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What is a food sensitivity? Good question. 

The main idea behind the Paleo, Primal, Ancestral, and Hunter/Gatherer diets is pretty much the same. All of these diets are about eating today what our bodies are genetically designed to eat. This dietary community believes we can formulate a pretty accurate picture of what we were designed to eat through anthropological evidence as well as what we know for sure our paleolithic ancestors did NOT eat. (ie. processed foods, grains, dairy, legumes)

 So, then the question often arises whether that even matters. Just because we didn’t eat certain foods hundreds of thousands of years ago, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t eat them now. “It’s not like these foods are making me sick, Laura.  I seem to have an iron stomach and can eat just about everything without upsetting my stomach.” Left unspoken in that sentence is also, “and I love (insert food here) and don’t want to live without it.” This is where I start to get frustrated. To a certain degree I can agree, dairy being one area that is a little vague. Dairy has been touted as a health food rich in calcium, vitamin A and D. Milk does the body good right? I guess if you can tolerate the lactose (milk sugar) and the casein (milk protein), there are some folks whose genes have adapted to tolerate lactose after childhood. If you are one of them then, hey, good for you! However, time and time again people complain about not being able to lose weight, feeling bloated, headaches, respiratory problems, fatigue, chronic pain, depression etc. Often, these symptoms go away when dairy is eliminated. Yet, rarely do any of these same people make a connection to what they are eating as be the likely culprit. I am not casting stones here at all, I was one of those people myself. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until my multiple health problems got out of control that I finally got a clue! I hope with this post I can help some of you discover what foods might be getting in your way BEFORE you hit the proverbial brick wall like I did.

 So what is a food sensitivity? It is when your body experiences a negative reaction to a food you eat. Unfortunately it is typically a food everyone around you seems to be able to eat with impunity. It can be an allergy that produces a histamine response and causes very obvious allergic reactions. It typically happens pretty quickly and requires only a small amount of this food to elicit a reaction.  These reactions include swelling, rashes, difficulty breathing, and vomiting to name a few. All of these are pretty hard to ignore. 

Or it can be an intolerance. A food intolerance typically has a longer symptom onset, often hours or even days, which is why they are not obvious so they often go unnoticed. We continue to eat them and then develop chronic problems that don’t go away because the offending food continues to be eaten. A vicious cycle develops. I’d almost rather have the allergy! At least then I know for sure what food is causing the problem and I won’t eat it again! The following symptoms are just a few examples: fatigue, lethargy, needing to sleep after you have eaten, mood swings, depression, certain behavioral disorders like ADD and ADHD, restlessness, headaches, migraines, foggy brain, respiratory inflammation, post nasal drip, joint pain, gas, bloating, and indigestion just to name a few. Yikes! These symptoms can also be caused by a number of other things like, stress, poor sleep, unhealthy relationships, and dehydration. What is a person to do? What if you can identify with some of these issues but don’t know what causing the problem?

 I am always an advocate for reducing stress, getting more sleep, kicking “a**holes” to the curb and drinking enough water. But sometimes it’s not always that easy right? Stress is hard to control, sometimes we just get to bed late or don’t sleep well, and it isn’t always easy to drop people who have been in our lives for a long time. One thing completely within YOUR control is what YOU eat.

The cheapest way to determine if you have a sensitivity is to do a 30 day elimination test. I would recommend starting with the most common culprits namely gluten and dairy. Also common are soy, nuts, peanuts, yeast, seafood, corn, artificial additives and preservatives.  You can eliminate one of the big ones that you suspect to be the most likely, like gluten or dairy. Eliminate it for 30 days. Eliminate it completely which means you have to look for all the hidden ingredients on nutrition labels. This is very important because even just a little bit will keep the inflammation humming in your body. For guidance on where to find hidden sources of gluten and how to avoid it check out http://glutenfreenetwork.com. Another great resource for food allergies in general including all those listed here is http://livingwithfoodallergies.com. You really need to give it a full 30 days to be sure to give your body enough time to rid itself of residual inflammation. After 30 days if you are still not feeling quite right, try to add another allergen to your list to avoid. Many people find that if they have 1 sensitivity they are likely to have 2, 3 or more. This makes this next approach a bit of a faster path to feeling better.

 Another approach is to eliminate multiple likely culprits from the beginning. This is where the Paleo/Primal diet is really helpful, because by its basic principles, it eliminates many of the biggest offenders. The Paleo crowd eliminates all grains from the diet, not just gluten grains, all processed food, dairy (with some exceptions), soy, corn, peanuts (which is a legume not a nut), artificial ingredients, and there’s very little if any yeast. It does not restrict seafood, eggs or nuts. So, if you are suspicious of seafood, nuts or eggs you might want to throw those in there too. As I said, you have to give it 30 days. Many people notice a marked improvement much sooner than that, but for some of the slow chronic inflammation issues it may take longer. After 30 days and once you are feeling better, you can try to add certain foods back in to see how your body reacts. Personally, I tried to reintroduce dairy, several times, because I just didn’t want to accept that the cheese and greek yogurt that I loved was bad for me. It was a sad, sad day for Laura when I finally had to admit to myself that dairy had to go. 🙁  But now, avoiding dairy doesn’t bother me anymore. With the exception of cheese (for which there is just no good substitute in my opinion) I have found alternatives with coconut milk yogurt and coconut milk ice cream, almond milk, etc.

There are other approaches like the heart rate test, blood tests, skin tests etc. But often, unless what you have is a full-blown allergic response with a histamine reaction, it very likely won’t show up.  The only way to really tell is to eliminate and see how you feel. You know when you feel good and when you don’t. Trust you body to want to feel good. If it doesn’t feel good, it is telling you something.

Having food sensitivities is not the end of the world. As I talk more and more about this stuff, I am meeting more and more people who have them. For many, they didn’t realize they had them until they were older. What is interesting to me is that the number of children showing signs of sensitivities is growing faster and faster. As parents are concerned with “poor” behavior (either hyperactivity or lethargy), respiratory and sinus problems, early weight gain, anxiety and depression issues with their kids, some of the more progressive doctors are starting to recognize that a food sensitivity may be either the root of the problem or exacerbating the problem. With the growth of Whole Foods, Trader Joes and health stores, good tasting alternatives are for more accessible, however, if additives and preservatives are a problem, just stick with simple whole foods that even a caveman would recognize as food.

Lastly, I encourage you to seek help from a nutritionist or a holistic, natural care practitioner. Unfortunately, many (not all) traditional medical doctors lack the nutritional training required to make an informed diagnosis and may try to fix your symptoms with drugs rather than trying to solve the root of the problem. I firmly believe that 80% (I’m being conservative here, the number is likely higher) of what ails so many of us, can either be avoided entirely (heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hyper tension etc.) or reduced in frequency and severity (colds, flus, allergies etc.) by eliminating processed food entirely, eliminating or reducing foods that are inflammatory for us as individuals and increasing the concentration of nutritional content in what we eat everyday.

Ok, I could honestly babble on forever about this so, in an effort to maintain my readership I will shut myself up. Feeling not quite right is not a normal state for anyone. Take a deep honest look at what you eat and really pay attention to how you feel. If you are not feeling quite right, or suffer from any of the symptoms listed in this post, then your body is telling you something! Listen to it! Trust that your body WANTS to feel good, when it feels bad it is because it doesn’t like something that it is experiencing. If you feed it properly, give it rest, exercise it regularly, surround it with good people and hydrate it, your body will feel great, you will feel happy and awesomeness with ensue! Go get your awesomeness!!,

 Until next time,

 ~ Laura, MGP

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3 Responses to “What the heck is a food sensitivity and how do I know if I have one?”

  1. Damary Cortes says:

    Just started reading sugar nation…then on to primal blueprint;) thanks for the post, really good info:)

    • momgonepaleo says:

      Hey Damary!

      So glad you picked them up. You’ll learn so much from those two books! Let’s check in after you read Sugar Nation.

      Sent from my iPhone

      ~ Laura

  2. Damary Cortes says:

    Ok! Sounds like a plan:)

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