You’re careful about your health. You do your best to eat well, and you pay attention to the ways that your diet affects your energy levels. But something seems off. You’re experiencing annoying symptoms that you can’t explain. You’re often gassy and bloated, your skin may not be clear and glowing anymore, you may be ready for a nap after a meal and you wish you could remember where you put your keys. You can't seem to lose weight no matter what you try? Why does your memory feel so foggy?
These issues are frustrating (and often embarrassing). They’re also very common.
Many clients come to see me with healthy lifestyles, but are baffled by continuing digestive issues, mysterious rashes, and low energy levels. If this sounds familiar, it may be time to take a good look at your diet. Even a "healthy" food can make you sick if your body is sensitive to it. For many, the food mystery becomes both frustrating and overwhelming when trying to understand what foods are nourishing you and what foods are making you feel terrible.
But the good news is that you may not have to look very far to make changes that relieve your symptoms. With a bit of detective work, and a bit of help, you can map out a dietary plan that restores your well-being.
What are the Symptoms of Food Sensitivity?
Food sensitivity can be tricky to diagnose. One reason is that there’s no one-size-fits-all description of the way our bodies react. Symptoms vary from person to person and can even be different depending on what else is happening in your body. For example, you might respond differently at different stages of your menstrual cycle.
Food sensitivities can cause:
● Bowel problems
● Chronic illness
● Sinus infections
● Autoimmune diseases
● Sore joints
● Dark circles under your eyes
● Brain fog - that annoying forgetfulness and lack of clarity
● Eczema and psoriasis
● Many other conditions!
Another reason why a food sensitivity is often a missed diagnosis is that these symptoms can be delayed up to 24 hours after a meal, so many people don’t make the connection between what they ate and how they feel.
Similarly, it’s difficult to measure how many people suffer from food sensitivities because a lot of us don’t seek help, figuring that it’s "normal" to feel gassy and tired all of the time. In fact, conventional medical practitioners can be skeptical about food sensitivity symptoms, which can lead to frustration for clients. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
What Causes Food Sensitivities?
It’s important to recognize the difference between food allergies, food intolerances, and food sensitivities. Food allergies are immune reactions. After eating a certain food, your body’s immune system launches an attack by making its own protein, called immunoglobulin E (IgE). The next time you consume that food, your body is ready to attack again. The IgE causes your body to release a chemical called histamine, which triggers the physical symptoms of an allergic reaction. This is the type of allergy reaction one has to pollens and dander. With food, it can cause frightening anaphylaxis reactions.
A food intolerance occurs when the body loses the ability to produce a certain digestive enzyme. Lactose intolerance occurs when the body cannot produce the lactase enzyme, and fructose intolerance occurs when a body cannot produce the fructase enzyme. Eating foods with lactose or fructose will then cause gas/bloating and diarrhea to occur.
A food sensitivity reaction occurs when you eat a food and it forms an antigen/antibody reaction. That is, a different part of your immune system binds to the food, the IgG reaction. Those immune complexes can cause intestinal and systemic problems in the body and mind. There are specialty labs that can detect this reaction.
If we continue to eat that food sensitivity, the lining of the gut can become inflamed and damaged. Eventually, it can become permeable, so the undigested material "leaks" into the bloodstream. Not surprisingly, this is called "leaky gut" syndrome.
What is the root cause of food sensitivities? And why are they becoming increasingly common?
There are many medical reasons:
1. Eating the same food over and over: the gut loves variety and is healthiest when many different foods are eaten regularly. Simply eating cheese, wheat and eggs all the time increases the risk that you might develop a sensitivity to one of them.
2. Antibiotics and other drugs that harm the gut: many medications can harm the gut, the ability to digest, the beneficial bacteria in our intestines. Proton Pump Inhibitors and common anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen and naproxen are devastatingly damaging to the gut as well.
3. Poor diet: A diet high in processed foods, sugar, chemicals, Genetically modified organisms, too much coffee or alcohol—all these things can over time increase the inflammation of the gut lining and the risk of developing a food sensitivity.
4. Lack of protective nutrients: Ingesting foods high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory chemicals help protect all cells in your body, including your intestinal lining.
5. Dysbiosis: When you have low beneficial bacteria or an overgrowth of problematic fungal or bacteria species, this can cause leaky gut and food sensitivities.
6. Eating too fast, eating too much: Poor eating habits can stress the gastrointestinal tract.
Which Foods Can Cause Food Sensitivities?
Uncovering food sensitivities is a fantastic reason why seeing a clinical nutritionist is a good idea if you suspect your food may be making you sick. In addition, a clinical nutritionist can ensure your approach to food remains healthy and balanced. Research suggests that food sensitivities can be a trigger for disordered eating in some people. After all, if food is causing you pain, but you’re not sure which foods are to blame, it’s easy to associate your diet with negative experiences.
How Can You Treat Food Sensitivities?
Food sensitivities are generally treated in this way:
1. Proceed with an Elimination diet by removing most common suspected foods;
2. Or you can test for food sensitivities through a reputable laboratory to uncover food sensitivity reactions and then remove the offenders from your diet;
3. You may have to take supplements to help heal the gut lining;
4. Often times people only have to avoid all the foods on the list for 1 to 2 months.Once symptoms/signs of the chief complaint(s) are gone, then foods will be methodically added back in one by one to uncover which one(s) really cause the problem, and must continue to be avoided, and all the others are good to be eaten regularly again.
Uncovering food sensitivities is a truly valuable health journey for many clients and that’s why our clinic offers the Digestive Reset Group Program to help guide you through the first stage of elimination in a group setting providing you with support, menu plans, shopping list, meal prep guide, food demos, education and handouts to empower you in this journey. Our Digestive Reset Program is starting next week at the Clinic so don’t miss out. Take your first step to discovering which foods are making you sick.
Call or email us to learn more about our program at firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-792-1100.
Yours in health!
Clinical Functional Nutritionist
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About the Author
Clinical Functional Nutritionist
Following a career in law and a move to Toronto, Caroline decided to pursue her true passions, holistic health and helping others. Caroline’s passion for holistic health grew through the years while searching for solutions for her personal health problems. Her personal successful journey towards health and vitality is a testament to the impactful contribution of nutrition. She practices clinical nutrition at VitalityMD.
Using a functional medicine approach, Caroline focuses on uncovering the root causes, the “why”, of your health issues by carefully listening to her clients concerns, looking at the body as a whole, conducting detailed intakes and delivering achievable and customized health programs to restore and maintain optimal health and vitality.
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