Is It Food Allergies or Just Hype?
Fix Your Food AllergiesFood Fix
If you've got symptoms that are consistent with a food allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity, the first step is to figure out what's causing them and then avoid that food. But unless you break out in hives every time you eat shrimp, for instance, that's easier said than done. If you can't connect your symptoms to a particular food, see a doc for help rather than trying a DIY elimination diet. "If you stop eating a certain food before you've been tested for it, your body won't produce the necessary biomarkers to test positive," Dr. Fasano explains. "The test will be useless." Choose an allergist if your symptoms are skin or respiratory based (go to aaaai.org and click on "Find an Allergist/Immunologist" for a member of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology). See a gastroenterologist if you have digestive troubles (enter your zip code at patients.gi.org to find a member of the American College of Gastroenterology).
Your doctor will administer the necessary tests -- probably either a blood or skin-prick test -- and also rule out any other potential causes of your symptoms. "Only once we're sure that there's no other possible explanation that requires treatment does it make sense to try an elimination diet," Dr. Fasano says. The physician may suggest a dietitian who will teach you how to read food labels and work with you to develop a plan so you'll know what steps to take if you do become ill. And be patient: "Elimination diets done properly take weeks and aren't much fun," notes Marion Nestle, PhD, a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. From my own months of bacon deprivation I can tell you she is right. But then again, feeling sick isn't much fun either.The Skinny on Going G-Free
Warning: Giving up gluten can make you pack on pounds if you replace regular cookies, cake, and other treats with gluten-free versions. The reason is that some of these products have extra sugar to make them more satisfying. "It's easy to swap in foods that are higher in calories and less nutritious than what you were eating before," says Ashley Koff, RD, a nutritionist in Los Angeles and a FITNESS advisory board member. To give up gluten and still eat healthily, limit your consumption of processed g-free fare and eat more fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, beans, and nuts, as well as naturally g-free whole grains like quinoa and brown rice to get the fiber, selenium, and manganese you need.Are You Allergic?
These foods and additives are top triggers for adults. Here, how to get relief.
If you get gas, cramps, and diarrhea whenever you drink milk or eat ice cream, you may be lactose intolerant.
Feel better fast: Avoid dairy products, especially soft cheeses, ice cream, and other foods high in lactose. (You may be able to tolerate hard cheeses and yogurt because these foods have less.) Or take Lactaid tablets before eating dairy; these over-the-counter pills contain an enzyme that is key to helping you digest lactose.
Raw fruits and vegetables
If you get itching around your mouth whenever you eat certain types of uncooked produce, you may have a mild condition called oral allergy syndrome.
Feel better fast: Eat cooked fruits and vegetables. Heat breaks down the protein that triggers the allergic reaction.
Peanuts and tree nuts
Many people have a serious, lifelong allergy to nuts. Symptoms range from swelling and respiratory problems like labored breathing to anaphylactic shock.
Feel better fast: Avoid not only foods that contain nuts but also those that may have come into contact with nuts during processing.
Fish and shellfish
A seafood allergy commonly starts in adulthood; it can cause itching around the mouth, hives, respiratory problems like labored breathing, and even anaphylactic shock in severe cases.
Feel better fast: No surprise here: Avoid seafood.
Up to 0.5 percent of the population is allergic to wheat, experiencing hives, nasal and chest congestion, nausea, and vomiting whenever they eat it. Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are not considered food allergies; sufferers have abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and fatigue if they eat gluten.
Feel better fast: Avoid anything with wheat in it if you have a wheat allergy. Follow a gluten-free diet if you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity.
MSG, aspartame, nitrates, sulfites, and other additives in foods may cause migraines, dizziness, sweating, ringing in the ears, and a feeling of faintness in some people.
Feel better fast: Eat fresh foods when possible. Before you consume anything processed, read the label and skip those with the offending ingredients.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, May 2013.
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