This may surprise you, but eight common foods – milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, soy, wheat and shellfish – cause 90 percent of all food allergies. Chances are, half of those items make common appearances in your daily diet. They could, however, be jacking up your cortisol, decreasing your immune strength, and keeping you from achieving your wellness (and weight loss!) goals.
Allergies versus intolerances
While the cause of true food allergies – the kind that produces severe or anaphalatic reactions — involve IgE antibodies in the immune system, food intolerances can arise when we consume the same foods day after day with little variety. This dietary stagnation causes the body to become “sensitized” to the food. In common parlance, the terms “allergy,” “sensitivity” and “food intolerance” are often used interchangeably, but sensitivities and intolerances are not true IgE allergies.
Food sensitivities or intolerances usually involve a different set of immune system antibodies called IgG antibodies. Symptoms are less intense and typically do not appear immediately, but rather within 12–48 hours, after eating the offending foodstuff. Heartburn, headaches, difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, looking tired even after sufficient sleep, an inability to lose weight, bloating and relentless water retention can all be related to food sensitivities or intolerances.
Because the connection between the symptom and a specific food can be difficult to pinpoint, those who suffer these discomforts often go on feeling worse and worse as their immune system takes a constant beating.
Many of us with food sensitivities don’t even realize how bad we feel until the problematic foods are removed from our diet. Then suddenly getting out of bed becomes easier, our energy, mood and concentration improve and joint pain, headaches and sinus congestion disappear. Here’s a handy chart on common symptoms associated with food sensitivities. You may be nodding your head to more than a few of these side effects:
Symptoms commonly associated with food intolerances/sensitivities
Indigestion or heartburn
Blood in the stool
Inflammatory bowel disease
Irritable bowel Syndrome
Joint pain or stiffness
Difficulty getting out of bed in the morning
Dark under-eye circles
High blood pressure
Difficulty losing weight
Chronic ear infections
Itching in the ears
Identifying your trigger foods
To get to the bottom of your symptoms, I recommend that you do a 14-day elimination diet where you remove the most common food allergens from your diet to give your body a break, alleviate stress off your immune system, and detox overall. Slowly re-introducing each food after a 14-day break can allow you to connect particular symptoms with your food choices.
All that experimenting with different foods may sound like a major inconvenience, but the results can be invaluable. I recall one patient who had suffered with headaches for 20 years – they were gone after just two weeks of avoiding wheat. Another woman had bleeding from the bowel for two years – it was gone after one week on a dairy-free diet. A 21-year-old man lost 22 pounds and successfully reduced heartburn by avoiding wheat for just one month. A flight attendant who complained of water retention and swelling so bad she was unable to wear her shoes at the end of the day shed 10 pounds, and her water-retention problem, after only three weeks of eliminating corn and wheat.
Uncovering food sensitivities is a powerful process that I encourage all of my patients to explore. But what you do with the information you gain is up to you. Once you’ve determined the effects of particular foods on your health, you have to decide whether or not you want to continue eating them.
Plan B for determining your food allergies
If you don’t want to do a 14-day elimination diet you can consider IgG food allergy testing. Although I encourage you to go through the process of food elimination and reintroduction because it’s so effective, you can choose to have a blood test to identify your IgG food allergies instead. This test identifies the presence of IgG antibodies to certain foods. Positive results to certain foods should be followed with the removal of those foods from your diet for a period of two to six months.
Natasha Turner, N.D., is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet, The Supercharged Hormone Diet and The Carb Sensitivity Program. She’s also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique and a regular guest on The Dr. Oz Show and The Marilyn Denis Show. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.
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-Article originally published January 2013.