Are the Foods You Eat Making You Sick? Identifying Food Allergies

We have all heard the old saying, “You are what you eat.”  For many people with chronic illness, this statement can mean a lot more.  Food allergies and food intolerances can create a host of health problems–from hives and anaphylaxis, to eczema, asthma, chronic ear infections, headaches, sinus infections, celiac disease, digestive issues, depression, fibromyalgia, autoimmune diseases, and many others conditions. 

Over fifty million people–that’s one out of five people in the U.S. suffer from allergies.  According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, one out of twenty children under the age of five and one out of twenty-five adults are allergic to at least one food. The number of people affected by food intolerances is suspected to be higher.

Food Allergy or Food Intolerance

The terms food allergies and food intolerances are often used interchangeably, although they have two different definitions.  A food allergy is when the body’s immune system generates an immunological reaction when exposed to a food allergen.  The symptoms of a food allergen appear quickly, such as eating a peanut and then getting hives or a skin rash or even anaphylaxis minutes to hours later.  The term food intolerance is used to describe reactions to foods, however the immune system is not directly involved.  People with food intolerances can experience a variety of symptoms including headaches, brain fog, fatigue, depression, stomach aches, eczema, asthma, colic, joint pains, insomnia, and many other symptoms, but the symptoms are usually delayed and can occur hours to days after eating the irritating food. 

The Top Ten Food Allergies

The list of the most common food allergens includes: wheat, eggs, dairy, soybean products, corn, citrus fruits, nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and potatoes), peanuts, shellfish and alcohol. Babies and young children are most often allergic to milk, eggs, wheat, soybean products, and peanuts.  Older children and adults are most often allergic to peanuts, tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews), fish and shellfish. 

Testing Methods for Diagnosis

There are several methods used to determine food allergies and food intolerances.  Each method has advantages and disadvantages; There is no simple, one hundred percent reliable clinical test available.

 The Elimination/Rechallenge Diet: The gold standard for assessing food allergies is the elimination/rechallenge diet which involves eating a restricted diet, avoiding any potential food allergen for four to six weeks, then reintroducing a suspected food allergen into the diet and observing any reaction.  The pros to this diet are that people can identify an adverse reaction to a food when they reintroduce it to the diet, allowing for easy diagnosis.  Also there is no added cost or expensive testing involved.  The cons to this diet include the difficulty of sticking to a restricted diet for four to six weeks, and the extra effort in buying and preparing hypoallergenic meals.

Scratch/Prick Skin Testing: Conventional allergists use this testing.  They place a small amount of food under the skin and watch to see if a red bump appears.  If so, you may have an allergy.  This testing gives accurate results for inhalant allergies, however poor results for food allergies. Skin prick testing only measures IgE mediated reactions, or histamine mediated reactions. It does not measure IgG mediated reactions, which often correspond to food allergies.

ELISA (Enzyme-linked Immunosorbent Assay) Testing: This testing method is done through a blood test where serum is measured for specific immune markers–IgE and IgG antibodies–to food allergens. 

The advantages of this testing include:

  • Less time consuming than the elimination/rechallenge diet
  • It can be safer than skin prick testing if a person has anaphylaxis reactions to foods
  • The results can be very motivating for people to change their diets

The disadvantages of this test include:

  • This testing is not 100% accurate or reliable
  • Some people show high levels of immune markers, such as IgE antibodies, but when they eat the food they do not have adverse reactions

Kinesiology/Muscle Testing/Energetic Testing: Many alternative practitioners use muscle testing or other energetic testing to assess food allergies.  As yet, there are no “scientific studies,” however some people report that these methods do work for some people.

Having a Plan Will Help You Heal

In order to heal your food allergies, it is important to have a plan on how to change your diet.  It is helpful to know about food substitutions, such as using coconut, rice or almond milk instead of cow’s milk, or eating quinoa or brown rice pasta instead of wheat based pasta.  It is also helpful to have a variety of hypoallergenic recipes.  There are many nutritional supplements used to enhance the healing of food allergies and food intolerances.  Naturopathic Doctors specialize in treating food allergies and food intolerances.  

If you are struggling with chronic health issues and potential food allergies or food intolerances, call Boulder Natural Health today at 303-960-3920.  We provide food allergy testing, nutritional and dietary counseling, and specific supplement recommendations that can heal food allergies, food intolerances and any other chronic health issues.  Contact us today and get on the path to better health!


Written by: Dr. Julieanne Neal, ND, CMT

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