Start paying attention to how you feel after you eat or drink certain foods — even if what you feel doesn’t seem food-related.
If you have a major food allergy, you probably know it.
You’ve probably been rushed to the hospital and/or suffered anaphylaxis — a sudden and severe immune system response in which the body releases massive amounts of histamine.
However, many folks also have milder oral allergies.
Oral allergies involve:
- itching and burning of the lips, mouth and throat
- watery itchy eyes
- runny nose
More serious allergies can involve:
- skin rashes, flushing, and hives
- nausea, abdominal cramping, vomiting and diarrhea
- asthma and airway swelling (in severe cases, being blocked completely)
- cardiac arrest and shock
These symptoms usually happen within minutes of eating or touching the food, but can sometimes take a little longer to appear.
The most common food allergens are:
- nuts and peanuts
- cow’s milk
- sesame seeds
- sulfites (used as a food additive)
Oral allergies usually involve particular fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, tomatoes, melons, avocados, apples, or stone fruits.
If you have other types of allergies (especially seasonal hay fever/pollen allergies), there’s a good chance you may have at least a mild food intolerance or allergy of some kind.
Beyond food allergies, there’s another class of food problem called food intolerance.
Food intolerance is much more common than food allergy, and happens for many reasons — generally because we don’t digest a certain food properly, and because this indigestion prompts an inflammatory response by our immune systems.
Common food intolerances
The most common food intolerances are to:
- dairy (lactose intolerance or inflammatory reaction to milk proteins)
- yeast (Candida infections)
- grains (particularly to wheat gluten as well as similar proteins in barley, rye, and/or oats)
- fructose (fruit sugar) or other types of sugar
- fructooligosaccharides/inulins (certain types of soluble fiber and indigestible carbohydrate, found in beans/legumes, fruits, and some vegetables, as well as in “fiber-added” products)
- salicylates, found in some juices, fruits (especially dried fruits), vegetables, spices, herbs, nuts, tea, wines, and coffee
- amines, often found in fermented and aged foods, such as cheese, wine, dark chocolate, soy sauce, preserved/smoked meats, canned/smoked fish, as well as colas and vegetable juices
- other food additives and preservatives (such as MSG)
- artificial sweeteners such as aspartame
Symptoms of food intolerance are usually milder than food allergy. They can include:
- GI symptoms such as gas, bloating, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramping
- respiratory symptoms such as stuffy nose, mucus production, sinusitis, worsening hay fever or asthma
- skin symptoms such as rashes/eczema, acne, itchy eyes or skin
- pain and inflammation such as headaches/migraines, joint pain, menstrual pain
- mood and energy changes such as fatigue or irritability (in children, behavioral problems and aggression)
- worsening of existing autoimmune conditions such as allergies, thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, etc.
One of the most challenging aspects of food intolerance is that symptoms may take a while to appear after eating the offending food.
You might eat a piece of bread, then start sniffling and scratching four hours later — long after you’ve forgotten about the bread. Or you might have a glass of milk or dish of cottage cheese in the morning, then feel vaguely burbly and bloated in the afternoon or evening.
Another challenge is that many symptoms aren’t stomach-focused.
If you eat something that disagrees with your GI tract, you usually know about it. But if MSG triggers a migraine, it might take a while to figure out.
Aside from making you feel rotten, food intolerances can also create long-term problems.
The good news is that once you can figure out a food intolerance and eliminate it, you often feel much better!
“Trigger foods” are foods that somehow “trigger” you in a negative way, whether that’s:
- making poor food choices
- eating too much
- making you feel out of control
- making you feel bad emotionally or physically
For instance, many people have a few bottles of beer in their fridge. They can come home from a tough day, pop a cold one, drink that one beer, and feel satisfied. They might even forget that the rest of the beer bottles are in their fridge until they discover them weeks later, while hunting for mustard.
But for folks with a drinking problem, one beer leads to many more beers. They can’t stop at just one. Nor can they keep that beer in their fridge without drinking it immediately.
Remember our red-, yellow-, and green-light foods from the kitchen clean-out lesson?
Red-light foods are foods that are just bad news for you. Maybe they make you feel sick, or they trigger you to eat too much, or you know they’re an unhealthy choice for you, etc. Red means “no go”.
Yellow-light foods are foods that are sometimes OK, sometimes not. Maybe you can eat a little bit without feeling ill, or you can eat them sanely at a restaurant with others but not at home alone, or you can have them as an occasional treat, etc. Yellow means “approach with caution”.
Green-light foods are foods that make you feel good mentally and physically, and that you can eat normally, and slowly, to a relatively easy 80% full. These are usually things like fruits and vegetables, lean protein, legumes, etc. Green means “go for it!”
Each person’s trigger foods are unique. However, trigger foods are often foods that are:
- high in sugar (e.g. milk chocolate) and/or simple starchy carbohydrates (e.g. bread)
- high in fat (e.g. nut butter)
- high in sodium (e.g. potato chips)
- highly processed, often with chemical additives such as artificial sweeteners or preservatives
Alcohol isn’t necessarily a trigger per se, but it can often contribute to poor food choices because it affects your judgement. Getting that extra-large cheesecake for dessert often seems like a much better idea after two glasses of wine. (And who hasn’t indulged in the 2 a.m. Supersize Me fast food run after an evening at the bar?)
Trigger foods aren’t necessarily “bad” foods. (Weird factoid: One of Coach Krista Schaus’ trigger foods is sun-dried tomatoes.)
Trigger foods just don’t help you work towards your goals.
They aren’t right for YOU . . . right now.
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