Do You Have a Food Sensitivity or a Food Allergy?
There’s an amazing variety in food these days, but not all food is agreeable to everybody. Many people suffer from food sensitivity or intolerance, meaning their body has trouble handling certain foods or chemicals. The symptoms can be the same as those from food allergies, so how do you know if you are just sensitive, or if it’s a more serious allergic reaction? Luckily there are ways to find the difference, pinpoint what triggered the reaction, and treat each one. Being healthy shouldn’t make you feel miserable!
So What’s the Difference?
Simply put, food intolerance and sensitivities come out when your body doesn’t know how to deal with the offending food, causing the digestive and respiratory systems, and even the skin to run amok. It can take up to 48 hours for this to happen, and can last for days, so it’s hard to know who the culprit is. With food allergies, your body’s immune system decides it’s not happy with the food and goes on the attack, leading to more serious symptoms that can even kill you. These symptoms can develop within minutes to two hours after eating the allergy-causing food, and even the smallest amount can be life-threatening. For instance, someone who is allergic to shellfish can get a reaction from just smelling the vapors from the shellfish being cooked!
What are Food Sensitivity Symptoms?
When you eat something that your body isn’t equipped to handle, you’ll deal with discomforts like gas, bloating, headaches and diarrhea. This can be genetic, and happens mainly because you’re lacking the enzymes needed to digest those foods.You might only feel these issues once in a while, or if you decided to pig out on those naughty foods. Most often you don’t need to avoid that food altogether; limiting your intake is enough.
- Dairy: the lack of lactase enzymes results in the inability to digest lactose, resulting in symptoms like stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, gas and nausea.
- Gluten: a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Intolerance results in stomach and joint pain, skin rash, diarrhea/constipation, headaches, depression/anxiety. Foods include bread, pasta, cereal, beer, and soy sauce.
- Caffeine: a stimulant of which intolerance is usually genetic, and the inability to process it causes rapid heartbeat, anxiety, insomnia, and restlessness. Found in coffee, teas, sodas, and energy drinks.
- Sulfites: can be found in foods naturally, or added as a preservative. People with Asthma can be oversensitive, and symptoms include hives, swelling, diarrhea and wheezing. Found in wine, beer, tea, pickled foods, and potato chips.
- Fructose: a simple sugar that, if not properly absorbed into the blood, will go to the large intestine, causing issues like reflux, gas, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Found in fruits and veggies, soda, honey, agave, and high fructose corn syrup.
- FODMAPs: stands for fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols and involves a group of short chain carbs that, when poorly absorbed in the small intestine will travel to the large intestine to fuel gut bacteria. This causes bloating, diarrhea, gas, and stomach pain. Foods include soft cheeses, honey, milk, bread, beans and beer.
- Amines: produced by bacteria during fermentation and meant to protect the human body by creating an inflammatory response to irritants. The most common is histamine which, when improperly processed, builds up and leads to flushed skin, hives, headaches, anxiety, and diarrhea. Found in dried fruits, fermented foods, cured meats, aged cheeses, smoked fish, buttermilk, beer and wine.
New evidence has come forward showing that people, and especially children, are falling victim to sentivities from food additives. The most common ones creating reactions are: artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners, monosodium glutamate (MSG), carrageenan, and sugar alcohols (zero calorie alternative to sugar). These chemicals can cause diarrhea, hives, swelling, headaches, hyperactivity, and chest or stomach pain. They contain no nutritional value so take note of how much of these you actually eat throughout the day, and avoid them as best you can.
Food Allergy Symptoms
With a food allergy, you will have a bad time every time you eat that food. Your body sees that food as a threat and releases antibodies, which release chemicals like histamine, to take care of the issues. These antibodies are the same soldiers that fight against the cold, flu, and other nasty diseases. So you may confuse an allergy with just being sick, since the reaction can have similar symptoms like itching, swelling, and dizziness, but also the more extreme symptoms like hives, vomiting, diarrhea, and anaphylaxis. An allergy is serious and shouldn’t be taken lightly. In extreme cases, if left untreated, it can be fatal.
- Dairy: most common in babies and young children, but most outgrow it after three years of age. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. Found in milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream.
- Eggs: common in young children, but most outgrow it, and egg white allergies are the most common. Symptoms are stomach aches, hives/rash, and anaphylaxis.
- Shellfish: usually a lifelong, allergic reaction due to the proteins in shellfish, like tropomyosin. Symptoms come on quickly and can even be triggered by smelling the vapors of cooked shellfish. They include vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain. Types of shellfish are: shrimp, lobster, squid, and scallops.
- Tree nuts: includes nuts and seeds from trees, and an allergy to one increases risk of allergy to others. Usually a lifelong allergy and reactions include anaphylaxis, so having access to epinephrine (epi-pen) can be life saving. Examples of tree nuts: brazil nuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, pine nuts.
- Peanuts: different from tree nuts because they are legumes, and the cause of an allergic reaction is unknown, but genetics play a big role. Many children outgrow the allergy, but if not, it can be fatal through anaphylaxis. Avoid peanuts, peanut butter, peanut/arachis oil, peanut flour, Lupin/Lupine (flour substitute).
- Wheat: a protein in wheat brings on hives, vomiting, swelling, and anaphylaxis. Different from a gluten sensitivity, and most children outgrow the allergy. Found in: beer, baked goods, soy sauce, granola.
- Soy: a protein in soy products triggers itching, tingling, runny nose, and anaphylaxis. A common allergy in children, though most will outgrow it. Foods to avoid if you have an allergy are: soybeans/edamame, tofu/tempeh, miso, soymilk.
While these are the most common food allergies, any food can cause an allergic reaction. It is important for you to listen to your body and consult a doctor, dietician, or allergist if you have any odd reactions to food.
How to Diagnose and Treat Each One…
Because there are differences between a food allergy versus just an intolerance, a doctor’s visit is crucial to help you determine which one you are suffering from. A doctor/allergist will administer a combination of tests involving a skin prick, blood lab, food challenge/elimination and patient/family history to pinpoint the cause. In our opinion the best way to discover the true difference between a sensitivity of allergy is through an IGE / IGG test. This test is usually not administered through a doctors office and will have to be administered by a naturopathic office. The IGE test is your classic food allergy test and the IGG is the delayed food allergy test which is also know as the food sensitivity. The test is administered by a blood test and you generally get results within 7-10 days. Usually when the results come back the patient is put on a food elimination diet and then a slow re-introduction diet to see which foods are true food sensitivities and which could be a false positive. Sometimes false positives occur when you eat a lot of a single food. When it comes to a food intolerance, simply limiting your intake of the adverse foods can be enough to stave off a reaction. With the wide range of foods available, it is easy enough to find more agreeable alternatives to the most common allergens.
If you are interested in having a IGG/IGE food test contact Bare Health and we would be happy to arrange this for you.
New Preventative Measures Found
In the past, doctors and researchers would tell parents to avoid giving their children any of the most common food allergens. Now, research has found that early exposure to a wide range of whole foods better equips the digestive and immune systems, allowing them to fully mature. For instance, it was found that encouraging high-risk children to eat peanut proteins reduced their risk of developing a peanut allergy by up to 86%. Another preventative measure is oral immunotherapy, which involves the introduction of small doses of allergy inducing foods. The idea is to then increase the dose, gradually, to retrain the immune system. Both methods are best done with the consultation of a doctor. Another method that has had some success, is acupuncture therapy. It has been found to be most beneficial in the treatment of hives, but given that the research is limited, be sure to find an experienced, certified provider.
Set Yourself Up For Success!
Thankfully, with the plethora of food available out there comes oodles of info to help guide you to your best health. Food labels are required to list all the ingredients and allergens, but unfortunately not all of them lead to your specific, optimal health. Sticking to whole foods and avoiding processed foods with artificial additives is a great start, but be sure to consult a doctor if you notice any undesirable symptoms. A food intolerance will present itself through digestive issues, and a food allergy typically involves a more serious immune system response, like anaphylaxis. Your doctor can run tests to inform you which foods to limit or avoid, and provide you with the appropriate treatment options to set you up for success in your health and fitness goals!
Authors: Carla and Armando Castro