Some foods may cause minor irritations, but others can actually be life-threatening, so it is advisable to check-in with your doctor or a nutritionist who can analyse what you eat and your reactions to those foods. But if, like many of us, you're avoiding doctors at the moment, but would like to understand more about the war inside you, then read on. 

Some foods may cause minor irritations, but others can actually be life-threatening... 

What's the difference?

You would’ve heard the words 'lactose', 'gluten' and 'wheat' bandied around in conversations, but, like most of us, you might be unsure how intolerances compare to sensitivities, and what the differences actually are. If that is the case then let us explain the difference between food intolerances, food allergies, and celiac disease.

Food intolerances

Food intolerance refers to your body's inability to digest certain foods, with the most common culprit being lactose, a type of sugar present in dairy products. As we age, the ability of our bodies to digest dairy decreases because our Intestines make less lactase, which is the enzyme that processes lactose. The result is more lactose sitting in our digestive tracts, causing bloating, inflammation, and even diarrhoea. Intolerances are not life-threatening, but living with it on a daily basis makes life less comfortable.

Food allergies

Food allergies can be very dangerous! A food allergy is when the body's immune system has a severe negative reaction against a type of food. Seafood and peanuts are the more common allergies, and an allergic reaction could be a dangerous drop in blood pressure and difficulties breathing, both of which are life-threatening. Other allergy symptoms are significant rashes, feeling faint (related to the blood pressure) and extreme facial swelling. If you have a food allergy, you most likely know about it because the reactions are so severe you could’ve already ended up in an emergency room. 

Celiac disease
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition related specifically to gluten. In those who suffer from celiac disease, the ingestion of gluten initiates an inflammatory reaction that can cause severe illness. Unlike allergies that can cause a reaction the first time you eat something, celiac disease arises through continuous ingestion. The symptoms are diarrhoea, extreme weight loss, and even malnutrition. Unfortunately, avoiding gluten (which is present in almost everything that tastes delicious) is the only solution to this problem, so things like grains, including wheat, rye, barley, semolina, bulgur, and farina, must be avoided.

Food sensitivities
There is debate around what actually happens in the body of someone with food sensitivity, but it appears that ingesting "sensitive" foods irritates the immune system which, in turn, generates a reaction, such as joint pain, stomach pain or discomfort, fatigue, rashes, and brain fog. The result is not life-threatening, but when your stomach is feeling uncomfortable and you can't remember where you left your car, then it's affecting your life.


Eliminate!

Again, a doctor or nutritionist will test you for the above conditions and will provide you with proper diets and information to help you understand your limitations, but you could begin with 'elimination testing' right away. Elimination testing is the process of removing certain foods from your diet that could be causing reactions inside your body. This happens over a period of 21 days to 1 month. After that time, the eliminated foods are slowly, and individually, reintroduced back into your diet, and the observations and reactions to those individual foods are recorded. A process of elimination to find the culprit if you will.

...what might affect you today may not affect you later...

Some good news: our immune systems and gut microbiomes are continuously changing, so what might affect you today may not affect you later. So, if you discover that chocolate is causing you problems, don't have a melt-down. It is possible that down the line you may be able to reintroduce chocolate into your diet safely without any ill effects. 

Foods to eliminate

In the testing phases, foods to eliminate from you diet include:

* Corn
* Eggs
* Wheat 
* Soy 
* Dairy
* Pork
* Shellfish
* Peanuts

Note: You need to read food labels because soy, for example, can be part of the ingredients that make up normal, day-to-day foods.

It is advised that you also stay away from the following:

* Alcohol
* Caffeine (you may need to ween yourself off coffee, but you can replace with herbal tea)
* Added sugar
* Processed meats
* Beef

Foods to eat 

* Fresh or frozen veggies: Focus on non-starchy veggies such as dark leafy greens rather than starchy options such as squash, potatoes and parsnips. Also, the cruciferous family – broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, for example – is the most supportive range of vegetables when it comes to supporting your body’s natural ability to detoxify! A serving of veggies is one cup raw or half a cup cooked. Try to aim for at least 5-6 servings a day.

* Fresh or frozen fruit: Remember, fruit is comprised of natural sugar and you can overdo it! Aim for 2-3 servings per day, focussing on lower glycaemic fruits such as fresh berries, green apples, grapefruit and pomegranate. Try not to eat fruit alone, but to rather pair it with other foods. For example, blend your frozen berries into a smoothie that contains protein and a plant-based fat, such as avocado.

* Gluten-free whole grains: As always, be sure to monitor reaction/symptoms as this can be a big trigger group for many people. The best examples of gluten-free grains are rice, quinoa, oats and sorghum.

* Healthy oils: The best options here include olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil. Other great options include canned coconut milk (add to soups or shakes) and pecan oil or flaxseed oil (awesome on salads). 

* Lean meats (avoid pork and shellfish): Safe proteins include chicken, turkey, venison, cod, herring, tuna, salmon, sardines, halibut, mackerel and plant options such as spirulina or plant-based protein powder.

* Legumes (avoid peanuts): Legumes are a great source of protein and fibre. Incorporate one cup of legumes each day to increase fibre in your diet. It is also a great way to experience more variety when it comes to protein. 

* Nuts and seeds/nut and seed butter: Fat helps to control our hunger and is also critical for optimal brain health and hormone production, but we are looking for plant-based fats. Enjoy a handful of cashews or pumpkin seeds for a snack, or spread sunflower butter on a rice cracker, add chia or flaxseed to your oats, or include a scoop of almond butter in your smoothie.

Elimination meal plans

Again, if you are experiencing food issues you should consult your doctor or a nutritionist. Everybody is different and everyone reacts to various foods in different ways – no one meal plan fits all. However, we found the www.richmondfunctionalmedicine.com website extremely helpful. The site contains:

1. A comprehensive guide to the elimination of foods

2. Daily meal plan and recipes

3. A food tracker sheet to record your findings as you eliminate and reintroduce.

Click here to go straight to the Elimination Diet: https://richmondfunctionalmedicine.com/nutrition/elimination-diet/