Our bodies are a complicated, intricate system. The food we eat causes many different reactions, and some people have serious food allergies or food intolerances. So it’s natural that we want to figure things out and eliminate the troublemakers in our diet.
But when we make sweeping dietary changes based on poor information, pseudoscience, or guesswork, we put our wellbeing at risk. How can we tell if we are taking the right actions?
According to one study, food allergies and intolerances only affect around 5% of the population. But up to 30% of us believe we have food allergies.
Here’s a commonly overheard conversation about gluten:
“Sorry, I can’t eat that. It has white flour in it, and I’m allergic to gluten.”
“Oh, did your doctor tell you that you had Celiac disease?”
“Nah, I just figured it out. Every time I eat it, I feel terrible after.”
“So you don’t really know then?”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure…”
Food is quite often the cause of our health issues. If you’re getting rashes, bloating, or digestive problems, then you should look at your diet. But sometimes, the diagnosis you give yourself might be way out to lunch.
What’s The difference — Food Allergy, Intolerance, or Sensitivity?
It isn’t accurate to label just any reaction your body has as an “allergy.”
Food allergy: when your body has an allergic response to a food. Your body sees the food as an invader, and it over-reacts, trying to fight it. This is an immune system response.
- Itchy skin, rashes, stuffy nose, sneezing, a lump in the throat, trouble breathing
- stomach cramps, diarrhea, or throwing up
- In extreme cases, anaphylaxis with low blood pressure and loss of consciousness.
Food Intolerance: This is when your body has trouble digesting a certain food or that food irritates your digestive tract. An intolerance means you don’t have the right enzymes needed to break down that food. An example is lactose intolerance, where a person’s body can’t deal with cow’s milk.
Here are some signs of food intolerance:
- Stomach aches, nausea, or gas
- You might have to throw up
- Diarrhea or frequent bathroom trips with cramps
- Headaches, irritability, or nervousness
Food Sensitivity: any adverse physical response to a certain food that isn’t an immune system response or a lack of ability to digest it but still gives you troubles. You might have all the same symptoms as food intolerance but still have the ability to digest that food.
This is the grey area. It’s tricky to define food sensitivities, especially when we look at highly processed foods with multiple ingredients. How do you know which ingredient, or if it’s how it was processed that causes you grief?
1. Poor Information and Pseudoscience is Misleading
The worst place to find your food sensitivity facts is on Farcebook.
Just because everyone starts spreading some information doesn’t make it true. We need to use our brains and check stuff out independently. If someone tells you that eating chicken under a 5G tower will cause rashes, question it!
But that’s an easy one. Question everything else too.
Don’t automatically believe everything you hear, read or see in a YouTube video. If you’re curious and open-minded, that’s good. But look to see if that information checks out.
- Read more than one article or post by different authors.
- Look for credible experts who have demonstrated experience and track record.
- Talk with an actual dietary professional.
- Check the information against sources like nutrition.gov.
If you can’t decide whether something is true or not, ask yourself if this person is someone you can trust or just a random stranger that wrote some stuff online. If not, then why are you trusting the health of your body to them?
2. Guesswork Takes the Place of Actual Testing and Experts
We all do this. I’m guilty of it too. I eat something, and my stomach is upset a while later. I assume the food caused it and walk around telling people, “I must not be able to eat eggs anymore!” or whatever it is.
Meanwhile, it wasn’t the eggs. It was the fact that they were cooked in too much oil, or I ate them with bacon that my stomach didn’t want so early in the morning. Or even that the toast had strawberry jam on it with red dye. Or there was an election that really messed up my emotions, and I was all tense at breakfast.
The truth is, a lot of the time, we just don’t know. We put so many diverse things into our faces at once. Multi-ingredient foods like pizza or any factory-prepared food could contain one or several irritants.
The only way to know would be to eliminate all foods that might be causing problems, then introduce them one at a time and log EVERY SINGLE THING you eat, as well as how you responded over the next few hours. You could take this approach, and it would work.
You could use a pulse test to see how your heart rate responds to different foods, with a pulse oximeter that records pulse and oxygen concentration. It would give you great information about how your body responds. Dr. Jockers has an excellent write-up on how to do this at home. He also has food sensitivity test recommendations here.
The problem is that most of us won’t take the time to do it on our own. But if any of us were that diligent, then over the period of about 6 months, we would have a good idea what foods cause us problems. But let’s face it; we won’t.
A better approach might be getting some professional help or testing. It will save a lot of time. Talk to your doctor, or get a referral and some professional help if you need it.
At-home testing might not be good enough, either. Not only do you not know the true reliability of these tests, but we have to consider that we aren’t trained to understand the results. Websites claim that their test will give your IgG levels to multiple foods, up to a hundred, with just one single panel test, for a small fee.
Does this actually sound reasonable to you? Most of these tests are not FDA-approved or regulated. They could tell you whatever you want to hear, and you wouldn’t know the difference.
For more about these tests' validity, click here to visit the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.
3. What’s Right For One Person May Be Wrong For You
Don’t assume that any Jon, Mary, or Bob has the answers. What they are doing might be right for them but not for you.
We’re all individuals. Each human body is its own masterpiece, with multiple variables and genetic differences. What makes one person allergic or intolerant won’t bother you at all. And did that person do rigorous testing, or just guess?
A great example is gluten sensitivity. Bob, your acquaintance on Farcebook, thinks he might have a gluten problem. But Bob doesn’t know for sure. So he eliminates all the bread, flour, cakes, donuts, and pasta.
Bob starts feeling great! So he gets back on Farcebook and tells everyone that gluten is the enemy.
But meanwhile, what if the actual problem was Bob was eating way too much highly processed garbage, and now he was forced to cook at home and eat actual veggies or fruits every day? If any human eats less processed food, the result will be that they start feeling better. Maybe not eating donuts was what Bob needed, and it had nothing to do with gluten.
You don’t know Bob’s whole story. Investigate, experiment, and get medical help. Don’t rely on Bob’s results to fix your own situation.
Food could be causing you some health problems. This is definitely true if you eat a lot of highly processed storebought foods containing multiple ingredients.
If you think you have food allergies, intolerances, or sensitivities, you should figure it out. The first place to start is with your doctor or another professional with a proven track record. But don’t pick just any doctor. Be responsible for your health, like Pete Ross suggests in Medicine’s Dirty Secret.
- Beware of false information and pseudoscience. Find some facts and look for information to back them up.
- Don’t guess. What you take for cause and effect might be a little more complicated than you think.
- Don’t rely on just one piece of information, one test, or one medical opinion.
- You’re an individual! Even if 90% of people were intolerant or have issues with gluten (which isn’t supported by facts), you might be part of the 10% that isn’t. Or vice-versa.
This is your body, and you only get one. It pays to look into it and give it some serious thought. Stay healthy out there!
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