eat food – and a good variety too – but it's prepared in a healthier way. We are also more aware of ingredients that go into everyday foods and choose products more carefully.
Most people include pasta, bread, potatoes, eggs, dairy and sugar in their daily meals. When the "bread and butter" of your diet is suddenly off limits, eating is challenging to say the least. It helps to understand the difference between food intolerances and food allergies, and to know which of these affects you.
Food allergies occur when your body reacts, usually immediately, to foods it is sensitive to. Your body responds by releasing antibodies, or proteins, to defend itself from this food and causes an allergic reaction. The most common responses are nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Food intolerances, on the other hand, are delayed reactions to foods that are particular to you. For example, certain cheeses may make you ill, but others may not affect you at all. You might tolerate a small amount of a food, but if you eat it too much or too often, the symptoms return. Food intolerances differ from food allergies in that the body is not releasing antibodies against these foods. The symptoms can be anything from vomiting and diarrhea to fatigue and skin conditions such as eczema and rashes.
The best way I can describe living with food intolerances is trying to live with inconsistent reactions to foods. There are no reliable tests to identify which foods you are intolerant to. An exclusion diet can help but figuring out what to exclude is a lengthy project that my husband is still working on. Unless this diet is followed consistently, you may find that results keep changing – and this is the biggest challenge.
I made the Raspberry-Chocolate Muffins below in an attempt to eliminate the "bad" foods, so that my husband could eat something "normal" again. The result was so good that it has become a favorite recipe in our home. I've used spelt flour in the recipe – an ancient grain that contains gluten, but is often tolerated by people who cannot eat common wheat. This recipe works well with fresh blueberries, apples, pears, or even grated carrots. Always use seasonal fruits as they are naturally sweeter and make up for the reduced amount of sugar in the recipe.
1 3/4 cups white or wholegrain spelt flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup coconut sugar*
2 medium ripe bananas, peeled and mashed (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 cup fresh raspberries
50g/1.76 oz 72% dairy free dark chocolate, chopped (I use Pacari)**
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4 and line a standard 12 cup muffin pan with muffin cases.
2. In a large bowl, add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and whisk to combine.
3. In a separate bowl, add the remaining ingredients, except for the raspberries and chocolate, and mix with a whisk until smooth. Add the flour mixture and stir until the batter just comes together and is still a bit lumpy. Do not over mix. Add the raspberries and chocolate and gently stir into the batter.
4. Fill the prepared muffin cups with equal amounts of batter and bake for 30 minutes or until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Leave to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before serving.
*Coconut sugar is a healthier alternative to cane sugar that can be found in health stores. It is produced from the sap of the flower buds of the coconut palm. If you can't find coconut sugar you can substitute the same quantity of brown sugar or use half the amount of honey or maple syrup (2 tablespoons in this recipe).
**Chocolate contains cane sugar so leave it out if you are avoiding this completely.