Pay Attention To Your Sensitive Side

Diagnosing food sensitivities and allergies

Have you ever wondered why your nose runs when you eat certain foods? Do you sometimes experience a sudden warm feeling or hot flash? Have you noticed phlegm in your throat after eating or perhaps the next day? A more extreme reaction might leave your body feeling stiff and swollen with achy joints. These are some of the symptoms of food sensitivities. 

Many people don’t associate these reactions and others like gas and bloating with food sensitivities. Is there a difference between a food sensitivity and an allergy? A food allergy is a sudden reaction requiring medical care or the use of an EpiPen®. A food sensitivity can take up to three days for a reaction to occur. By then, you’ve likely forgotten what you ate or you attribute the reaction to something you ate that day. Approximately seven per cent of Canadians have self-reported food allergies and the number is likely much higher when you consider many go undiagnosed and are unaware of food sensitivities. 

Food sensitivities are different than food intolerances – it’s an important distinction. Food intolerance happens when you lack the proper enzymes to break down the food. This is common with milk and the inability to break down lactose. In most cases you can take enzymes to help digest the food. So how do sensitivities start?

Food sensitivities can be caused by a number of factors, such as introducing foods too early to babies, food poisoning, overuse of antibiotics and medications, or they can be related to a busy, stressful lifestyle and eating too fast. Stress lowers our stomach acid and also creates imbalances in important enzymes and the release of bile from our gallbladder. When this happens, we don’t properly break down food, causing damage to the lining of the small intestine. 

You can also develop food sensitivities by being a creature of habit – and, let’s face it, most of us are. Eating the same foods day in and day out with a compromised digestive system can eventually cause a problem that requires you to eliminate some of your favourite foods.

The best way to diagnose food sensitivities is with a blood test. These tests are arranged through a holistic nutritionist or naturopathic doctor. But don’t panic – it’s not the dreaded skin-prick test you may have heard about. Blood is drawn either by vial or a finger poke and sent to a lab for analysis. A report is produced by the lab showing the level of sensitivity to a list of foods. The cost of the test varies depending on the number of foods included.

What’s great about the test is it’s much easier than guess work. For example, some of my food sensitivities never crossed my mind before I was tested, like olives and olive oil. But they’re healthy for you, right? Well, for me it was part of the cause of pain and discomfort. Good to know! The challenge is changing your eating habits. It can be overwhelming, especially in families with various tastes and restrictions. The good news is with the right foods and environment, sensitivities can be greatly reduce or eliminated. I know from experience - you will feel so much better! 

A holistic nutritionist can help you transition by providing recipes and teaching you about alternatives to the foods you used to eat. With a little time and patience, you can develop new habits and feel great. 

Article written for Fresh Vancouver Magazine Issue 31 Sept/Oct 2015