Food Allergies-More Well Known, Less Common
Food sensitivities are not the same as food allergies. A classic true food allergy only affects about 2% of the population. Food allergy reactions are usually easily identified. Symptoms often come on quickly and can range from a tingling in the mouth to hives, swelling, difficulty breathing and even death. Some common foods associated with true allergies include peanuts, eggs, milk, and shellfish. People who have food allergies are usually only allergic to one or two foods and just one molecule can lead to symptoms. Tests a doctor may use to make an official diagnosis include a skin prick test or a RAST blood test. These tests will not uncover food sensitivities as they occur through a different pathway in the body.
Food Sensitivities- A Problem for More
Many more people actually suffer from food sensitivities than food allergies. It is estimated that 15-20% of the population has developed sensitivities to common foods and food chemical additives (MSG, nitrates, sweeteners, and food colorings). It can be difficult to determine the foods you are sensitive to for the following reasons:
• Reactions can take up to 3 days to appear. Would you attribute the migraine you have today with a food you ate a few days ago?
• Reactions are often dose related, meaning if you eat a little you might not feel sick, but if you eat a lot you’ll experience more severe symptoms.
• Reactive foods vary greatly from person to person. It could be apples, chicken, and cinnamon for one person and broccoli, bananas, and garlic for another.
• Typically there are more than one or two reactive foods and food chemicals. Ten or more is quite common.
• Many convenient foods today contain multiple food and food additive ingredients-making it difficult to figure which ingredient is to blame.
Every time reactive foods are consumed, the body releases painful, inflammatory chemicals that contribute to symptoms. Symptoms associated with food sensitivities can vary greatly and affect different body systems. Common digestive conditions and symptoms linked to food sensitivities include irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, heartburn, bloating, and cyclical vomiting. Migraines, joint and muscle pain, fibromyalgia, sinus congestion, fatigue, and “brain fog” are other common symptoms.
Identifying Reactive Foods- What Works and What Doesn’t
Because we are not dealing with food allergies, a skin prick or RAST test will not uncover food sensitivities. These tests work if it is a true allergy involving what’s called the IgE antibody and food sensitivities never involve this antibody.
Elisa IgG testing has become increasingly popular with some health professionals, but it has limited usefulness. Our gut produces IgG specific to foods naturally as a consequence of consumption, so just having it does not mean it’s causing you problems. In addition, this test detects a type of reaction accounting for only about 30% of food sensitivities and it cannot uncover food chemical reactions.
Before accurate testing was available, people relied on elimination diets to uncover their reactive foods. During a basic elimination diet you remove all the common foods from your diet. If you feel better, you likely suffer from food sensitivities. Then you add foods back into your diet one at a time, one day at a time and monitor how you react to each food. This actually works well when done correctly-which can be quite difficult to do. Multiple ingredient foods that are so common today pose a challenge as well as the time commitment required.
With over 90% accuracy, LEAP/MRT testing is the most accurate blood test available for food sensitivities. It can detect food chemical sensitivities in addition to basic foods and takes the guesswork out of elimination diets. You start the diet with foods you know are safe and build on that.
Once you determine the foods you’re reactive to, you avoid them. The more closely you follow the diet, the better you will feel. By rotating your safe foods and not eating them every day, you can reduce the chances of developing new sensitivities. Eventually you may be able to tolerate some of your reactive foods again after a three to six month avoidance period.
Megan Witt, Registered Dietitian