March’s – ‘The Wellness Issue’ – Download Now 

Identifying which foods which allow your body to operate at an optimal level is key to overall wellness.

“Food allergies and intolerances are hot topics nutrition and wellness and are often because many people think they are one and the same,” says Mona Joumaa, Clinical Dietitian at Mediclinic Parkview.

How did you get into the field of nutrition?

When I moved into high school, I came across nutrition in science, since then, the topic left me completely fascinated.

I studied nutrition and dietetics at Saint Joseph University in Beirut, Lebanon, but it’s not an easy process. It takes a few years of demanding classes and a 12-month internship in a hospital and passing a board exam to become a certified clinical dietitian. While it’s been a challenge and a lot of hard work, I’m grateful I chose a domain to work in that I’m truly passionate about.

What drives the passion for your career?

In the last 11 years of practising dietetics, the best gift that I can is hearing from my patients, “I no longer need my blood pressure medications”, “I can now fit into my jeans”, “You helped me to have a happy and healthy life” – this makes it a rewarding career path. I also love being a dietitian because I am learning every day. I learn things from my clients, other dietitians and other healthcare professionals. The job never gets old because the medical field is constantly changing. We are always learning new things about medicine, the human body and its relationship with food. I truly feel that twenty years from now I will still not be bored doing what I do. I’m always growing as a practitioner and perfecting the art of counselling people on nutrition.

What is the difference between a food intolerance and a food allergy?

A food allergy is an autoimmune system response when the body mistakes a particular food as a harmful substance. For example, antibodies are released mounting a defence against the food in the body with a release of chemicals like histamine, causing an allergic reaction. While a food intolerance often called a non-allergic food hypersensitivity doesn’t involve the immune system and is more common than a food allergy. Let’s refer to food intolerance as the body’s inability to break down and digest the food. Food intolerances are often delayed in their response and trickier to be diagnosed.

How can both affect the body?

Symptoms of an allergic reaction can manifest in a minor way as rashes, itching, hives, or swelling In more severe cases people can have breathing difficulties and can lose consciousness, meaning a food allergy can be fatal. While the impact on your body from a food intolerance can be described as nausea, stomach pain, gas, cramps or bloating, heartburn, diarrhoea and headaches.

How common are food allergies and intolerances?

Food allergies are present in three per cent of adults. The most common food allergies are nuts, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts and milk.

A food intolerance is much more common, with around 30 per cent of the population suffering from food intolerances. The most common one is a lactose intolerance – around 65 per cent of the Mediterranean population have lactose intolerance. Other types of food intolerances include: fructose found in fruits; histamines substances created in the fermentation process in aged cheeses processed meat, beer, wine, soy sauce; salicylate which is a type of salt; tartrazine, an artificial food colouring; and some additives such as benzoates, butythyroxynisol (BHA), sulfites and MSG monosodium glutamate.

How can you go about diagnosing allergies?

To make a diagnosis for a food allergy, your allergist will ask you a detailed history of your symptoms. Get ready to be questioned about the quantity of the food and the onset of the symptom. According, they will order a blood test or skin prick food allergy test to indicate where your IGEs antibodies are present in your body. IGEs are weapons that your body create to fight the allergenic food.

How can you test for food intolerances?

For food intolerances, most of them are found through trials. Before heading to the hospital for a test, you are advised to keep a food diary to record what you’ve been eating and to identify the symptoms associated with a special ingredient. In the case of lactose, the diagnosis is made based on the breath test. Once a lactose intolerance or any food intolerance is diagnosed it is important to start avoiding this food for a specific time of period – It can vary between six to eight weeks. Some find that intolerances are reversible and can be dose-related, meaning that symptoms may occur only when huge quantities are consumed. As for the IgG Blood testing, the science has shown weak evidence; the presence of IgG is likely a normal response and a memory antibody of the immune system to exposure to food. Thus some people have shown improvement in their digestion after restricting the food brought from an IgG blood test

By identifying what a person is allergic or intolerant to, how can this affect the overall wellbeing of an individual?

Once a person is diagnosed with food allergy/intolerance and appropriate food restrictions were taken, you will start to notice a positive outcome on your general health in a wealth of different areas. This includes healthy digestion without abdominal distension, cramps and regulation in bowel movement; a better mental clarity and fewer headaches; glowing skin; normalised vitamins status in the body; higher energy levels; improvement in sleeping pattern; optimisation in the weight and empowered sense.

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What is your advice to those who believe they have food allergies or intolerances?

If you’re curious to know more about the food allergies and sensitivities, don’t rush for a Google search – it will get you more than a million hits. Instead, seek the opinion of your medical team they are the right one to advise you.

During your restrictive phase always keep your routine appointments with your dietitian, as a simple restriction in dairy products for instance can lead to calcium, B2 and Vit D deficiencies. Therefore your registered dietitian will help you with the correct food alternatives and can prescribe the needed supplements.

And finally, don’t always blame your food for being bloated or waking up with headaches, think of your general lifestyle habits. Bloating can be triggered by the fact that you’ve been stressed eating too quickly before rushing to your busy day with back to back meetings. Or if you’ve woke up with a headache because you’ve been spending most of your days in front of your screen.

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March’s – ‘The Wellness Issue’ – Download Now

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