Food allergies are on the rise. As researchers grapple with the why, those who suffer from food allergies deal with the consequences. It’s estimated that 15 million Americans have food allergies, and, according to the national group Food Allergy Research and Education, every three minutes a food allergy reaction sends someone to the ER. In addition to these types of allergies, there are also food sensitivities that can contribute to ongoing chronic health issues.
This month we’re breaking down the difference the food we eat can make on the life we live.
ALLERGY VS. SENSITIVITY
Comparing a food allergy to a food sensitivity is an apples to oranges comparison. Both are fruits, but they sure are different.
For those who have an allergy to a certain food, symptoms can be nearly immediate.
“Allergies are an acute reaction,” says registered dietician Yvette Quantz.
A reaction can range from an itchy mouth to anaphylaxis, which can be deadly. Sensitivities, although they can have a tremendous impact on daily life, are more chronic and tend to build up over time. Food sensitivities are also very connected to inflammation in the body.
While an allergy may be set off by the tiniest amount of a food, a food sensitivity may depend on how often and how much you eat of a certain food.
“Symptoms can be joint issues and sinus issues, digestive problems, eczema, fibromyalgia, migraines, brain fog, skin breakouts, ulcers, stiff joints, inflammation,” Quantz says.
Quantz says everyone has food sensitivities to a degree; it just depends on how they impact your day-to-day life. For some people, it may be a minor symptom here or there. For others, the symptoms of food sensitivities can be nearly crippling.
I should know. I was one of them. I was sick with digestive issues for more than three years before I took the LEAP MRT test Quantz recommends. It tests for more than 100 foods and additives. The results eliminated some major portions of my diet, which I was happy to say “adios” to more than six years ago. Since that time not only did my digestive issues improve, but I also found my regular migraines to become extremely rare, my random acne to disappear and my regular sinus infections became few and far between.
I am not alone in the endeavor to find healing by eliminating foods. Our culture that once couldn’t pronounce gluten has become GF crazy. Restaurants often have allergen menus, and many labels note whether foods have even been processed in the same plant as common allergens.
When it comes to finding out which foods could impact your health, there are two options: a test or an elimination diet.
An allergist can administer the test for food allergies, while a nutritionist can write an order for the LEAP test. If you want to go the route of elimination diet, prepare to go without all the foods in question for several weeks before introducing them back one at a time and waiting at least 48 hours or more in between each food. You should do an elimination diet under the supervision of a doctor or dietician.
And fear not, if you do have allergies or sensitivities, as the variety of options for both cooking at home and eating out are increasing. The key, however, is to follow a meal plan that truly reflects the foods your body doesn’t like. Not everyone, for example, has an issue with gluten or dairy (although they are common culprits), which means eating that vegan cheese or that GF pizza may not make any difference in how you feel.
“There are more products available, and some people assume it’s better just because it says gluten free. But you need to know what your best foods are, and those are always going to be plant-based and from the ground and farm-raised and good healthy fat,” Quantz says.
To take a food assessment quiz, go to Foodtherapyonline.com.
While food allergies seem to be more straightforward in both symptoms and how the foods impact health, food sensitivities can be more complex.
According to a leader in testing for sensitivities, Oxford Biomedical Technologies: “Food and food-chemical sensitivities have clinical characteristics that make it very challenging to identify trigger foods. For example, symptom manifestation may be delayed by many hours after ingestion; reactions may be dose-dependent; because of a breakdown of oral tolerance mechanisms, there are often many reactive foods and food-chemicals; even so-called anti-inflammatory foods, such as salmon, parsley, turmeric, ginger, blueberry and any ‘healthy’ food can be reactive.”
Food sensitivities can cause symptoms that vary from head-to-toe and person-to-person and include: irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, colitis, migraine, ADD/ADHD, depression, insomnia, restless leg syndrome, fibromyalgia, inflammatory arthritis, psoriasis, chronic fatigue syndrome, polycystic ovary syndrome and others.
Ask a registered dietician about a mediator release test and see whether your symptoms warrant further testing. While an elimination diet can give some indicators about which foods work well with your body and which cause an inflammatory reaction, it can be nearly impossible to determine which foods are truly best for your system without a blood test.