There’s no doubt that our society is much more health conscious than even just a few years ago. Soy-free, gluten-free, and dairy-free are just a few buzzwords that circulate the health and wellness world, restaurant menus, and recipes. We’re finally beginning to understand the need to optimize our diets for sustainable wellness, however this is largely due to the rise of food allergies and intolerances.
My patients often ask why they’re suddenly unable to digest certain foods, have allergic reactions, or feel sensitive to certain ingredients. Food allergies and intolerances begin with an inflammatory reaction that occurs on a systemic level, meaning affects the entire body versus a single organ. Once the inflammation has affected the entire body, it can eventually develop into an allergy or intolerance due to leaky gut (when the lining of the gut is damaged, causing large food particles, bacteria and environmental toxins to seep into the bloodstream ) or auto-immunity (when the body attacks itself).
In my naturopathic practice, I see many people whose food sensitivities manifest in different ways, such as:
- Food or environmental allergies
- Skin reactions like eczema, hives or psoriasis
- Autoimmune disease (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus)
- Chronic pain, joint pain
- Mood disorders, such as depression and/or anxiety
- Digestive issues, such as bloating, gas, or constipation
- Symptoms such as fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and headaches
Luckily, there are a few ways we can lessen the potential to develop allergies and intolerances, and this starts with our diet. Here are my top four tips on preventing sensitivities from manifesting:
1. Improve your digestive health
It’s important to optimize your gut health and improve digestion in order to prevent food allergies and intolerances. I recommend having a tsp of apple cider vinegar diluted in a bit of warm water before every meal, starting your day with hot water, lemon and ginger, taking a digestive enzyme before eating, staying hydrated between meals, and taking a daily probiotic to increase the healthy bacteria in your gut.
2. Avoid genetically-modified, inflammatory foods
Genetic modification increases the potential immunologically active proteins, which increases the likelihood for allergic reactions. Additionally, genetically-modified foods can increase existing allergens and produce new allergens. Look for non-gmo labels on food products, and shop organic as much as possible.
In order to lessen the burden of your gut and improve its function, work on eliminating or lessening your intake of inflammatory foods, such as wheat, soy, corn, peanuts, eggs, dairy, and non-organic meats. Foods that are highly genetically modified include corn, soy and wheat especially.
3. Eat organic as often as possible
Not only will you support farmers who don’t plant genetically-modified crops, you’ll be limiting your exposure to chlorinated pesticide residues while ingesting more nutrient-dense products. Additionally, due to less pesticides and chemicals in the growing of organic food, we cause less stress on our immune systems, which can make us ward off food allergies more easily.
4. Vary your diet
It’s easy to get in a rut with eating the same foods over and over again. However, this can increase your chance of food allergies and intolerances. Since mass-production of foods has drastically increased over the last century, we have a less quality and variation in plant species. This is important to note because it means that we now eat less varied foods, and if we have even a slight immune reaction to a food, it can continue to build as our intake increases.
I recommend planning ahead to ensure that you’re eating a variety of foods throughout the week. Dedicate a few hours every Sunday to meal prep, and purchase as much organic, non genetically-modified foods as much as possible. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store in order to purchase whole foods.
Overall, avoiding inflammatory foods, increasing your digestive health, seeking quality, varied foods and purchasing organic can help mitigate the likelihood of developing food allergies and intolerances. Our bodies crave unprocessed, ‘real’ foods, so by choosing ingredients and making your own food as much as possible, you’re already on the path to optimal health and wellness.
If you’re still feeling lost, or need extra support, visit your local naturopathic doctor.