In the last few decades, we’ve seen a significant rise in food allergies and intolerances. Lactose intolerance was the most easily recognized and understood for years until a sudden rise in peanut allergies, especially among children, soy allergies, and now gluten sensitivity started to gain wide recognition. Seemingly overnight, the food industry, education system, and even the airlines had to adjust quickly in order to accommodate those with severe food allergies. It wasn’t long ago that almost no one knew what gluten was, much less what it lingered in.
Now we live in a world where it may be harder to find someone who has NO food sensitivities at all and that means that we need to learn as much as we can about what might be contributing to these sensitivities and if there is anything that we can do to help overcome them. Here’s a list of some of the most common food allergies/sensitivities and possibly some you weren’t aware existed:
- Lactose intolerance
- Dairy allergy
- Gluten sensitivity
- Cruciferous veggie intolerance
- Beans & legumes intolerance
- Soy allergy
Intolerance vs Allergy: What’s the difference?
A food intolerance tends to be more of an inability to digest a food rather than a food allergy, where the immune system overreacts to a food and mounts an attack as if the food is a bad bug. A classic example of this is the difference between lactose intolerance where symptoms might be gas, bloating, and even diarrhea, compared to a dairy allergy, where symptoms are more histamine related (hives, stuffy nose, itchy skin). Generally, a food intolerance can indicate a lack of specific bacteria in your gut that help break down the components of that food.
If you’re low on Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, for example, then cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower most likely give you gas and bloating. Once this bacteria is at healthy levels, then you should be able to eat that extra helping of coleslaw without any unpleasant side effects. The same can be true
Tests and Exclusion Diets: How to Know if You Have Food Sensitivities
- Blood Tests & Skin Tests
If you’re worried about food allergies, your doctor might order a blood test and/or a skin test. Most commonly used to measure the level of the IgE antibody against a specific food, these are not always indicative of whether or not you’ll actually mount an immune response after eating these foods.
- Exclusion Diets
Keeping a food diary is a good start to identifying if you have a specific food sensitivity but if that doesn’t help pin down the culprit(s), then an exclusion diet (also known as an elimination diet). A typical elimination diet involves removing the usual suspects from your diet (dairy, gluten, nuts, beans, cruciferous veggies, nightshades, eggs, alcohol, corn, soy) for a few days or a few weeks and then one by one, introduce them back to see if you have a reaction (gut symptoms or allergic reactions).
Keeping track of what symptoms you do experience when a specific food is introduced back is very helpful in determining the right path forward. It’s always recommended to consult your healthcare practitioner when considering an elimination diet since it is not a reliable diagnostic tool, on its own.
Is there hope? Looking at potential ways to overcome food sensitivities
Up until now the usual course of action after identifying a food sensitivity would be avoidance. While this can help in managing the issue, it can be detrimental long-term since variety in our diet is essential to overall health. Highly restrictive diets can also lead to anxiety and depression as they can significantly interfere with quality of life. In the case of lactose intolerance, however, buying lactose-free milk or taking a lactase enzyme before eating dairy products has helped some.
But so far, not much has been done to look into overcoming these sensitivities. In cases of extreme allergy, like peanut allergies so severe that they cause anaphylactic shock, some have tried immunotherapy under the careful supervision of an allergy specialist. This involves a long process of exposing the body to tiny amounts of the food that causes the allergic reaction, in the hope of educating the immune system to be more tolerant of it. Results have been mixed and it is a long and difficult process.
Lately, with the emergence of gut microbiome testing, it’s become easier to see what important microbes might be missing from a person’s gut. This helps determine if someone is missing key probiotic species (usually Lactobacillus species and even Streptococcus Thermophilus) that help digest dairy, for example and making the dietary changes necessary to re-introduce those species can help reduce digestive distress when consuming dairy.
As we gain more insight into gut health using microbiome tests, we’ll be able to learn more about the microbial populations that link to specific food sensitivities and will be able to build a clearer path to restoring resilient digestive systems again.