Food Reactions 101
If you have a food reaction, are you allergic to a particular food? Not necessarily. There are a lot of reasons to react poorly to something you ate. You may be sensitive, or intolerant, but not allergic. Perhaps you lack digestive enzymes or free-flowing bile. Let’s explore different types of food reactions.
What kinds of food reactions are there?
Beyond food intolerances, sensitivities, and allergies, there are physiological reasons to have trouble with food. For example, spicy food can irritate and inflame your esophagus. Foods containing certain starches that are difficult to digest can give you bloat, gas, and cramps. High fat foods can make you nauseated if your gall bladder is congested or even missing. Further, foods contaminated with chemicals can give you a headache. If your detoxification pathways are blocked, you may feel your heart racing when too much of a substance, such as caffeine, builds up in your body. Lastly, sustained stress can impair your ability to digest.
It can be very helpful to keep a food journal. Note what you ate and when, and record what symptoms you are having and when they occur. You may be able to see certain patterns, such as waking up with joint pain after a binge of cookies, or getting a stomach ache every time you eat fast food in the car. Perhaps you notice post-nasal drip at night that it goes away when you eliminate yogurt or peanuts. The expert on your food reactions is YOU!
What is the difference between a food allergy, a sensitivity, and an intolerance?
Most likely, you know if you are allergic to something. Your reaction occurs sometimes within minutes, but certainly within a few hours. The symptoms are classic: itchiness, swelling, rashes, sinus congestion, and/or airway constriction. It only takes a drop or a crumb to set you off.
However, a food sensitivity may take up to 3 days to manifest. You may not realize you are reacting to something you ate yesterday or the day before. In addition, you may eat it this week and not have any symptoms. But when you eat it next week, you have an attack of diarrhea.
With the first exposure to a food you are sensitive to, your body flags the item as a possible problem. When you eat it again, the antibodies are ready and your immune system reacts aggressively. You may feel that you are inflamed in some way.
Yet, perhaps you only eat a few bites. So you don’t notice much. Next time, you may feel it’s harmless, and may have a cup of it. Over the next day or two, you feel cranky, sluggish or achy. This is typical of a food sensitivity.
An intolerance does not involve an immune reaction. Nevertheless, you are incapable of breaking down and absorbing the food. Usually, this is because you lack the enzymes to digest it. A case in point is lactose intolerance. This simply means your body doesn’t make lactase. Therefore, you cannot degrade lactose. If you eat it, you will have a stomach ache.
How do I know if I’m having a food reaction?
The simple answer is to take the food out of your diet cold turkey for 30 days. (Watch labels to make sure you are not accidentally being exposed.) Then on the 31st and 32nd days, eat two full servings of it each day. Record any symptoms that crop up, especially if you have not been experiencing them over the past month.
Common symptoms of food reactions include joint pain, muscle aches, sinus congestion or post-nasal drip, headache, diarrhea, constipation, acid reflux, depression, anxiety, lethargy, fatigue, rashes, itching, bloat, brain fog, forgetfulness, sudden mood changes, and irritability.
If you are having difficulty sleuthing out which foods to remove from your diet, you may want to use a blood-based food sensitivity test. The lab technicians will determine if you have antibodies and an inflammatory reaction to the foods on the test. Although the test can give false positives or negatives, you will have a set of likely foods to begin removing in a methodical way.
You can order an at-home blood sample kit through Inner Connected Wellness that tests 22 foods, 132 foods, or 176 foods, depending on your need.
Will I ever be able to eat that food again?
Unfortunately, food allergies are unlikely to go away. But many people are able to heal food sensitivities by avoiding their triggers for 3-4 months (it takes that long for antibodies to die) and engaging in a gut healing protocol to repair the problem that caused the sensitivity in the first place. You can work with a functional nutritionist to make sure you have adequate nutrition and digestive secretions to break down your food optimally. That way, your immune system will not freak out over a particle of partially-digested gluten or casein.
If your food reaction is because of an intolerance, digestive enzymes will most likely help you assimilate that food. When other imbalances, irritants, or blockages are at play, addressing the root cause removes that impairment. Then you can eat troublesome foods once again without an adverse reaction.