Food sensitivities are all the rage to talk about these days. Indeed, whether you are in a large fast food chain or a small Mom & Pop restaurant you will see signs that say “Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Nut Free”. Now these things are great, I am all for personal empowerment with food, but it also raises the question about why there is such an awareness of food sensitivities?
There is no consensus in the medical literature as to why we are seeing an increase in food sensitivities, also known as non-IgE mediated food hypersensitivity1–3. Some people believe that it is due to more awareness and more diagnosis, others suggest that it is due to our environment (stress, chemicals, disinfection practices etc) and then other groups suggest that it relates to the nature of our food. Yes, there are many, many opinions, and in my opinion all of these things come into play.
The modern world is plagued by chronic inflammation, and I think that food sensitivities are just one manifestation of this. We have more stress, altered gut bacteria, less protection of our gastrointestinal barrier (the lining of our intestines that separates the inside of our body from the outside world), nutrient deficiencies and increased consumption of processed foods. Together this is a perfect storm for a catabolic state and immune dysregulation! And this is also a perfect storm for energy production, as the body lacks the nutrients to complete the energy cycle, and/or the body prioritizes energy into tissue healing and protection. It is exhausting even thinking about it!
Signs of a Food Sensitivity
Below is a list of the symptoms that can suggest a food sensitivity may be at play. Many of these symptoms are non-specific, meaning that they can be due to any number of conditions, and therefore food sensitivities should not, in my opinion be the only thing investigated. That being said, even if an underlying condition such as hypothyroidism, autoimmunity or fibromyalgia were at play a food elimination may be helpful. Just please make sure that your medical provider does a full work up!
And no, although many people experience these, they are not ‘normal’!
Symptoms can be very difficult to relate directly to a specific food as food sensitivities, unlike food allergies, take time to show symptoms. In fact, some people report feeling symptoms 24, even 48 hours, after consuming an offending food. Think about how many different foods you eat in 48 hours! This is why food sensitivities can be difficult to diagnose, more on that later.
What are the Most Common Food Triggers?
The most common food sensitivities, listed below, represent a small list of the potential foods that can trigger a specific person. Anything can be a trigger depending on how often you are exposed to it, the integrity of your gastrointestinal barrier, your bacteria and the current state of your immune function.
- Histamine containing foods – these include fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and even left overs!
- Preservatives such as MSG, sulfites, nitrates and artificial colours 4
How to Treat Food Sensitivities, and Regain Energy!
Although testing for food sensitivities does exist, one of the most well accepted ways to address food intolerances/ sensitivities is to undertake an elimination diet. An elimination diet essentially eliminates the most common food offenders, along with any foods that you know that you are sensitive to, for a period of time to allow the system a change to calm any inflammatory responses. I often prescribe dietary changes for a one-month period while monitoring for a change in the key symptoms that presented in the face of a particular offending food. For example, if Mia came into my office with low energy, brain fog and bloating, and we were able to eliminate other possible causes of her symptoms, then she would be instructed to avoid the previously listed food for 4 weeks. During this time Mia would keep a diary of her key symptoms, noting when they occurred, along with improvements in her overall energy, bowel function, sleep and any weight changes. After this one-month period the foods are then reintroduced into Mia’s diet one at a time, introducing peanuts on Monday, Eggs Wednesday, etc, and monitoring symptoms with each introduction.
This method, although not ‘sexy’, can provide critical information about dietary sensitivities, and also help patients to regain their energy and sense of vitality!
If you think you might have a food sensitivity then try eliminating some of these common foods, or book in with your Naturopathic Doctor to get a full functional health assessment!
- Jyonouchi, H. Non-IgE mediated food allergy. Inflamm. Allergy Drug Targets 7, 173–180 (2008).
- Vandenplas, Y. Debates in allergy medicine: food intolerance does exist. World Allergy Organ. J. 8, 36 (2015).
- Dreborg, S. Debates in allergy medicine: food intolerance does not exist. World Allergy Organ. J. 8, 37 (2015).
- Skypala, I. J., Williams, M., Reeves, L., Meyer, R. & Venter, C. Sensitivity to food additives, vaso-active amines and salicylates: a review of the evidence. Clin. Transl. Allergy 5, 34 (2015).