Many common ailments that affect us can be linked to either a food allergy or an intolerance that go (mostly) unnoticed. Headaches. Flatulence. Poor bowel movements. Lethargy. Fatigue. Depression. Sudden weight gain. There are numerous indicators; many can be common among multiple people, but they can also vary on an individual basis. An allergy, an intolerance, or a sensitivity to a food all have one thing in common, however: once they are removed, a greater sense of well-being returns.
A food allergy differs from a food intolerance. A true food allergy can be measured by your doctor through a blood test. This test is conducted by measuring your immune system’s response by accounting for the amount of allergy antibodies in your blood, called immunoglobulin E (IgE), in response to an administered food. A high level of IgE indicates an allergy. Often, however, our bodies will not create a full immune response when a food is ingested or placed into our bodies, and thus these tests are not always accurate. A food intolerance can be a mild, prolonged immune response that is otherwise undetectable, but can also be a digestive system response. Both hamper your body’s ability to function at optimal levels. Common food allergies and sensitivities include foods such as grains, gluten (a unique protein in wheat, barley, and other grains), soy, milk (both the proteins and lactose), eggs, tree nuts, and peanuts (it’s really a legume!).
There are three common ways to self test for a food allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity:
The Pulse Test is on the fastest and easiest ways you can see if you potentially have a food allergy or intolerance. Your pulse can be taken anywhere you can feel your pulse best, or have someone take it for you!
- Upon rising and after being awake for about an hour, take your pulse for 60 seconds. This will give you your average resting pulse rate.
- Just before a meal, relax and again take your pulse rate for 60 seconds. If you have been quite active throughout the day, later in the day it may be higher than usual. If it is higher, note that it is higher, but still keep in mind what your average resting pulse rate is. Then, chow down!
- 30, 60, and 90 minutes after the meal, again take your pulse rate. It is important not to take your pulse immediately after eating, as your body is sending extra blood to your stomach to begin digestion, creating an increase in your heart beat. If the rate ranges at least 10 beats more than your resting pulse rate, you may have a food sensitivity to a food you ate. Create a journal and write down what you ate if this is the case (more on this below!)
- The next step is to isolate all the foods you ate when you note an increase in your heart rate. Test them systematically with the same process as above. Any food with a continued elevated heart rate may pose to be problematic for your body, and may be best removed from your diet. You may want to try an elimination diet for this food. More on this below, as well!
Keeping a Food Journal is one of the most effective ways of tracking foods that may pose potential problems for allergies or intolerance. At its basis, it is simply logging all foods you take in over any given period of time, and also logging how to feel after you eat. Log how you feel immediately after eating, shortly after (30,60,90 minutes), before you go to bed, and when you wake up the next day. If symptoms such as headache, lethargy, dizziness, sneezing, body ache, or any symptom you might find peculiar or curious (even if you experience it all the time!), write it down! Try eating similar foods, and see if the same symptoms occur. As with the Pulse Test, you will want to try isolating each food and log how you feel in reaction to each. If and when you find a reaction, you may want to avoid this food entirely or try…
The Elimination Diet. This diet can also be referred to as a rotation diet, and is best utilized in conjunction with a food journal. Elimination diets can vary, but at their core they follow a simply procedure:
- Eliminate all foods from your diet that you believe may be causing your trouble, OR reduce your diet down to basic foods that are unlikely to cause most people trouble: fruits, vegetables, lightly cooked meats (if you eat them), and easily digestible grains (primarily white rice).
- Log how you are feeling in your food journal. Simply by reducing potential problematic foods and following a more simply diet, many people will note an increase feeling of well being. Be specific in your food journal. How do you feel? What is your mental energy like? Your physical energy? What are you not feeling?
- Slowly reintroduce potential problematic foods to your diet, one at a time, and keep them in their most simple form. For example, if you think soy may pose a problem, try eating some soybeans or tofu rather than a processed soy product. Note in your journal how you feel immediately after eating, and again before bed and the following morning.
- If you find you react to a certain food, you may want to avoid it for a while again, and then try reintroducing it once or twice more. If you continue to find you react to the food, it is probably best to eliminate it entirely. However, frequently an intolerance can develop from eating a food too often. By eliminating some foods for a prolonged period of time, you may find you tolerate it again at a later time. Try reintroducing it slowly, however.
Food allergies and intolerance can develop for many reasons. Sometimes our bodies are simply incapable of processing a specific food properly. Other times, various conditions can trigger our bodies to create an intolerance, such as emotions, stress, or even eating a specific food too frequently. It is always important to be mindful of the food we eat and the mental state in which we eat them. Choose your foods wisely, respect the signals your body gives you.