Being diagnosed with food allergies/sensitivities can feel very daunting! I found myself saying, “what am I going to eat?” Not to mention the social aspect involved and feeling isolated by your diet. It is a challenge for sure! After years of educating myself and adapting, however, I am now quite comfortable with my allergies. I no longer fear eating out or going to social functions. Applied knowledge is power!
Food allergies have become more prevalent in recent years. Physicians are becoming more aware of the impact certain foods have on the gut and overall health. Food allergies and food sensitivities are immune reactions to a component in a food – an allergen – which is almost always a protein. A person can react with hives, asthma, a runny nose and mouth swelling – to name a few reactions. The foods that most commonly cause allergies are: shellfish, eggs, milk, fish, tree-nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy. These are often referred to as the ‘big 8′. In a food allergy, the body reacts to that allergen by producing an antibody to that allergen or the body has another immune response. The symptoms a person experiences depends on the immunological reaction within the body to the particular allergen.
One method that is used in detecting whether certain food proteins are causing specific immune responses is to inject them under the skin and look for reactions. Unfortunately, these tests do not tell what is causing the gut symptoms because the response to proteins in the gut is very different from that under the skin. So, one of the current methods in detecting food hypersensitivities is to place a person on a bland elimination diet, and then, if symptoms improve, challenge with a specific food and see if symptoms occur. I tried this and it became very frustrating for me. I kept second guessing my reactions because I could not definitively tell which foods I was reacting to. What did work for me? Enterolab. (https://www.enterolab.com) Kenneth Fine, M.D. has made incredible strides in this area. I have adapted my diet to accommodate my food sensitivities and my gut has healed! My previous health issues have disappeared! I am thrilled to develop recipes that are allergy-free, nutrient-dense, and, of course, delicious!
I would like to mention a word about the FODMAP diet. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is one of a group of conditions that they call ‘functional gastrointestinal disorders’. This means that the gut is free from physical problems, but it does not function properly. If you suffer from IBS, I encourage you to look into the FODMAP diet. I still recommend eating a whole-food, plant- based diet, but altering some of the plants eaten may help in alleviating certain issues with IBS.
I want to touch on a few of the most common foods that cause reactions. Note: this list is by no means exhaustive – there are many foods that can cause reactions in the body.
Gluten is a composite of the proteins glutenin and gliadin that are found in wheat, barley, rye, and oats. Gluten is present in many common foods – so many, in fact, that I cannot list all of them here! For certain people, these proteins cause gastric distress and a host of other problems. There are more and more people who are being diagnosed with a gluten allergy or intolerance. Wheat has always been labeled as “the staff of life” grain for many diets around the world, but, historically, many peoples from many parts of the world did not rely on wheat. In Asia, grains like rice and millet were prevalent. In Latin America, corn, amaranth, and quinoa were staple foods and in Africa, teff has long been a staple grain.
The wheat today is not like the wheat of my childhood, as it has been hybridized and developed for mass production. Many people, whether they have celiac disease, a gluten sensitivity or not, see benefit from reducing the amount of packaged and processed foods that contain gluten. Living on a gluten free or reduced gluten diet does not mean you must live in culinary prison! There are so many DELICIOUS foods from around the world that provide amazing flavor, texture and nutritional benefit.
A milk allergy is an adverse immune reaction to one or more of the constituents of milk from any animal (most commonly alpha S1-casein, a protein in cow’s milk). This milk-induced allergic reaction can involve anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening condition. A true milk allergy differs from milk protein intolerance or lactose intolerance. Unlike a milk allergy, intolerance doesn’t involve the immune system. Milk intolerance causes different symptoms and requires different treatment from a true milk allergy. Common signs and symptoms of milk protein intolerance or lactose intolerance include digestive problems, such as bloating, gas or diarrhea, after consuming milk or products containing milk. (Mayo Clinic) There are so many dairy alternatives on the market and wonderful applications of non-dairy homemade alternatives that I do not miss any dairy products in my diet! Can you say plant-based dairy-free cheese? My favorite!
Hens’ eggs represent a major food allergen source worldwide. Eggs are a basic food component, commonly introduced into the diet within the first year of life. Symptoms of hens’ egg allergy are commonly manifested as reactions of the digestive system. Frequently, the first skin reactions are observed only minutes after consumption, while gastrointestinal symptoms can vary in time of onset, severity and duration. Major proteins involved in egg allergy are located in the egg white (e.g. ovalbumin, ovomucoid, ovotransferrin, lysozyme), while egg yolk proteins appear to trigger allergic reactions infrequently. Most egg white allergens retain their allergenicity after heating. Due to the similarity of the egg proteins in eggs from other bird species (e.g. goose, duck) individuals sensitized to hens’ egg commonly react to eggs of other species. (FARRP) Egg substitution has never been easier. From powdered egg replacer to applesauce – there are many alternatives that do not compromise taste or texture in food.
Soybeans are a member of the legume family, which include plant species that bear seed pods that split upon ripening. Some examples of other legumes include beans, peas, lentils and peanut. People with a soy allergy are not necessarily allergic to other legumes. If you are allergic to soy, you do not have a greater chance of being allergic to another legume (including peanut) than you would to any other food. (FARE) For most people, soy allergy is uncomfortable but not serious. Rarely, an allergic reaction to soy can be frightening and even life-threatening. Signs and symptoms of a food allergy usually develop within a few minutes to hours after eating a food containing the allergen. Soy allergy symptoms can include: tingling in the mouth, hives, itching or scaly skin, swelling of the lips, tongue and throat, or other body parts, wheezing, runny nose or breathing difficulty, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting, skin redness. (Mayo Clinic) There are many soy-free products on the market today, along with creative soy-free ingredient alternatives.