If you had a food allergy as an adult, you’d know about it by now, right?
Actually, that’s not always the case. While more severe food allergies can cause extreme reactions, other food allergies can manifest as normal-seeming symptoms. In fact, some food allergy symptoms can even mimic those brought on by seasonal allergies, like itchy eyes and sneezing, to name a few.
Here are a few signs you might have a food allergy you don’t know about yet—and what you can do in order to figure out which foods could be to blame.
Lack of energy
Food is fuel for our bodies. So if you find that you feel more sluggish after certain meals, it could be a sign that your body is struggling to process a certain food you’ve consumed. Lack of energy is most typically associated with a gluten allergy, explains Rebecca Lewis, RD, of HelloFresh. “[If] you feel tired all the time, this could be because your digestive system is so inflamed that you aren’t absorbing any nutrients, including iron, which a lack of can cause anemia, which leads to a lack of energy.”
If you find yourself farting and burping like a frat boy—and feeling bloated—after eating, a food intolerance may be to blame. “If your body can’t or doesn’t produce the enzymes necessary to break down a certain food, the undigested food hangs out in the digestive tract and starts to ferment,” explains holistic nutritionist Jesse Lane Lee. “As it ferments, it produces gas, which causes you to fart and burp and makes your stomach expand to make you look bloated.”
There’s a difference between having an upset stomach from eating too much and having an upset stomach due to a food allergy. “You get painful stomach cramps after eating foods you are intolerant to because your body can’t properly break them down and digest them,” Lee says. “These foods can actually damage your digestive tract and cause you to go running to the bathroom.” In fact, sprinting to the toilet after a meal is typically characteristic of a dairy allergy, Lewis says. “This is because your body views the potential allergen as a foreign threat and wants to get it out of your body as quickly as possible.”
Chronic headaches and migraines
Of course, headaches and migraines can be caused by a number of things. But if you’re constantly popping Advils, it’s worth looking at the foods you’re consuming when these symptoms strike. “Headaches and migraines involve an inflammatory reaction in the head, which can be caused by eating certain foods,” Lee explains. “MSG is a common culprit along with alcohol, beloved chocolate and caffeine.”
If you go through a box of Kleenex per week and are constantly feeling congested, the high pollen count might not be the culprit. “This is really common in people who are allergic to dairy,” Lee explains, “because it is extremely mucus-forming. If you are allergic to dairy, your body sees it as a foreign protein and you produce histamines, which end up as the mucus that stuffs up your nose.”
It’s the worst kind of itch, because you can’t scratch it, and no matter how many times you swallow or how much water you chug, it just won’t go away. Lewis says that this symptom is most commonly associated with a nut allergy. “You get an itchy throat after eating the offending food item and may notice swelling around your eyes or hives on your skin,” she says.
What’s happening to your skin is often a direct result of what’s going on beneath the surface. “If your skin is breaking out, it could be due to being in a chronic state of inflammation, which is your body’s first response to fight off what it perceives as a threat,” Lewis explains. “Since acne can be a result of damage to the surface of skin due to inflammation, food allergens may be the culprit.”
So now that you know the signs, what can you do to pinpoint the problem? “The best way to identify your trigger foods is an elimination diet,” explains Maggie Moon,RDN, author of The Elimination Diet Workbook.
A basic overview of an elimination diet would include a two- to four-week assessment phase, where you eat normally but keep track of what you’re eating and pay close attention to how you feel after each meal, and which ingredients were included. Then, based on your findings, try eliminating one of the food groups that seem to cause your symptoms for one or two weeks. Finally, throw in a “test day” to see how your body reacts to having that food group reintroduced.