You were always told to drink your milk and have bread and butter with every meal. But what if the very food you’ve eaten for years and years was actually the cause of your health issues? And how would you know for sure?
Enter the age of food sensitivity. There’s more to it than the high incidence of peanut allergies in kids and the explosion of gluten-free products on the market. I’m talking sensitivity to eggs, milk, ice cream, soy and shellfish. Food sensitivities you may not even realize you have. Maybe it comes down to deteriorating food quality and packaged processed food consumption – perhaps – but food sensitivity and associated health symptoms are certainly on the rise.
So much of our health is linked, I strongly believe, to our eating habits. We are what we eat, no question. And it’s no wonder that so many people you talk to are seeing a private dietician or naturopathic doctor for “therapy.” Better diet and natural remedies are changing lives.
Not only are portion sizes near double in recent decades, and people spend less time in the kitchen preparing something freshly homemade (and more nights at the drive-through window), but our food quality has deteriorated. The majority of us are no longer harvesting food from our garden and slaughtering farmyard chickens, pigs or beef cattle to feed ourselves and our families. Just doesn’t happen much in suburbia.
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We’re buying food that has travelled great distances, by train, plane and ocean liner, losing its vitamin and mineral potency, or giving us a nasty dose of pesticides or antibiotics from non-organic farming. We like to think we’d pay more for grass-fed, free-range cuts of beef, but we don’t want to spend that much money on food. Microwave popcorn and premium ice cream seem like better bang for our buck indulgences. Add to my list of grievances (and believe me, I enjoy a Big Mac on occasion as much as the next Super-Sized citizen), genetically modified crops and foods that are easier to mass produce and some would argue more nutritious. I’m not about to preach, but I am concerned and ready to counsel people on healthy eating in challenging times.
Our bodies are getting less and less of the nourishment we need. And the odds are stacked against us that we’ll take the easier route – and open a can of salty soup for lunch instead of whipping up fresh and colorful gazpacho in the blender. Oh, modern life!
Read the Wheat Belly bestseller by Dr. William Davis and you might give up your bread routine for good. He talks about the quality of wheat today compared to the wheat cultivated and milled by our forefathers to bake bread and make flapjacks – it’s hardly recognizable. He’s put thousands of his patients on a wheat-free diet and noticed results within mere weeks, including weight loss, alleviation of type 2 diabetes and skin conditions like psoriasis, improvement in overall cholesterol and LDL counts, and so on.
But we need our healthy carbohydrates for energy, so don’t try to cut your grains in favor of more protein! Research published this March in Cell Metabolism found that protein-junkies were 74 percent more likely to die from any cause than low-protein eaters. Rich proteins and red meats have long been associated with health conditions like gout and, more recently, cancer, when they’re cooked on the barbecue. But the same anti-excess protein study found that lots of protein seems to be good for you, once you hit 65. Food science, truly, can be such a minefield. As I always come back to, enjoy things in moderation and commit to long-term healthy lifestyle habits.
How do you really know if food could be causing your loose stools or indigestion? There are eight common foods that cause 90 percent of all food allergies. I’m sure you’ve tried a few: Milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, soy, wheat and shellfish. In fact, they could be part of your daily diet; problem is, they may be decreasing your immune strength, wreaking havoc on your digestive system and increasing your cortisol levels – the stress hormone that promotes the spare tire around the belly.
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Food allergies, let’s be clear, produce severe or anaphylactic reactions (where you need to pull out your epinephrine pen) that can result in death. They’re big, sudden, severe reactions. More and more kid-centered facilities, beyond school property, are banning foods that may have come into contact with nuts. But food sensitivities or food intolerances can happen simply by eating the same foods with little variety day in and day out. Your body experiences dietary stagnation and actually becomes sensitized to your commonly consumed foods. There’s been a shift in thinking in the medical community and leading research to back it; now understanding or decoding food sensitivities can determine the root causes of health issues like joint pain and inflammation, weight gain, acid reflux, mood swings and type 2 diabetes.
What makes food sensitivities so hard to spot? They can sneak up on you. Typically, classic symptoms like headaches, bloating, water retention, inability to lose weight and fatigue, skin rash, don’t happen immediately, but within 12 to 48 hours or up to a week. So you may not even know the damage you’re doing to yourself through your diet choices, although you may find yourself continuing to feel worse and worse as your immune system takes a constant battering. Not good. These foods get beyond the wall of your gut, the body’s first line of defense, and do some nasty business to body while your immune system gets up in arms. Who needs to deal with all that bloating and diarrhea? These foods can even bust through the blood/brain barrier, the last bastion of the body’s defense, to mess with your brain and cause anxiety, erratic behavior and depression. When people talk about the food-mood connection – what you eat affects how you feel – it’s powerful.
The ironic twist to all this is you may not realize just how bad you feel until the offending foods are removed from your diet. In a relatively short period, if you have food sensitivity, you’ll notice more energy and clear-headedness, among other perks. Tell me this: Is there a certain food you can’t live without? Do you eat to calm yourself down? (Chocolate, anyone?!) After eating a meal, do you get agitated within an hour or two? If you answered yes to any of these questions, well, you likely have a food sensitivity of some kind.
What to do? You can have a blood test to identify your food allergies; ttest identifies the presence of IgG antibodies to certain foods. Then you need to remove those foods from your diet for a period of two to six months.
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But to really understand your body better, I recommend, as many experts suggest, trying an elimination diet. Remove a common food from your diet for two weeks and see how you feel. To help you recognize a pattern, keep a food journal and record what you eat and drink throughout the day and how you feel following consumption and an hour later. A laborious exercise, perhaps, but the benefits will be well worth it. This sounds similar to a trendy detox diet, where you give your liver a break from processing all the common foods that are can be hard on the body – sugar, dairy, wheat, alcohol, etc. While your custom elimination diet doesn’t need to be so extreme, the bonus could be a healthy break for your liver, the workhorse of the body’s digestive system, and a boost in your mood and energy.
To be sure, the human body is a complex and sophisticated system. But fueling the body with good, natural food and water (and herbal tea!) can be simpler than you think. Challenging, yes, with modern demands and conveniences thwarting us at every turn, but getting back to the basics can turn your health around.