With everyone and their dog going gluten-free, dairy-free, organic, etc., you must have wondered at least once if you had any of these intolerances or allergies, right? I have. Turns out I actually have a few. Granted, I had the easiest warning signs to recognize, skin rashes, but I didn’t know what they meant until recently.
So what exactly is a food intolerance or food allergy?
A food allergy causes an immune system reaction where your body mistakes a good cell for a bad one and attacks it, and the symptoms usually occur quite quickly. Histamine, which helps white blood cells (the protector cells) get to the pathogen (the bad stuff), is also released. Very small amounts of food can cause the immune reaction, and the reaction will happen every time you eat the food. You can develop food allergies over time to foods you didn’t used to be allergic to as well. When this happens, the food allergy tends to worsen each time you consume the food. In the most serious cases of food allergies, anaphylaxis can occur and send the body into shock. Typical symptoms of food allergies consist of:
- Tightening of the throat
- Hoarse voice
- Tongue swelling
- Trouble breathing
- Vomiting or Nausea
- Chest pain
- Quick or sudden drop in blood pressure
- Feeling dizzy
Food intolerances do not trigger the immune system and a release of histamine, but rather make digesting the food quite difficult. Common food intolerance symptoms include:
- Upset stomach
- Runny nose
- Irritable bowel
- Skin rashes (eczema, psoriasis, etc)
Food intolerances can be a little scary in terms of your overall health as they often go unnoticed and pushed to the side. Today, in our ever increasing trends of eating out, buying pre-made foods, and not actually making our own food from fresh ingredients, it’s difficult to know what’s actually in our food. Even when we buy so-called “fresh” food, it’s often been treated with some kind of chemical, whether it’s a pesticide or growth inducer. If the farmer chemically treats produce grown before other produce that was not chemically treated, the chemicals are still in the soil and the produce still comes in contact with those chemicals even though the farmer can claim that these foods were not chemically treated. More often than not, our stomachs and intestines are sensitive to the additives and chemicals we consume. This in itself can cause a food intolerance symptom to occur.
This is also where the organic “movement” has come from. Finding a reputable brand that is known for using farmers who consistently grow “organic” or non-chemically treated produce, can be difficult, but is worthwhile, especially for those who suffer from estrogen dominance. There are a plethora of reasons why the chemicals used by non-organic farmers are not good for us to consume (even if we can consume them), but amongst the top reasons is the fact that most of the pesticides and growth inducers mimic estrogen and are known as phytoestrogens.
Dr. Axe notes
The estrogenic and anti-estrogenic effects of phytoestrogens have often been thought of as overwhelmingly negative. For the majority of women, extra estrogen in the body can lead to infertility, polycystic ovarian syndrome and even certain types of cancer. Men generally don’t need extra estrogen in their systems, either. However, in the case of women over the age of 50 experiencing decreased estrogen levels, extra estrogen can decrease cancer risk, among other benefits.
This extra estrogen, especially phytoestrogens, can contribute to estrogen dominance. While extra estrogen may be beneficial for some, for most it is not and tends to cause a lot of problems that get labeled as stress or common aging. This is a conversation for another day, but estrogen dominance leads to foggy thinking, sluggishness, weight gain, acne, infertility, decreased sex drive, hair loss, fatigue, headaches, and mood swings for both men and women, and irregular periods, ovarian cysts, cystic fibrosis, loss of periods, PMS, and tender breasts in women.
Now, back to food intolerances.
Doing an elimination diet is expensive, restrictive, and not very realistic for the average person. However, if you have the resources to do so, I would highly recommend it. Spend some time researching the different protocols, food eliminated, length of the program, and have a concrete plan before beginning a true elimination diet. I’d recommend finding a program that is backed by a doctor’s credentials. It would also be substantially helpful to have a spouse, family member, or friend do this with you. For those of us who cannot do an elimination diet, eliminating one food at a time from our diet for a period and then reintroducing it is a good starting point.
For this to be accurate, it’s important to start with a relatively decent diet. If you’re eating at any kind of restaurant daily or most days of the week, frequently consume sauces, dips, and dressings with lots of fillers, additives, and names you can’t pronounce or don’t know what they are, consuming highly inflammatory oils such as vegetable oil, or frequently eating red meat, I’d recommend starting with the basics.
Aim to eat mostly green vegetables, whole grains (brown rice, farro, quinoa, amaranth, sweet potatoes, etc., with wheat being the least of the grains you consume), proteins from non animal sources such as legumes (beans and lentils), and healthy fats such as avocado, olive oil, and nuts. After planning meals composed mostly of these wonderfully filling and satisfying foods, then add in fruits and very lean meats such as fish, or grass-fed free-range chicken. Lastly, add in your red meats.
If you’re making the switch to a healthier whole-foods diet, you should feel huge improvements in your overall health! This will hopefully get rid of a lot of the symptoms you’re feeling such as bloating, fatigue, acidity, headaches, acne, and most other “every day” unpleasantness people unnecessarily suffer from.
Now, assuming you have a decent handle on the foods you eat and what is in them, pay close attention to everything you eat for a good one-two weeks and how each food item makes you feel. If you like making food journals, this would be a great time to do that! If you cannot tell a difference between how foods make you feel, it’s okay, just make sure you’re taking note of all foods you are consuming.
Common foods that people are intolerant to include, but is not limited to:
- Tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans)
- Nightshades (tomatoes, all peppers, all potatoes except sweet potatoes, paprika, cayenne pepper, etc)
After this initial period, eliminate one of the common intolerance foods from your diet for at least two weeks. You need to be really strict about eliminating the food. This should give your body enough time to fully get it out of it’s system and hopefully start healing if that food was irritating you. Then, consume a reasonable amount of food you just eliminated. If you can manage going longer than two weeks without this food, I’d recommend doing so as it will give your body more time to fully expel the food and heal more fully. It will also be beneficial during the re-introductory phase as you will likely have a greater response to the food if you are intolerant of it.
For example, say I decided to eliminate eggs from my diet. I would not eat any eggs, or any product that contained egg in them for two weeks. This includes, any type of egg dish, some breads, waffles, crepes, ice cream, custard, battered foods, mayonnaise, macaroni, pastries, cakes, some salad dressings, some meat patties, etc. Then, I would eat at least two eggs during one meal (preferable at breakfast because you’ve eaten no other food and this will make it easier to identify if you have a reaction to it) and wait two days to see if I react to the food. If no reaction occurs, I’d again eat two eggs at one meal, and then try eggs again later that same day or the day after. If a reaction occurs at any of the reincorporation times, I’ll know that I have an intolerance to that food, what kind of reaction I get to that food, and how severe the reactions are. If I don’t get a reaction to the food, I can keep eating it! Yay!
Then I’d move on to another common intolerance food and make my way down the list to eliminate any possible culprits. Often, we won’t even know we have a food intolerance until we’ve eliminated the food from our diet for a while. This happened to me with dairy. I’d consumed dairy my entire life until I married my husband who just preferred the taste of almond milk. We went quite a while without cow’s milk and then decided to get some for kicks and giggles. When I drank the milk I suffered from diarrhea, bloating, headache, stomach ache, cramping, and fatigue… now I don’t consume cow’s milk 😉
It’s important to remember that while food allergies can, and most likely will, be stimulated from a very small amount of food, food intolerances may not. For example, if someone was intolerant to the nightshade family, they may be able to consume a dish lightly seasoned with paprika or cayenne pepper without any symptoms. However, if someone has a peanut allergy, and their dish had even the slightest amount of peanut dust, they may have an allergic reaction. Some people’s allergies are so severe that they can go into anaphylactic shock from just the dust of a food. This is why companies will note that your food has been “processed on a plant that also processes wheat, peanuts, etc.”
Figuring out what foods you’re intolerant to can be a bit of an art. It takes time, and it’s trial and error. For the longest time I’ve had psoriasis and have tried just about everything to get rid of it. I went to the doctor, tried creams, I exercise regularly, use filler fragrance free lotions and oils, I eat whole foods, I make my own meals, and even engage in forms of meditation. Nothing helped.
In my pursuit of becoming an herbalist and exercise physiologist, I came across several articles about immune diseases and food intolerances. Just so happens that those with immune diseases usually have food intolerances, and vice versa. In my research I also found that those with food intolerances usually have leaky gut syndrome because they’ve been wreaking havoc on their gastrointestinal tract by eating certain foods their bodies don’t like. AND leaky gut syndrome usually manifests itself in the form of autoimmune diseases such as psoriasis.
This was just lovely and I had no idea where to start. I did a little more research and found that those with autoimmune diseases should stay the bananas away from nightshades. So, I started there. Considering that just about every cuisine uses tomatoes, some kind of pepper, a seasoning made from peppers (cayenne, paprika, etc.), or a potato, eliminating nightshades was a bit difficult. BUT, I did it! To my surprise, it actually worked. The psoriasis on my hands and elbows started to disappear.
The psoriasis pictured here is at a mediocre stage. It usually is much more red, cracked, and spreads down my hand.
I decided to take my food elimination a step further. As wheat is a hot topic these days, I thought eliminating wheat would be a good idea. This didn’t have such a grand effect on my skin, but I did notice that it makes me feel ultra lethargic. So, keeping wheat (or gluten, if you will) at a minimum has become my usual, as it should naturally be for everyone since it is an inflammatory food, whole grain or not.
My psoriasis kept moving on the downhill without the nightshades in my diet, but I still had it on my knees, and now my foot was acting up which I’d never had before. Odd. I again did more research and found that eggs were a common culprit of food intolerances especially since we mass “manufacture” eggs these days and chemicals always seem to seep their way in somehow or another.
So I did not eat eggs for about a week, and voila! My feet and knees started to clear up! However, having a weak moment for my husbands oh so delicious omelettes, I indulged. Within the next hour I was already itchy and scratching, and within the next day my skin had started to flare up again. So, another one down in the books. No eggs, nightshades, or cow’s milk for me.
“Isn’t that hard? What do you eat?”
Yes, it is hard, but only when I’m eating out or someone else is making food for me. Otherwise, I have complete control over what I eat at home, and I like to focus on the many, many foods that I can eat, rather than what I can’t eat.
Now you might be thinking, “Really. Your psoriasis flare up locations are food specific?” Really, really. When I eat certain foods, especially ones I am intolerant to, it really does affect specific areas of my body.
Well, since you asked, here are the nitty gritty details. Nightshades effect the posterior of my right hand, especially the knuckles, and the anterior and posterior of both elbows. Eggs effect both knee caps and the top of my left foot. Cow’s milk seems to have more of an internal effect and I haven’t noticed an area that is specifically targeted by this intolerance. I also just discovered that peanuts seem to be giving me mild hives the day after I eat them on the right side of my body. We’re now on an endeavor to eliminate peanuts and see how I react during the re-introductory phase.
Throughout all of this, I have been working to heal my gut from leaky gut syndrome and irritable bowel syndrome by eliminating the foods that are irritating my gut, eating whole foods not treated with pesticides, and consuming gut healing foods. These gut healing foods consist of probiotics, namely kefir, and cultured vegetables, bone broth, coconut products, raw milk, and licorice root. I prefer licorice root as my only supplement as it’s easily obtained in the grocery store in the form of caffeine-free herbal tea.
I’ve also become a healthier weight, my skin is brighter, more vibrant, and smooth, I’m happier because I’m not itchy all the time, and I feel so much better. I have so much more energy, my mind is clear, and I sleep better and more regularly at night.
Now, this isn’t to say that once you figure out you have a food intolerance that you can’t ever eat out or have anyone cook food for you. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re faced with foods that you know will make you feel less than optimal, go with the flow, especially when with family. Of course, take all the precautions you can. If you can notify a family member of your intolerances, do so. If you can avoid restaurants that serve dishes heavily involving your avoided food, don’t go there. However, if you’re faced with a dilemma, do your best.
I went to an Indian restaurant with family last night and asked for a specific dish to be made tomato free. The server notified me that this could not be done, so, I chose another dish that didn’t list tomatoes and hoped for the best. To my dismay, it was heavily seasoned with cayenne pepper and paprika, two common spices in Indian food. I immediately knew my stomach wasn’t happy with me, so I did my best. I shared food with family and ate enough to where I wasn’t hungry anymore but not full. I also may have had a bit more than my fair share of na’an 😉
Life happens. Avoid situations that are avoidable, but don’t be so stingy that it keeps you from being with family. Don’t just endure life, enjoy it.
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