Food Sensitivities 101
If you’ve been following us for a while, you know that many of the recommendations we make and the recipes we share are geared towards those with food sensitivities. Today we want to give you an overview of what it means to have a food sensitivity, how you can determine if you are sensitive to certain foods, and we’ll point you to some of the resources that we have created to help.
What is a Food Sensitivity?
First, we want to acknowledge that there are different types of adverse reactions to food. Today we are talking about food sensitivities, which differ from allergies and intolerances.
A food allergy involves the specific immune system, is IgE mediated, and produces symptoms that are immediate appearing minutes after ingestion of the allergen up to several hours later. Symptoms include hives, eczema, itchy throat or mouth, and swelling, which may appear minutes to several hours after ingesting the culprit food. Severe symptoms can be life threatening and are referred to as anaphylaxis.
A food intolerance is the inability to digest, metabolize, absorb a food component (for example, a lactose intolerance). This type of reaction does not involve the immune system, and symptoms tend to be digestive in nature (gas, bloating, cramping).
Food sensitivities involve the immune system and produce symptoms that are described as more vague and chronic, occurring several hours up to days after consuming the food culprit. Symptoms tend to be less intense than allergic reactions and are often not recognized as having any connection to foods consumed. Symptoms may include fatigue, inattentiveness, headaches, digestive symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, joint aches, and struggles with weight management.
How are Food Sensitivities Identified?
One approach to identifying food sensitivities is an elimination diet. This type of eating pattern removes foods that are suspected to be causing symptoms for a period of time in order to resolve symptoms and reduce inflammation. The elimination period is followed by a reintroduction of these foods to determine reactivity and whether or not the symptoms return. We recommend that you work with a qualified nutrition practitioner when following an elimination diet to ensure that your nutrient requirements are being met. An elimination diet is a cost-effective way of identifying food sensitivities, but it can take a while to identify which foods are causing symptoms, and it may over-restrict or not cover all possible food culprits.
Some people elect to have food sensitivity testing done to reduce guess work and identify triggers more quickly. There are a variety of tests available for food sensitivities including IgG antibody testing, leukocyte activation testing, and mediator release testing. At PreviMedica, we work primarily with the Alcat Food and Chemical Sensitivity Test, which is a leukocyte activation test. You can find out more about this test here.
Following Your Food Sensitivity Results
Once food sensitivities have been identified, an elimination period follows where these foods are avoided for a certain period of time (period of avoidance depends on the test).
With the Alcat test, the recommended period of avoidance is 6 months for severe sensitivities, 3 months for moderate sensitivities, and limiting mild sensitivities to 2 times per week. These recommendations can vary depending on a number factors.
A comprehensive approach to addressing food sensitivities will include avoidance and a proper protocol to heal and repair the gut. Your nutrition practitioner can offer guidance on the protocol that would be best suited for your health needs and goals. After the recommended period of avoidance, foods are reintroduced to determine reactivity. We will be writing a more detailed post on our approach to reintroduction in a separate post.
If you are following an elimination plan based on food sensitivity testing or otherwise, we know that staying on track can be pretty challenging. Finding food products that are appropriate, modifying recipes, and going out to eat are all situations where you might feel overwhelmed. This blog and our Facebook page are dedicated to helping you find options that work with your sensitivities. If you have taken the Alcat test (and even if you haven’t and just want to learn more about food sensitivities), the following tutorials may be helpful:
We also offer meal planning tools that can be customized for your food sensitivities and other food restrictions. And finally, our nutrition team is here to offer additional guidance and work with you to create a nutrition plan that fits your needs. Our 1-month membership includes 2 sessions with a nutrition expert, access to all of our educational materials, the meal planning tools mentioned above, and so much more. Interested in any of our services? Contact us at 855-773-8463 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eunice Holmes, RDN, LDN is a regular contributor to this blog and assistant nutrition manager for PreviMedica. Her favorite things are pretty food, being a cat lady without actually having a cat, and of course, her family.