Managing Food Sensitivity
A food sensitivity or intolerance is much more common than a true food allergy. Food sensitivity or intolerance is a chemical reaction to a food, usually to the various components in foods and additives.
Some food allergy reactions are severe, resulting in drastic symptoms such as sudden hives or an asthma attack, and can even be life-threatening where the heart and lungs shut down. In these cases, the offending food is avoided at all costs. However, many food allergy symptoms and food sensitivity or intolerance symptoms are very similar.
People can develop food allergy or sensitivities to all kinds of foods and it is not uncommon to develop them in your thirties and beyond, despite not reacting to a food before then. Chronic stress, poor diet or poor digestion can gradually diminish your immune function, making your body more prone to potential food and environmental allergens.
Testing for Food Sensitivity
Most testing procedures – blood tests, skin prick tests and muscle testing – are not conclusive, although they certainly give a good indication of foods to watch.
The most conclusive way of determining whether you react to a food is to eliminate the suspect food or foods for at least two weeks or until symptoms abate. Then challenge your body by re-introducing the foods one at a time, noting any physical symptoms or side effects. This would include changes in energy levels and mood. It can help to avoid any foods that you react to strongly for several months. Then very gradually re-introduce them into your diet and have them only occasionally. This is often the most effective way of reducing reactions. At the same time, it is crucial that you build your digestion strength and immune function to ensure your body is less reactive and becomes symptom-free.
Food Sensitivity and Intolerance Management Tips
- Improve Your Digestion. Naturopaths believe that, aside from chronic stress and poor diet, bowel permeability (also called leaky gut syndrome), bowel toxicity, low production of stomach acid and insufficiency of pancreatic enzymes can play a role in the development of food allergy or intolerance. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication and cortisone-based medication are also thought to have an effect. A long history of antibiotic use can compromise the digestive system. Caraway Seeds are a wonderful, natural way to aid digestion.
- Help yourself: Chew your food thoroughly. This allows your brain to signal your body to send appropriate enzymes and acids break down and absorb the foods you are eating.Â This will let you know when you’ve had enough. It is also very helpful to many to take a digestive enzyme to improve digestion.
- Avoid Food Ruts. Eat a wide variety of food types. In fact, try not to have the same type of food twice in one day, if possible. Too much of the same food can lead to intolerance.
- Detox. Once or twice a year, do the detox. A detox program with appropriate nutritional and herbal supplements can help to strengthen your immune function and digestion, minimizing your reactions to foods.
- Eat a Variety of Grains. Grains do your body good in many ways, but vary them, as eating the same ones over and over can cause sensitivity. Think outside the box – corn, rice, quinoa, amaranth, arrowroot, sego, tapioca, buckwheat, millet, and legume-based flours such as chickpea, lentil and mung bean. These foods can be found in health food and Asian sections of the supermarket, as well as from health food stores.
- Keep a Symptom Diary. Keep a detailed food diary, noting everything you eat and drink along with how you feel each day, so you can refer to it if you have any reactions. It’s so easy to forget what you have eaten on a previous day, and reactions often occur until the day following consumption of a problem food. Once you have a few weeks noted in your diary, look for recurring patterns or reactions from the same types of foods, or products make from the same ingredients.
- Don’t Disregard Cravings. Cravings can actually suggest a food sensitivity. The most common are chocolate, alcohol, caffeine beverages, wheat based foods, cheese and soft drinks. If you begin to crave these foods, take note of any symptoms after eating them – you could have an intolerance to the very thing you think your body needs. Do keep in mind, though, that sometimes you might crave a food for its specific nutrients, such as craving meat because your iron is a little low – this can be a good thing. A general rule of thumb is when a craving is for a food considered “not so good for you”, it could be a problematic food. If it’s for a healthful food, it could be a signal you need a nutrient from said food.