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Common Food Sensitivities

Food sensitivities are a problem for many people—and often, people are unaware that the symptoms they are feeling are related to the foods they eat.

Symptoms of food sensitivities can appear within a few minutes, a few hours or sometimes days after eating that food. This delay in symptoms can make it hard to track down the food that is causing the problem. This is an issue because the most common treatment for food sensitivities is elimination of that food from the diet and if you don’t know which food you are sensitive to—well, it is difficult to eliminate it!

Have you heard the saying, “common things happen commonly”? One way to start recognizing the foods that might be causing you problems is to eliminate the foods that are most often the villain; here is a list of the “usual suspects”.

Common Foods, Common Symptoms

The most common foods that people can be sensitive or intolerant to include:

  • Dairy
    • Lactose intolerance is due to the lack or low levels of an enzyme, lactase. Lactase breaks down lactose (milk sugar) and allows it to be digested.
    • The symptoms seen most often are:
      • Abdominal pain or discomfort/stomach ache
      • Bloating
      • Gassiness
      • Nausea
      • Diarrhea or increased frequency of bowel movements with soft or watery stool
    • Milk, yogurt, cheese (with the exception of some aged cheeses) and ice cream all contain dairy.
    • Treatment involves the elimination of dairy foods from your diet
  • Gluten
    • Gluten is a protein found in wheat (including spelt, durum, einkorn, emmer, triticale and Khorasan varieties), barley and rye. Oats may contain gluten unless they have been processed (eg. steel rolled) in a gluten-free facility—check the label!
    • The response to gluten (and gliadin, a break-down product of gluten) is an immune reaction. Celiac disease is the most serious form and is an autoimmune disease. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity, a milder immune response.
    • Symptoms of celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity are quite similar but differ in how severe they are.
      • Abdominal pain or discomfort/stomach ache
      • Bloating
      • Diarrhea OR constipation
      • Headaches
      • Skin rashes
      • Fatigue
      • Difficulty in memory, concentration or focus—aka “brain fog”
      • Joint pain
      • Mood changes such as depression, irritability, anxiety
      • Anemia
    • Treatment is a gluten-free diet
      • While gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye and products made from those grains, it can also be found in:
        • Beer
        • Crackers
        • Sauces (especially soy sauce)
        • Dressings
      • FODMAP foods
        • FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligo-Di-Monosaccharides and Polyols. These are short-chain sugars (carbohydrates) that are found in a variety of foods—and can cause digestive problems because they act to “overfeed” gut bacteria. The gut bacteria ferment these short-chain carbohydrates, producing gases.
        • FODMAPs are found in a great many foods including:
          • Milk
          • Honey
          • Soft cheeses
          • Fruit such as apples, bananas, grapefruit, peaches and watermelon
          • Vegetables such as artichokes, garlic, asparagus, peas, cauliflower, mushrooms, onions
          • Grains with gluten (wheat, barley, rye) and baked goods
          • Beans and lentils
          • Beer
          • See a more complete list of both low and high FODMAPs
        • FODMAP sensitivities are more common in people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) though they can occur in anyone
        • Symptoms of FODMAP sensitivity include:
          • Gas
          • Bloating
          • Diarrhea and/or constipation (which is also common in people with IBS)
          • Abdominal pain or discomfort/stomach ache
        • Fructose—fruit sugar—is a very common added ingredient in foods and is a FODMAP. It is added in the form of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). HFCS has been linked to obesity, diabetes, liver disease and heart disease.
          • Symptoms more closely associated with fructose intolerance include heartburn (reflux/GERD), gas, nausea, vomiting and gas.
          • Your best defense against HFCS is to read all the labels—and avoid any processed foods.
          • FYI-the natural sources of fructose have a much lower amount of fructose and contain fiber so they are much less likely to cause a problem
        • Naturally produced plant and bacterial substances
          • Substances that occur naturally in plants and bacteria can obviously produce healthy benefits—but as with everything, sometimes the not-so-good arrives alongside the good.
            • Salicylates are anti-inflammatory substances and are the family of substances that was used to make aspirin
              • Some people can be sensitive to salicylates. If you frequently have (after eating) a stuffy nose, hives or diarrhea, you may have salicylate sensitivity. If you have frequent sinus infections, nasal or sinus polyps or asthma, these may be due to salicylate sensitivity.
              • Foods that are high in salicylates include green peppers, olive, mushrooms, tomato, radishes, chicory, cucumber, fava beans, spinach and sweet potatoes.
            • Amines are produced by bacteria—histamine is an amine and most commonly found to cause problems. Symptoms of amine sensitivity include sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, skin flushing, hives, generalized itchiness, headaches, diarrhea and a drop in blood pressure—which may be experienced as dizziness or blurry vision.
              • Higher levels of amines are found in fermented foods, citrus fruits, dried fruits, cured meats, alcoholic beverages like beer and wine, aged cheeses and vinegar.
            • Sulfites are used to preserve foods and beverages. Sulfite sensitivity is more common in those with asthma and other chronic respiratory disorders. Symptoms include wheezing, coughing, hives, stuffy nose and a drop in blood pressure. Many also experience a flushing or swelling of the skin
            • Other common food or ingredient sensitivities include:
              • Aspartame
              • MSG
              • Eggs
              • Preservatives
              • Food coloring agents

How to Tell if You are Food Sensitive?

The most straightforward way to tell if you are sensitive to a food is to keep track of any and all reactions to a food. As mentioned, these reactions may occur minutes, hours or sometimes days after eating a particular food. Keep track of these responses in a “Diet Journal” You will soon have a pretty good idea of what to avoid. The second step is an elimination diet where that food or ingredient is completely eliminated from your diet for at least 6-8 weeks. This approach may give you clues regarding additional food sensitivities—but will also allow some time for you to heal, and, potentially, “get over” your food sensitivities.

Eating a whole food diet is your best bet for avoiding food sensitivities AND enjoying a healthy lifestyle. Good health comes from daily decisions. Drink more water, consume more vegetables, get some daily exercise, a goodnights sleep and meditate for a few minutes each day. Remember, YOU have the power to transform your health … ONE healthy choice at a time!

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