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The topic of food sensitivities and intolerances has gained a lot of attention in the past few years. And rightfully so. Adverse food reactions can be big triggers and/or mediators in chronic disease. Finding and removing food sensitivities was a HUGE part of my healing journey and is for many of my clients.

The difference between food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances

Food Allergies

Description – True food allergies are immune reactions to food. These reactions begin to cause symptoms immediately after a trigger food is eaten.

Symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include a rash, swollen or itchy tongue, runny nose, hives, abdominal pain, vomiting, trouble breathing, coughing, wheezing, or a closed airway.

Common sources of food allergies are peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, milk, fish, and shellfish. However, many other foods can also cause allergic reactions. 

Food Sensitivities 

Description – Food sensitivities are also immune responses to food but are often delayed by hours or even days. These food reactions are usually caused by an imbalance in the gastrointestinal system that is affecting the immune system. One such imbalance is intestinal permeability, or “leaky gut syndrome.” 

Symptoms of food sensitivities differ from person to person and can depend on the type of food eaten. Some symptoms are migraines, headaches, dizziness, difficulty sleeping, mood swings, depression, anxiety, unintentional weight loss or gain, dark under-eye circles, asthma, irregular heartbeat, irritable bowels, bloating, wheezing, runny nose, sinus problems, ear infections, food cravings, muscle or joint pain, indigestion, nausea, vomiting, bladder control issues, fatigue, hyperactivity, hives, rashes, dry skin, excessive sweating, and acne.

Common sources of food sensitivities are cow’s milk (and dairy products), eggs, gluten (from wheat, rye, spelt, and barley), soy, shellfish, and tree nuts. 

Food Intolerances

Description – Food intolerances are non-immune reactions to certain food components (e.g., lactose, histamines, alcohol, etc.) that occur when a person is lacking the digestive enzyme or nutrient responsible for breaking down those food components.

Symptoms of intolerances include flushing, cold or flu-like symptoms, inflammation, and general discomfort, because the body lacks the appropriate tools to break down trigger foods.

Common trigger foods and ingredients include dairy products, sulfites, histamines, lectins, preservatives, artificial colors, fillers, flavorings, chocolate, citrus fruits, and acidic foods. 

How to determine if you have a food sensitivity and/or intolerance

If you suffer from a food allergy, you are likely aware of the allergy and already avoid trigger foods. You may have even had food allergy testing completed.

Unfortunately, testing for intolerances and sensitivities is not as accurate. Especially if the gut isn’t healthy, a food sensitivity test may indicate MANY sensitivities, when the real issue is actually dysbiosis and a leaky gut. Thus, the best way to identify food sensitivities and intolerances is to eliminate those foods from your diet for a given period of time, then reintroduce those foods one by one, paying close attention to your body’s reaction. This is called an Elimination and Reintroduction Diet. 

Everyone should do an Elimination & Reintroduction Diet to Identify Food Sensitivities

This is not easy, but the personalized data you’ll have at the end of your experiment of one will empower you to make the best food choices for your body. You may opt to start with a modified version by eliminating one or a few foods for several weeks. In my practice we work with clients to remove all of the most common “trigger” foods for 30 days and then strategically reintroduce them – one at a time, leaving a few days of clean eating in between to assess for symptoms that rear up 2-3 days later.

My best recommendation is to do it once and do it right. Our elimination removes the following for 30 days: dairy, all gluten-containing grains, corn, soy, eggs, beef, pork, canned meat and cold cuts, shellfish, peanuts, highly processed oils (corn seed oil, cottonseed oil, margarine/spreads, mayonnaise and shortening), alcohol, diet & regular sodas, fruit juice and sugar-free sweetened drinks.

“Doing it right” means the reintroduction portion should be very strategic. The sourcing and preparation of foods can contribute to how well your body digests and processes them. For this reason, we encourage clients to reintroduce the non-GMO, organic versions of foods. Ultimately, our hope is that clients can keep as many foods in their diet as possible! Doing a strategic reintroduction provides excellent data for the client to make empowered food choices moving forward.

Ok, Amy. So how should I get started?

Try Eliminating Foods for 21 Days

If you want to start slow, try eliminating all sources of gluten and/or dairy for 21 days. On day 22, have 2-3 servings of an organic gluten source (like organic sprouted grain bread or organic whole wheat bread/pasta). On days 23-24, go back to eating clean and pay close attention to how you feel after having eaten gluten. On day 25, you can try 2-3 servings of a form of dairy, as long as you don’t have lingering symptoms from the gluten. Watch for symptoms on days 26-27. For best results, also removed as much sugar and processed food during this time as possible.

Consider My Total Gut Job Program

For a more aggressive approach, consider my Total Gut Job programI put this program together precisely because I wanted more people to have access to the resources to successfully do an Elimination Diet. In addition to ample resources and recipes, this program also includes a 2-month supply of nutraceuticals to support optimal gut function, so that you’ll have the best possible results at the end of your elimination and reintroduction.

Become a Client for Personalized Support

If you’re still unsure if this is what you need, or feel you might need some special personalization to your plan, we’d love to help you. Here are the steps to become a client.

As a reminder, my goal in all of this is to help you figure out the best diet for your body, and to be able to tolerate the widest diversity of foods possible! Having a limited diet for an extended period of time may lead to nutrient deficiencies, which is why I advocate for doing this once and doing it well, so you can get back to eating a diverse diet with confidence.