Welcome to the final week of the 30 Day Nutrition Discovery Challenge. If you go back to week one, you’ll notice that throughout the month the topics we’re not geared toward one type of diet as you may have expected. That’s because in order to create a healthy diet we must create a healthy lifestyle that is sustainable (capable of becoming an on-going process with no end point in mind). You are discovering the nutrition plan that is right for your body, and can be maintained for a lifetime with subtle changes like the type of food you’re eating, meditating to reduce emotional hunger (see previous post by clicking for more about this), and over coming common barriers of eating healthy (see previous post by clicking for more about this). There are no quick fixes here, but we can still have fun. Discovering new things about ourselves is always a little scary, but also exciting!
Week 4’s question is:
4.) Is there a possibility you have an allergy, sensitivity or intolerance to the food/s you’re eating?
First, lets cover the difference between an allergy, sensitivity and intolerance because they are not the same.
Food allergies occur when your immune system has to get involved. It sees the food or product as a foreign invader and triggers a severe reaction to occur. This is the most serious of the three and can include swelling, difficulty breathing, hives, or worst of all anaphylaxis (a life-threatening state which requires immediate medical attention).
Food intolerance’s cause a gastric upset, but not an immune response. They are not as serious or life threatening as an allergy. Usually it occurs because the body is lacking an enzyme to digest the food you are intolerant to. Two examples are lactose intolerance and celiac disease. (Lactose intolerance relates to being unable to digest dairy, and celiac disease is related to being unable to digest wheat gluten).
Food sensitivities are often confused with intolerance’s because they are similar. However, the symptoms are generally not as severe and merely cause an unpleasant reaction in the body like a belly ache or nausea. They do not occur because of the lacking of an enzyme, and may not always occur with the same food.
An allergy must be avoided because it can be life threatening, but intolerance’s and sensitivities are commonly overlooked. Many people who suffer from them either do not realize it or feel that eating this food is “worth the suffering.” But is it?
When we suffer from any of the three responses mentioned above, it is our bodies way of saying “Hey!, I can’t digest that!” While you may not die from the food, you are still increasing inflammation and placing unnecessary stress on your body.
As a part of a good nutrition plan it is important to become aware of any of the three categories. More than likely, you’re already aware of an allergy, so we’ll focus on food intolerance and sensitivity from here on.
There are several ways you can determine where you stand with particular foods. The first is through trial and error.
Do you notice that you feel uncomfortable often after eating a particular meal? Maybe you feel uncomfortable during a particular part of the day? Do you write this off as having a “weak” stomach or being “normal?”
Here’s one example of living with an intolerance you don’t know you have : Mary Sue noticed that she always felt bloated and had stomach cramps around 11:00 AM every morning. Sometimes she felt this during other times of the day, but it always occurred around 11:00 AM. She thought this was just normal for her body, and thought it might be because she was getting hungry for lunch. One night at dinner, she ordered pasta in vodka sauce, and became extremely ill. After a night if diarrhea and severe stomach pains she decided to see a doctor. The doctor determined she was lactose intolerant. At 10:15 AM every morning she had a cup of coffee with milk and sugar. She didn’t realize she was intolerant to the milk. Because it was a small amount she showed less severe signs of discomfort, but a meal very rich in dairy, like the pasta in vodka sauce, proved to be too much. Mary Sue is a classic example of someone living with intolerance, but there are varying degrees of what a sensitivity and intolerance can bring.
It is my belief that food which isn’t easily digested, will cause some level of inflammation. This inflammation may occur in the gut, joints, tissues, etc. This may happen because the food is mildly irritating, and irritation usually results in inflammation. While this too may be tolerable, it doesn’t make day-to-day life fun.
Think about how uncomfortable it might be to walk upstairs with a swollen knee. A swollen knee may be externally swollen from injury or internally swollen from something else. None-the-less the knee is still swollen or inflamed, and painful. Even low grade inflammation can make living day-to-day life uncomfortable, and what if a part of it is being caused by the food we’re eating?
Since sensitivities are more difficult to determine the second method of making this discovery is to follow a rotation diet (click the link for more on this). This is a diet where you eliminate the most common allergenic foods known, and then slowly reincorporate them into your diet over-time. This allows you to pay attention to what foods are acting as triggers to food sensitivities.
Finally, you can also see your physician for skin patch test or an IgG blood test. Both will determine your level of allergy or sensitivity to common foods, and foods you might suspect to be harmful to your diet. For more information on why you might want to get an IgE and IgG test click here.
Diagram courtesy of: http://digestivehealth-annarbor.com/reference/tag/igg
The final point I would like to stress is that not all healthy foods may be right for you. Those who have a nut allergy would not benefit from heart healthy almonds. Some may be allergic or sensitive to common fruits and vegetables. It isn’t that the food is bad, it is that your body doesn’t understand it’s DNA. Your body see’s the allergenic food as a foreign invader because when we get down to is, our DNA is just mathematical combinations of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and more. It is literally as if your mathematical sequence does not match with the invaders, and so it is rejected.
Be good to yourself by thinking about the foods that don’t make you physically feel good after eating them. Make a list of any food that stands out in your mind. Try eliminating it and see how you feel or go for medical testing. When we build our diet around foods that truly fuel our specific body in the way it prefers to be fueled, we run more efficiently. Diesel works in a diesel engine, what works for you might not work for someone else.
When we eliminate or reduce foods that do not bring us wellness (even the healthy ones we may be allergic, intolerant or sensitive to) we reduce inflammation. Inflammation slows us down so reducing it helps speed us up (by boosting our energy level). We move more freely, feel more alive, have more energy to expend, and overall we just enjoy life more.
I suffer from several forms of intolerance’s, sensitivities and allergies which I’ve discovered over time. It’s been a long road, and my diet isn’t always perfect, but my awareness to my bodies reaction with food is excellent (after years of working toward this). I’ve used all of the methods I mentioned above with much success. The IgG test is something I plan to have done this fall/winter as I suspect I may have a sensitivity to something in wheat (particularly wheat gluten perhaps). Whatever it is that is irritating my stomach feels like something hidden in foods so I’m going for the IgG test since I’ve already done an IgE test before.
I hope that these four weeks of the Nutrition Discovery Challenge, at DC Heal, have opened your eyes in some way. As always, please remember that we are just human beings, who are imperfect. You are loved even with all of your imperfections by this Universe. Do your best, try again, and again, and again, it’s all you can do! Best of luck in all your nutritional endeavors!
I am welcoming all comments and questions related to this topic.
Photo 1 courtesy of: http://www.steeringyourhealth.com/2012/09/06/food-allergies/