FEATURE – If you or your family do not have food allergies, sensitivities or intolerances, consider yourself lucky. These are very common among the general population, especially children.
Types of food issues
Food allergies are the most dangerous of the three. This type of hypersensitivity involves the immune system and is characterized by anaphylactic reaction, which needs immediate medical reaction.
Food sensitivities also involve the immune system, but their reaction is usually delayed. It can take two to four days to notice symptoms, which makes them hard to pinpoint. Symptoms include upset stomach, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, joint and muscle aches and pains, migraines, headaches, fatigue, irritability, rashes, behavior changes, chronic sinusitis, chronic lung infections; the list goes on and on.
Food intolerances do not involve the immune system, but do affect digestion. The most common type is lactose intolerance, which plagues about 75 percent of the world’s population.
Common food allergies and sensitivities
The most common food allergies and sensitivities are to dairy, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts and seafood. Also of note but less common are citrus, tomatoes, corn and strawberries.
One approach to treating food sensitivities would be to eliminate the top allergens and then re-introduce them one at a time to assess tolerance. As this process can be time consuming and tricky, I recommend always working with a registered dietitian who is trained in food allergies and sensitivities to be sure your diet is nutritionally adequate. Another approach would to be tested through an allergist or a certified LEAP therapist to pinpoint problematic foods.
Depending on what you find, here are some tips for avoiding the top allergens:
- For nut and peanut allergies, try seeds instead. Although sesame seeds can often cross-react, you can choose from sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds and hemp seeds. There are sunflower seed butters widely available that could easily replace peanut butter.
- Many non-dairy milks are on the market today, including almond milk, coconut milk, flax milk, rice milk, soy milk, sunflower milk and oat milk, just to name a few. Manufacturers of these products often sell non-dairy yogurts as well.
- To replace eggs in baked goods, mix one tablespoon of flaxseed with 2.5 tablespoons water and allow it to gel. One egg equals one tablespoon of flax seed; adjust according to your recipe.
- Instead of using wheat, try alternative grains and flours such as quinoa, millet, rice, amaranth, buckwheat and teff. There are many wheat free options on the market today, but also experiment with cooking and baking these grains at home.
- Try replacing fish and shellfish with beans, as they are not likely to illicit an immune response in most people.
- Some of these foods (like corn and soy) can be tricky to avoid. They can be disguised in products when labeled as something else. This is where working with a nutrition professional pays off.
Some research suggests that children may “grow out” of food or that anyone that avoids problematic foods and allows their immune system to “forget” may have luck adding them in later. The immune system is a tricky thing, but stay the course in treating your food allergies and you will feel the results.
Written by Emily Fonnesbeck, R.D., C.D., C.L.T., for St. George Health and Wellness magazine and St. George News.
Fonnesbeck is a registered dietitian and received her degree at Brigham Young University. She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and belongs to the practice groups of Integrated/Functional Nutrition, Weight Management and Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition. She has a certificate in Adult Weight Management and is a certified LEAP therapist.
As a member of the research team at Chrysalis Clinical Research, she also counsels diabetic patients. Formerly, she worked at The Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge in Ivins where she taught lectures, led private consultations, managed meal plans and traveled to speak for corporate wellness programs. She had the pleasure of assisting many resort guests and former Biggest Loser contestants in finding what nutritional meal plan works for them.
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