Sensitivities are different from food allergies or anaphylactic reactions which involve an immediate immune response. Allergies typically present with hives, swelling, and can affect the airway. Allergic reactions can be serious and life-threatening; therefore, require strict avoidance and possibly require the person to carry emergency medicine such as an epi-pen with them.
An sensitivity is when you do not tolerate a specific food very well and it causes immediate or chronic symptoms anywhere in the body. Symptoms can take hours or even days to show themselves. And symptoms can be located just about anywhere in the body. This is what makes them so tricky to identify.
Symptoms of Food Intolerances
There are some common food intolerances that have immediate and terribly painful gastrointestinal symptoms, such as stomach pain, gas, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhea. On the other hand, there are others that cause more insidious symptoms may not be linked to foods in an obvious way.
Symptoms such as:
- Chronic muscle or joint pain
- Headaches or migraines
- Feeling unrested even after a good night's sleep
- Exasperation of autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto's or rheumatoid arthritis
- Rashes or eczema
- Inability to concentrate or feeling like your brain is "foggy"
- Changes in mood including fatigue
How to Identify these Intolerances
It might not be obvious what foods are causing you discomfort. The gold standard for identifying food sensitivities is elimination then challenge. There are foods that are more common so typically we start there. Some people find using blood IgG food panels helpful as a place to start the elimination process. We offer these to patients upon request. Once the foods are identified, stop ingesting them for a period of time; typically three weeks but even up to six months. I can appreciate this isn’t always easy to do!
If your symptoms improve within the three week period, we then systematically re-introduce the avoided foods to see which ones were causing which symptoms. It is ideal to work with your naturopathic physician during this process.
The good news is, unlike a true allergy, for most people eventually that food maybe consumed periodically without the same degree of distress. This is something we discuss in a visit.
Two Common Food Sensitivities
Here are two of the most common triggers of food intolerances:
- Caesin: in all forms of dairy - eliminate altogether including "lactose-free" label as this will still contain the protein casein; alternatives to try include nut or coconut milk - see a milk alternative recipe below
- Gluten: found in wheat, rye, and other common grains; alternatives to look for include "gluten-free" label and gluten-free grains like rice, quinoa, & gluten-free oats
Yes, dairy and grains are a part of many government-recommended food guidelines but you absolutely can get all of the nutrients you need if you focus on replacing them with nutrient-dense foods. Especially for the short duration of the elimination phase.
A reliable way to monitor how you feel after eating certain foods is to track it. After every meal or snack, write down the foods you ate and any symptoms so you can more easily spot trends. This is a great tool to bring to your appointment. See the pdf below to download a free copy of my weekly diet diary/food journal to help you track.
And, as mentioned earlier, symptoms may not start immediately following a meal. You may find, for example, that you wake up with a headache the morning after eating eggs.
You might be surprised what links you can find if you track your food and symptoms well!
IMPORTANT NOTE: When you eliminate something, you need to make sure it's not hiding in other foods, or the whole point of eliminating it for a few weeks is lost. Restaurant food, packaged foods, and sauces or dressings are notorious for adding ingredients that you'd never think are there. You know that sugar hides in almost everything, but did you also know that wheat is often added to processed meats and soy sauce, and lactose can even be found in some medications or supplements? When in doubt, ask the server in a restaurant about hidden ingredients, read labels, and consider cooking from scratch.
Recipe (dairy-free milk): Homemade Nut/Seed Milk
Makes 3 cups
- ½ cup raw nuts/seeds (almonds, walnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, oats, or sesame seeds)
- 2 cups water
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
2. Dump soaking water & rinse nuts/seeds.
3. Add soaked nuts/seeds and 2 cups water to a high-speed blender and blend on high for about one minute until very smooth.
4. Strain through a small mesh sieve with 2 layers of cheesecloth. Squeeze if necessary.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: You can double the recipe and store the milk in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 7 days.