Hi Sweet Friends,
Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food, right? Well, not always. If you have food allergies or even intolerances, some foods can take a toll on your body and mind.
When my readers speak (or write), I listen. Many of you are experiencing physical and mental snafus on a daily basis. These issues can add up and seriously impact your overall well-being and enjoyment of life. Fatigue, brain fog, constipation, rashes, gas and bloating are just a few of the troubles I come across in reader comments and emails each day.
There are many potential roots behind these discomforts, but one of the easiest ones to identify is your food. That’s where I started last year when my energy began to drop and pesky health bummers crept up. As always, I put on my detective hat and consulted with my integrative MD. One simple blood test revealed that I have a few food intolerances. Lucky for me, I don’t have food allergies.
So how do you spot a food intolerance or allergy? And most importantly, how do you create an even better diet and lifestyle without those trouble foods? That’s why we’re here today, my friends. Let’s dive in …
What’s the difference between a food allergy and food intolerance?
Food Allergy: A food allergy develops when your immune system mistakenly identifies a specific protein as a threat and sends a swat team of white blood cells to attack it. When the protein enters the digestive system, an antibody called Immunoglobulin E (IgE) is produced and the allergic response occurs.
Reactions to food allergens range from mild to severe and may affect your skin (hives, tingling mouth, swelling of the lips, tongue, face or throat), digestive tract (nausea, vomiting, cramping, diarrhea) or the respiratory system (including a possible dangerous drop in blood pressure). Severe cases can involve a life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis, which requires immediate treatment.
The most common food allergens are cow’s milk (the protein in milk, not the lactose), tree nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, filberts/hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts), peanuts, eggs, seafood, shellfish, soy and wheat — often called the “Big Eight.”
Food Intolerance: Most food reactions are actually caused by food intolerances rather than true allergies. Unlike an allergy, food intolerances do not involve a hasty immune reaction, so you may be able to eat these foods in small amounts without much trouble. Just keep in mind that although food intolerances are generally less serious, they could still cause digestive upset, joint pain, migraines, eczema, sinusitis and many other discomforts.
The most common food intolerance is a reaction to lactose in cow’s milk. If you’re lactose intolerant, your digestive system lacks the enzyme lactase, which is necessary for breaking down the milk sugar, lactose. This can cause gas, bloating and diarrhea when you consume milk products, but since the immune system isn’t involved, it’s not a true food allergy.
Other common food intolerances include gluten (found in wheat, oats, barley and rye), eggs, nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, bell peppers and goji berries), alcohol and foods high in fructose such as high-fructose corn syrup, raisins, honey, agave nectar, mango, apples, pears and watermelon.
How do I test for a food allergy?
If you suspect that you have a food allergy, your doc can do a skin prick test or a blood test.
Skin prick: A tiny amount of the suspected food is placed on your arm or back and then your skin is pricked to let a small amount of the food below the surface of your skin. If you’re allergic, you’ll likely develop a raised bump on your skin.
Blood test: A sample of your blood is sent to the lab where different foods can be tested with your blood sample and the levels of IgE antibodies can be measured after each exposure. Check out Genova Diagnostics for a complete food allergies test.
Neither the skin test nor the blood test for allergens are 100 percent accurate, so your doc may use family history and description of your symptoms as a final determination of whether or not you have a food allergy.
How do I test for a food intolerance?
If your symptoms point to food intolerances or sensitivities, an elimination diet is often used to determine whether or not certain foods are trouble foods. Suspect foods are eliminated for 14-21 days and then added back in one at a time. Do not use this approach with true allergens, since you run the risk of experiencing a life-threatening reaction when the suspect food is added back in.
If the elimination diet doesn’t provide clear-cut food intolerance answers, a hydrogen breath test can be done to determine lactose intolerance or fructose malabsorption. The same test is done to diagnose irritable bowel syndrome. It’s a non-invasive test done in a clinic setting after fasting for 12 hours.