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Food Allergies, Sensitivities and Intolerances

The difference between food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances is in how the body reacts.

An allergy is hard and fast and can have serious life-threatening results – think a peanut allergy and anaphylaxis – this is caused by the immune system in response to a food.

A food sensitivity or an intolerance is usually triggered by the digestive system and causes much less serious symptoms and can take hours or even days to occur.

Certain foods (even some “healthy” ones) can cause reactions, digestion issues, and other health problems.

Food intolerances or sensitivities can show themselves in the gut, on the skin, and neurologically. Some of the symptoms are diarrhea, bloating, constipation, gas, nausea, abdominal discomfort, rashes, hives, swelling, acne, eczema, itchy skin, headaches, migraines, respiratory problems, joint pain, fatigue, tiredness, low thyroid, brain fog and mood swings, just to name a few.

One method to help you zero in on your specific intolerance is called an elimination diet. This is an approach that eliminates certain foods that could be causing allergies, digestive reactions, and other health issues. Then, these foods are reintroduced one at a time in order to determine which you tolerate and which you don’t.

While most food allergies typically develop in early childhood, they can develop later in life. Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.9 million children under age 18. That’s 1 in 13 children, or roughly two in every classroom.

Identifying and neutralizing allergies and sensitivities is crucial for long term health. Untreated food allergies and sensitivities have been linked to increased risk of many serious health issues.

A food allergy test is a good place to start if you’ve connected a food to a health issue and may help identify the problem. However, like with any other medical test, sometimes the results are inconclusive. In addition, it’s not uncommon for allergy tests to show negative results for food sensitivities, which can cause negative symptoms but may not rise to the level of a true allergy.

Untreated food sensitivities have been linked to arthritis, atherosclerosis, autoimmune disorders, cognitive issues, neurodegenerative diseases, depression, anxiety and weight gain.

When you’re experiencing ongoing symptoms and a food allergy test hasn’t helped you identify the cause, an elimination diet can be an effective tool. The basic approach is pretty simple: eliminate, re-introduce, and repeat to confirm.

The most common allergens are peanuts, shellfish, soy, wheat, fish, tree nuts, milk, and eggs. They account for over 90% of all food allergy reactions so this is where you should start first. If after you go through the elimination process and haven’t figured out what the trigger is, the next common foods to eliminate are gluten, dairy, sugar, alcohol, caffeine, corn, citrus, legumes, processed foods and hydrogenated oils.

An elimination diet always starts with an elimination phase, where you remove the common allergens for certain time, usually somewhere between 3 and 6 weeks, although research has shown that the most positive health results occur when the eliminate phase lasts up to 6 months. By keeping a food journal, you’ll be able to see how you’re feeling on a day-to-day basis. If you feel good after only 3 or 6 weeks, then start on the reintroduction phase, if not, continue with the elimination phase until you do.

The reintroduction phase is when you reintroduce the eliminated foods one at a time. Try each food for at least a week, recording in your journal how you feel and describe any symptoms you experience. If the negative symptoms return or new ones occur, that food is probably the reason for your discomfort. If you’re not sure, you can always eliminate the food again and reintroduce it to see if your symptoms get worse.

After you’ve reintroduced all the foods you eliminated, you should reassess how you’re feeling, and if necessary, eliminate a food again.

I’ve helped many clients through an elimination diet with great success, and I'd love to help you too. Schedule a discovery session to see how I can support your journey.

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