Understanding Food Sensitivities
Understanding Food Sensitivities
Do you have symptoms that seem to mysteriously come and go, such as brain fog, fatigue, headaches, joint pain, or digestive issues? Or are you generally not feeling your best from day to day, and suspect it might be related to your diet?
If so, there’s a good chance you could be dealing with an undiagnosed food sensitivity. And the food(s) you are sensitive to may be one you would never suspect. In fact, it’s quite possible that a seemingly “harmless” food that you’ve been eating (maybe even daily your whole life!) is to blame for your symptoms!
And yes, food sensitivities can be behind your symptoms even if you are eating a clean, Paleo, or AIP diet!
In this article, I will help clear up your questions about what a food sensitivity is (hint: it is NOT the same as a food allergy!), how to know if you have one, and what to do about it.
The Difference Between A Food Sensitivity and Food Allergy
The first thing I want to note is that food allergies and food sensitivities are two very different things. A food allergy triggers an extreme and potentially life-threatening reaction, known as an IgE-mediated immune response, whenever you are exposed to a certain type of food, such as peanuts or strawberries.1 Most allergic reactions happen within minutes and can range from mild—think hives or stomach cramping—to severe, such as anaphylaxis, which can impair your breathing, cause a dramatic drop in blood pressure, and affect your heart rate.2 Due to the severity of food allergies, you likely already know whether or not you have one.
A food sensitivity, on the other hand, is more difficult to diagnose because it triggers an IgG reaction in your system, which is a delayed immune response. It could take up to 72 hours for symptoms of a food sensitivity to present. The problem with this delayed response is that you likely eat a wide range of foods in the time it takes for symptoms to appear, making it difficult to spot a pattern between the specific foods you eat and your symptoms.
For example, let’s say you’ve been having migraine headaches and digestive issues. You eat scrambled eggs, fresh sliced tomatoes, and a banana every morning for breakfast, and you think maybe it’s something in your breakfast that’s bothering you. So on Monday you decide not to have the scrambled eggs to see if you get the migraines and digestive issues. Later on in the day, the headache and digestive issues are still there, so on Tuesday you decide to try eliminating the tomatoes and your symptoms once again return. Well, it could be that the eggs from two days prior are actually causing your migraines and digestive issues, and it’s just taken this long for the sensitivity symptoms to appear.
Additionally, food sensitivities can produce a wide array of symptoms depending on which area of your body the antibodies attack. So you may not even realize that your skin rashes or the joint pain you suffer from regularly are diet-related.
Common signs of a food sensitivity:
- Brain fog and difficulty concentrating
- Joint pain
- Headaches or migraines
- Rashes and skin irritations
- Stomach aches
- Acid reflux
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Unexplained weight gain or loss
- Behavioral issues (in children)
Fortunately, with a scientific approach, you can take out the guesswork and identify which foods are causing your symptoms.
Identifying Food Sensitivities with an Elimination Diet
The best way to discover your food sensitivities is to complete an elimination diet, which is where you eliminate the most common inflammatory foods to from your diet and then add them back in one at a time to see if you have a reaction. This process lets you become a personal food investigator as to what is causing your symptoms.
First, you’ll go through the elimination phase. One component of this phase is to remove the most toxic foods from your diet for good! These foods are damaging to your health, so even after completing the elimination diet, you won’t be adding these back in.
- Artificial sweeteners
- Additives, preservatives, and dyes
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Processed food, junk food, and fast food
- Trans or hydrogenated fats
The other component of the elimination phase is to remove any inflammatory foods from your diet for two weeks, including:
Most common inflammatory foods:
- Nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and eggplant)
- Gluten-free Grains
*Gluten and dairy are the top 2 most inflammatory foods and I do not recommend ever adding them back in, particularly if you have an autoimmune or thyroid condition.
An elimination diet requires you to remove all possible reactive foods like the list above. Once you’ve removed all of these foods from your diet, you will begin to slowly reintroduce the inflammatory foods one at a time in order to test your body’s response to individual foods.
Specifically, you will eat the food three times a day for three days. The idea here is to temporarily bombard your system with each food to produce a noticeable and definitive response. If a food is causing inflammation for you, I want to give your body the best chance to determine that, rather than letting silent inflammation creep in! You also want to make sure your results are clean and reliable, which is why you’ll test only one food at a time.
The problem with this method is that it takes a lot of time and effort to be diligent on not eating more than one offending food at a time to figure out what you are reacting to. Food sensitivities can take up to four days to clear your system before another food can be introduced to check for reactivity. An easier way is to have a food sensitivity blood test.
IgG and IgA Food Sensitivity Blood Test
I sometimes recommend an elimination diet first because your body knows better than any test. However, even a comprehensive elimination diet only tests the most common inflammatory foods. If you are looking to go a step further, food sensitivity testing is a great way to get a more comprehensive analysis of different foods in order to be as informed as possible.
I’ve personally found the best results with a company called US Biotek, which uses a blood test to measure your immune response to 112 foods. Each food is then rated on reactivity, so you know which foods are safe, which to watch out for or minimize, and which to avoid completely.
The advantage of doing the blood test in conjunction with following an elimination diet is that it lets you collect as much information as possible about what is going on inside your body. The downside of this type of testing is that it is not always 100% accurate. If your gut is leaky, you may show a reaction to food particles that are escaping into your bloodstream that would not normally trigger an immune response if your gut was healthy. Also, if you’ve already removed a food from your diet for health reasons, you could get a false negative since your body is not currently producing antibodies for the food test to detect, so with most patients we have them eat a variety of foods before testing even if it makes them not feel good. In this way we can make a correct evaluation of what foods your body is reacting to.
At the end of the day, how you feel is the best indicator. Knowing and really listening to your body is going to be what gets you the best results.
To help you discover your own personal food sensitivities and reclaim your health and vitality, we will guide you on how to implement your elimination diet . It is specifically designed to help you start feeling the best for your individual needs.
The Comprehensive Elimination Diet will empower you to:
- Formulate a tailored eating plan for life to optimize your nutrition and your health
- Identify foods that are inflammatory triggers for you
- Support weight loss, healthy sleep, mental clarity, beautiful skin, optimal energy and vitality
- Optimize energy levels, immune balance, digestive function, and skin health.
Scott A Sole D.C., D.A.B.C.I.
Board Certified Chiropractic Internist