Episode 009: Food Allergies, Food Sensitivities & Elimination Diets
You may have heard the popular quote, “Food is medicine”, right?
But have you also heard another popular quote, “One man’s food is another man’s poison.” Whenever I hear this, I think of food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances.
While most people are familiar with food allergies, many are less aware of food sensitivities and what the differences between them are. And this is the topic of today’s epsiode.
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Before we get to today’s topic, I want to apologize for not having a new episode for you the past two weeks.
If you aren’t following me on social media, then you may not have known that I took some vacation time and went back home to Hawai’i to visit my family. My cousin got married on the North Shore of O’ahu, then I went home to my island, Moloka’i. It was my first visit back there in almost eight years.
I naively thought I would still work and be able to produce my weekly episodes. I even packed my microphone and other recording devices with me.
But once I was there, it was the last thing I wanted to do. All of my focus was on my family, as it should have been, and I really disconnected.
And I must admit, I needed that much more than I realized - isn’t that always the case?
So as I mentioned back in Episode 000, this was a moment to allow myself grace, and not do ALL THE THINGS.
Anyway, I have much more thoughts on relaxation and self-care that I’m ruminating on for a future episode. But in the meantime, let’s dive into this week’s show.
What do gas and bloating, tummy aches, skin issues like acne and eczema, as well as headaches have in common? Well, they are just a few of the many symptoms of food sensitivities and food intolerances.
Now, you may have heard the popular quote, “Food is medicine”, right? And that refers to how we can thrive and heal our bodies by cutting out processed foods and replacing them with healthy, nutrient-dense foods instead.
But have you also heard another popular quote, “One man’s food is another man’s poison.” Now I’m sure whoever first said this quote ages ago probably meant something else by it, but whenever I hear it, I think of food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances.
While most people are familiar with food allergies, many are less aware of food sensitivities (and because food sensitivities and intolerances is such a long thing to say, from here on out I’m just going to refer to them as food sensitivities, but know that I also mean intolerances), and what the differences between them are. And this is the topic of today’s epsiode.
It’s been estimated that about a quarter of the U.S. population suffers from some kind of allergy that are either ingested or inhaled.
The word “allergy” comes from two Greek words meaning “altered” and “reaction.” And it’s usually in response to a substance that’s called an allergen which provokes a reaction.
And when some of us exposed to allergens, we can have an “allergic” response, which means our immune system goes to work, activating our IgE antibodies, and we experience things like hives, redness, itching and swelling in the eyes, throat, and tongue. Such responses can even potentially be life-threatening.
So essentially, an allergy is a heightened, hypersensitive and usually immediate response by your immune system to something that is not normally harmful and something that you normally develop tolerance to.
And these substances or allergens typically are things like dust, mold, pollen, and even certains foods, the most common ones being peanuts, shellfish and even eggs.
I remember an incident when I was about 5 years old, and my sister was 2, her head got really red and swelled. Our grandparents were babysitting us and when my grandma asked what happened, my grandpa replied, “I only gave her eggs!” She had an immediate allergic reaction to eggs.
Now, a food sensitivity is a little different.
Unlike an allergy, a sensitivity can have a delayed response. This means that a reaction is more subtle, and may not appear for several hours, or even several days after you eat an offending food.
Your immune system also responds, but in a different kind of way. With allergies, your immune system has an IgE response, but with food sensitivities, you have an IgG response.
Now, I won’t get in the scientific nuances of all the different antibodies, because there’s more in addition to IgE and IgG, but if you want to read more about it in the context of food allergies versus sensitivities, then a good place to start is, “IgE vs IgG.”
But know that food sensitivities do wreak havoc on your immune system and cause you to experience things like gas and bloating, incontinence, a distended belly, congestion and sinus problems, migraine headaches, as well as mood swings, fatigue, joint pain, resistant weight loss, acne, rosacea or eczema and even autoimmunity or autoimmune-like symptoms. And all these things are accompanied by chronic inflammation.
And since we know that upwards of 70% of your immune system resides in your digestive system, not only is your immune system compromised, your digestive system is as well.
And if you recall Episode, 007, which was all about Leaky Gut Syndrome, this is where these things can be tied together.
When you have Leaky Gut Syndrome, the gut isn’t able to properly assimilate and break down food.
Your immune system sees those unbroken down food particles leaking into your bloodstream and thinks that they are foreigners, also known as allergens. So it triggers an immune response which then causes a myriad of symptoms.
I know this is complicated stuff, so I hope I haven’t lost you yet.
The bottom line to know is that:
- A food allergy causes an immediate reaction
- Food sensitivities can have delayed reactions
- Both affect your immune and digestive systems, causing inflammation and wreaking havoc on your body.
- And they both can significantly impact your quality of life.
Now because allergies elicit an immediate response, we know when we’re allergic to something.
But since the responses to food sensitivities are slow and subtle, the obvious question, is, “How do you know if I have one (or more) food sensitivities or intolerances?”
Well, there are two ways to do so, and I’ve done both.
One way is through lab work. There are lab tests that your doctor can order, that can tell you what foods you’re reactive to. I had these tests done early 2016.
I had IgE lab tests and learned that while I don’t have any food allergies, I do have allergies to certain grasses, mites and can dander. So it’s not that I’m not a cat person, it’s that I’m actually allergic to them!
I also had IgG lab tests done and they confirmed what I suspected. I had a ton of food sensitivities! The highest reacting foods on my list were:
- Bean sprouts
- Parmesan Cheese
- Black Pepper
As you can imagine, there would have been no way for me to know that I was sensitive to these specific foods, had it not been for these lab tests. I mean, come on - how could I ever figure out that I was highly reactive to black pepper (which by the way, if you’ve ever tried to eat out and avoid black pepper, it’s almost impossible to do so! There was never anything I could eat in the hot food section of Whole Foods).
Now, we know that lab tests can be expensive, especially if they’re not covered by insurance.
And I can assure you, unfortunately these tests are not.
So a more affordable, free way to test for food sensitivities is to do an elimination diet.
Now before you freak out or feel overwhelmed at just the thought of an elimination diet, let me say that there are many kinds of elimination diets, from very basic to very advanced ones.
Each one has their it’s own purpose.
And contrary to the mainstream misnomer of the word “diet”, elimination diets are not “fad” diets to help you “lose weight quickly.”
No, elimination diets are nutritionally therapeutic, meaning, they’re meant for healing.
Being that I focus on helping people who have leaky gut syndrome, and those who suffer from the symptoms of it, elimination diets have become my specialty.
So today I’m going to talk about two kinds of elimination diets and highlight just a few specialty ones.
The first type of elimination diet is simply called, a basic elimination diet.
In a basic elimination diet you remove the most inflammatory foods - sugar, gluten and dairy.
This is what I have most of my clients start with.
It’s not a popular place to start. Most people are reluctant to remove any kinds of food and are only looking for supplements and hacks.
But as I discussed in Episode 007, we have to address the non-negotiables and use supplements exactly as they are meant to be used for - to supplement the core basics of what you should already be doing.
And the most basic is to remove the most inflammatory foods out the way and see how your body responds. Let your body function without the burden of these foods and see what happens.
I will usually have my clients remove these foods for 3-4 weeks, then assess and check-in on how their body has responded, how they are feeling, before deciding on a next step.
Now while the 21-Day Sugar Detox is intended to help people break-free from the chains of sugar and carb addiction, it does provide a nice framework, structure, process and support system to do a basic elimination diet, because you avoid sugar, gluten and dairy for three weeks.
So this is why it’s the program that I recommend most people start with, no matter what your health goals or ailments may be. It’s the first item on the non-negotiables list.
And for many people, this is all they need.
Once many people remove sugar, gluten and dairy, their body is no longer burdened with inflammation, which then allows it to thrive.
But unfortunately for others, a basic elimination diet isn’t enough. It wasn’t for me. And in these cases, we may need to move on and do more experimentation.
This may mean a full elimination diet, which is on the other end of the spectrum from a basic elimination diet.
In a Full Elimination Diet, you remove sugar, gluten, and dairy, plus corn, eggs, soy and shellfish.
Because next to wheat, corn and soy round out the top 3 most genetically modified foods in the United States. And like I mentioned earlier, eggs and shellfish are among the top allergens.
Now for some people, a full elimination diet may sufficiently address their complaints.
But for others, it may be a little more complicated and require a more specialized approach.
And this is where specialty elimination diets come into play.
Specialty elimination diets are protocols like nightshade elimination, where you avoid nightshades foods like tomatoes, eggplant and peppers, just to name a few. I had to do this for a while while simultaneously focus on healing my gut.
There’s also other protocols like the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, aka the SCD Diet, a Low FODMAPS Diet, Autoimmune Protocol aka AIP, and even the Paleo diet and Whole30 can be considered specialty elimination diets
Now I know that all of these different kinds of elimination diets can seem overwhelming, and it’s complicated to figure out which protocol is right for you.
But once you figure that out, following the protocol can be pretty straightforward - or not, depending on your experience with a real foods lifestyle.
Personally, I’ve done many of these protocols, many times over. I’ve done the basic elimination diet so many times that it’s become more or less my standard way of eating.
I’ve done full elimination diets, Whole 30 and even followed the low FODMAPs diet for a full year, which by the way, I would never recommend anyone doing that.
I followed a low FODMAPS diet for a full year because I had such severe SIBO symptoms. And while it did help manage my symptoms, I had to avoid a lot of nutritionally dense foods that are really good for you, like onions and garlic.
I remember the first time I had onions and garlic after avoiding it for so long, well, it was like all of this energy was injected into my body the minute I ate it. I felt so good and it wasn’t like anything I’d experienced before. And that’s because my body had been without all of those nutrients for so long.
So it’s important to note that many of these elimination diets are not meant to be long-term ways of eating. Let me repeat this - most elimination diets are not meant to be long-term ways of eating.
They are meant to be used a nutritional therapies while you focus on healing your gut and whatever other areas may need focus.
Now when it came to executing an elimination diet protocol, in my personal experience, once I got the gist of protocol, I found them to be doable. As long as I had a structure to follow, I could navigate my way through it.
However, what was difficult for me, and what I find most people also have difficulty with, is the reintroduction phase of the elimination diet.
The reintroduction phase of an elimination diet is the most important part of the elimination diet process, especially when the goal is to determine food intolerances.
Because the whole point of the exercise is to pinpoint exactly what foods you are reacting to.
So it’s vitally important to be systematic in how you reintroduce foods.
When reintroducing foods, you want to reintroduce ONE food at a time. Just one, not a combination of things, just one.
And because food sensitivities can take days for symptoms to appear, you want to only introduce one food every 3-5 days. So, depending on how many foods you’ve eliminated, the reintroduction phase can be a lengthy process.
It’s also important to be meticulous in how you track the entire experience, because this is how you gather data and connect the dots.
Because my gut was in such bad shape, the lab testing was a necessity, but it was something I did only after years and years of trial and error testing with elimination diets and meticulous tracking.
If you think you may have one or more food sensitivities, then I invite you to download a free assessment to see if an elimination diet is something to consider doing.
You can download this free PDF assessment by going to the show notes for this episode over on my website at www.livefablife.com/009. There’ll you’ll not only find the assessment, but also links to everything mentioned in this episode.
I know how overwhelming and frustrating life can be in trying to figure out what’s going on in your body and knowing what steps to take to repair it.
Having experienced these frustrations myself, elimination diet protocols has become my area of specialty, and is much of the core focus in the work that I do with my private coaching clients.
So if you are feeling like you could use more guidance and support in this area, then download the free assessment, see what it your results are, and if it’s looking like you may have food sensitivities, then I invite you reach out to me with any questions you may have.
That’s it for this week’s episode.
Next week we’ll dive into the free tool that goes hand-in-hand with elimination diets, which is diagnostic journaling, what it is and how to do it - effectively.
Until then, if you’re enjoying the show, I’d love for you to:
- Leave the show a rating and review over on iTunes.
- And share it with someone you know who’d find it valuable too.
Thanks for listening and I’ll catch you on the next episode of the Live FAB Life Podcast.
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Naomi Nakamura is a certified Holistic Health Coach who takes a holistic approach through functional nutrition. Through her weekly show, The Live FAB Live Podcast, coaching programs, and safer skincare solutions, she helps people with acne and other chronic skin issues clear up their skin by teaching them where food meets physiology and how food, gut health, stress, and toxins are intricately connected to the health and appearance of our skin. Naomi resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and can often be found romping around the city with her puppy girl, Coco Pop! Connect with Naomi at: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest.