Sunday, November 14, 2010

Discovering Hidden Food Sensitivities

I'm constantly surprised at how many people I come across in casual conversation who know certain foods don't agree with them. A recent report in the New York Times suggests 30 percent of the population believes they have a food allergy, but only 8 percent of children, and 5 percent of adults actually have a true allergy. This article highlights the common misperception that if a reaction to food cannot be measured through IgE antibody testing typically used to detect food allergies, the food is safe to eat.

Unfortunately, many people who believe they may have problems with certain foods are told by allergists that IgE testing confirms they have no allergies. While that may be technically true, most allergists continue to ignore delayed reactions to food, characterized by symptoms such as headaches, digestive problems, joint pain, autoimmune disease or fatigue, to name just a few. These reactions to food are more accurately measured using food sensitivity testing, such as ALCAT or MRT LEAP.

Here are some tips to help you uncover your hidden food sensitivities without testing:

1. Keep a food journal.

A food journal is a record of the food you ate, when you ate it and how you felt later. Consider keeping a journal at the kitchen table so you will be prompted to write down your foods when you sit down to eat. Reactions may happen within a couple of hours to a couple of days. The key is to record how you feel on a regular basis, and to try and correlate bad periods with food that was eaten within 72 hours of the bad reaction.

2. Try an elimination diet.

An elimination diet means going without the most common allergens in your diet for a period of time. Depending on which diet you choose to follow, these may include: gluten, dairy, eggs, citrus, chocolate, nuts, soy, corn, chocolate, shellfish, sugar, yeast and food additives. After the period of elimination is complete, one new food is introduced at a time (called a "challenge"), and the reaction to the food is noted. The period of abstinence helps make the reaction stronger and easier to recognize. For more on elimination diets, I recommend visiting theWhole Life Nutrition Kitchen, where nutrition expert Tom Malterre and cooking instructor Alissa Segersten, offer advice and recipes.

An elimination diet is frequently recommended as the most effective way to determine food sensitivities. There are drawbacks, however. At a recent presentation on food sensitivities, dietitian Nancy Ludwig pointed out that there is no hypoallergenic diet. Although some foods tend to be more allergenic than others, any food can provoke a sensitivity. If this food is eaten during the elimination period, it will be difficult to elicit a reaction from it and pinpoint it as a problem food. An elimination diet is also very difficult for children to follow.

3. Small amounts of food may not provoke a reaction.

It is common for people with food sensitivities to be able to tolerate a small amount of food they are sensitive to. Continuing to eat this food may cause mild amounts of inflammation in the body. To test if this food is a problem, eating a large amount of the suspect food after a period of abstinence will give a clearer picture.

4. Reactions can vary from food to food.

One person can exhibit different reactions to different foods. For example, gluten might cause a rash, while beef might cause fatigue. Don't assume all bad reactions will be the same.

5. Rotate your foods.

Rotating foods on a four day basis makes it easier to determine which ones are causing the problem. Rotating foods also helps keep new sensitivities from developing by preventing overexposure to certain foods. The key to proper rotation is planning and preparation. Food needs to be planned in advance, right down to the snacks, to avoid slip ups when hunger strikes.

The following rotation is a partial list based on the diet provided with ALCAT testing:

Day 1:

Starch: tapioca, white potato, oat
Vegetables: carrot, celery, green pepper, tomato, iceburg lettuce
Fruit: date, fig, grape, kiwi, strawberry, mango
Protein: chick pea, codfish, lamb, snapper
Miscellaneous: bay leaf, cashew, cumin, flax, pistachio, safflower

Day 2:

Starch: millet
Vegetables: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, mustard
Fruit: blueberry, cranberry, pear, pineapple
Protein: chicken, eggs, lentils, whitefish
Miscellaneous: basil, cayenne, clove, garlic, paprika

Day 3:

Starch: corn, quinoa, sweet potato
Vegetables: green pea, onion, radish, string bean
Fruit: blackberry, cherry, lime, peach, plum, raspberry
Protein: duck, halibut, kidney bean, pinto bean, pork, soybean
Miscellaneous: almond, cocoa, coffee, dill, oregano, peanut, thyme

Day 4:

Starch: buckwheat, rice
Vegetable: beet, turnip, spinach, cucumber, squash
Fruit: grapefruit, melon, lemon, olive, orange, pumpkin
Protein: haddock, lobster, salmon, turkey, shrimp
Miscellaneous: black/green tea, carob, pecan, sage, sesame, vanilla, walnut

6. Keep it simple and focus on whole foods.

Meals and snacks with a lot of ingredients will make it hard to pinpoint problem foods. Focus on food in it's natural, unprocessed state, such as whole grains, and fruits and vegetables.

7. Don't ignore the small stuff.

Prescription medication, supplements and spices can all cause reactions, even though they come in small packages. If you decide to follow an elimination diet, consider taking a break from non-essential supplements after consulting with your medical provider.

Check your prescription medication for gluten at Gluten Free Drugs. Most doctors and pharmacists do not know all of the contents of prescription medications, making it necessary for you to contact the manufacturer. Another alternative is to have your medication specially made through a compounding pharmacy, and have the fillers and binders taken out.

When it comes to supplements, some are encased by a gelatin capsule, which typically comes from beef. Fish can be found in some vitamins. Citrus is also added to many fish oils and other supplements for taste. Check with the manufacturer if in doubt.

8. Test for gluten sensitivity.

Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are silent in about a third of people. That means that ingesting gluten is causing an autoimmune reaction unknown to the person, and causing damage to the small intestine, or other areas of the body, but no obvious symptom is present. Eventually, a diagnosis of osteoporosis, intestinal cancer, or other complication will cause a doctor to check for celiac disease. However, these problems could've been prevented with early screening.

An elimination diet may or may not uncover sensitivity to gluten. If you want to be sure if gluten is causing problems, get tested.

Summing it Up

While all of these measures may help determine food sensitivities, they take planning, preparation and patience. Comprehensive food sensitivity testing can be a valuable tool, and will considerably shorten the process for pinpointing problem foods. 

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