We all know that eating healthy food is essential to maintaining our health. But sometimes, what is healthy food for one person, can be a cause of physical distress for another. Deciphering which foods are causing problems can be a frustrating task. But in my 24 years of practicing naturopathic medicine, I’ve found that helping my patients to identify and eliminate food intolerances can often be a powerful key to unlocking better health.
The trouble is that often, people’s food intolerances don’t fit the usual stereotype of a person who has an immediate and dramatic reaction to certain foods like peanuts or shellfish. Those immediate hypersensitivity reactions are usually easy to identify and can be tested. But there are about 15 different ways that people can react to foods, and only a few of them can be tested through conventional lab tests.
The most common food reaction I see is delayed hypersensitivity reactions. I have helped countless people overcome eczema by identifying food reactions. Sinus or mucous-related conditions are often aggravated by food reactions, as are many digestive issues. Chronic fatigue and “brain fog” are red flags that food sensitivities may be at play. There are tests available through naturopathic physicians that can begin the process of elimination and reintroduction needed to pin down the culprits.
Celiac disease is actually an autoimmune disease in which gluten triggers a variety of symptoms that are digestive, neurological, psychiatric and autoimmune. A blood test or upper intestinal biopsy can diagnose this often overlooked condition.
In some people, the issue isn’t so much allergies as it is an inability to digest certain foods properly. For instance, people with a (fixable) microbiome imbalance in the small intestine can have excessive fermentation of certain starches which then creates gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation and more. The foods most likely to ferment have been categorized under the acronym FODMAP foods, which include lactose-containing dairy products, onions and garlic, beans, cabbage family vegetables and more.
For my patients with chronic hives, flushing, digestive issues, headaches, anxiety and more, we also look at the possibility of a histamine intolerance. There are certain foods that contain histamine, which is normally broken down by the body. Foods that are aged or fermented like deli meats, yogurt, beer, wine and others can be especially triggering.
Oxalates are naturally high in spinach, strawberries, rhubarb and more. For people with chronic bladder pain, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and kidney stones oxalates can be a trigger. The intestinal microbiome is supposed to metabolize the oxalates in our foods, but an imbalance in the microbiome can prevent that process, causing a building up of oxalates in the blood and urine.
Food additives can cause an incredible range of symptoms from temper tantrums, hives, swelling, migraines and more. Key culprits to consider are MSG (there are many ways food manufacturers hide MSG on food labels), sulphites (used as a preservative in dried fruit, wine, vinegar, commercial baking) and nitrates (found in deli meats, bacon, ham, and food dyes. Artificial sweeteners like aspartame can create issues for some, as can the sweeteners called sugar alcohols like sorbitol and maltitol. I especially see the latter causing gas and diarrhea.
Acidic foods can trigger irritation of already sensitive tissues. For instance, excessive orange juice intake can trigger bladder issues, and acid reflux can be triggered by caffeine, alcohol, tomatoes and more.
Salicylates are naturally occurring chemicals in fruits, vegetables, spices and some medicines. But for some people, they can trigger asthma and allergies as well as digestive distress and headaches.
So if you have a dead-end diagnosis like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, chronic headaches, asthma or Chronic Fatigue syndrome or you just don’t feel your best, consider investigating the array of food intolerances as a possible way to unlock some of your health and vitality.
Naturopathic physicians have extensive training in nutrition and regularly use custom nutrition plans as medicine. We make sure that you know what you CAN eat as well as help you pin down specific foods to avoid.