Do You Really Have Food Allergies or Sensitivities?

Do You Really Have Food Allergies or Sensitivities?

A few years ago, I was diagnosed with Grave’s Disease (hyperthyroidism); the toll it was taking on my health was pretty dramatic. I went from an energetic, outgoing, outdoors all the time girl to someone that was lethargic and tired from a constantly racing heart. I choose to see a naturopathic to treat the condition, after a scary  initial consultation with a traditional doctor that included the phase, “radiate your thyroid.” Being a believer in holistic health and medicine, I knew that the naturopath was the way to go.

As part of my treatment, the doctor I worked with prescribed traditional medications to help regulate my T3 levels, but she also had me start a series of herbs, the nastiest tasting tea in the world, and vitamins. Along with that, she also suggested we do allergy testing to see what foods could be triggering inflammation within my immune system. I laid down on the table, let her prick my finger, and off my blood went for testing. 

When the results came back, they confirmed that I was severely lactose intolerant (not a surprise, I have been since I was young), had moderate intolerances to gluten (again I suspected this) but the results also showed that I was highly reactive to almonds, avocados, and eggs (something that had been my morning breakfast for five years). Along with the highly reactive sensitivities, also came lesser ones, including bananas, pineapple, corn, cabbage, peanuts, and a few other things that made eating the greatest challenge in the world (and I am already a very healthy eater).

So What Do You Do When The Foods You Love To Eat Are “Taken” Away From You? 

With the results from my testing, I proceeded to take everything out of my diet that was on that list. No bananas, no avocados, no pineapples, no corn! With the change, my cooking became more creative, I prepared the majority of meals at home since I couldn’t safely eat out and I became a master of very costly “allergen-free” cooking.

After a while, though cooking is still a passion of mine, I became tired of always worrying about food allergies and/or intolerances. Sometimes, you just want to venture out to your favorite restaurant and eat whatever appeals to you. Because of this, I decided to investigate the allergy tests I was given because aside from dairy (lactose) and corn, I didn’t think my allergies or intolerances were as severe as what was being reported.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a food allergy is a reaction that occurs in your immune system after you’ve eaten a certain food. These foods can lead you to break into hives, develop itchiness or swelling in the throat, nose, mouth, and airways, or even lead to anaphylaxis. When it comes to a food allergy, almost 90 percent of all food allergies are related to eight foods: milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish.  

What’s the Difference Between a Food Allergy and a Sensitivity (or Intolerance)? 

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, a food allergy is a reaction to food proteins that your system can’t break down and results in severe reactions like the ones listed above. Food intolerance or sensitivity is related to an enzyme deficiency in your digestive tract that makes it hard to process a certain food, but it doesn’t lead to the severe outcomes that an allergy does. We can be sensitive to foods, but not allergic to them.  

How Do You Know If You Have Food Allergies?

There are a variety of ways to determine whether or not someone has food allergies or intolerances, including simple elimination diets, saliva, hair, skin, and/or blood tests. Two types of blood tests, IgE and IgG, are becoming more common for determining allergies as they are believed to provide greater accuracy in finding food allergies and sensitivities.  

  • IgE tests can only be ordered by licensed health care providers (your doctor).  
  • IgG tests can be done by a healthcare professional or can be ordered online and sent directly to your home, and some you can only get from holistic practitioners. 

You Need To Understand the Difference Between IgE and IgG Allergy Tests

When it comes to IgE and IgG tests, there’s often a lot of confusion between the two. The IgE test measures the immune system’s response to particular foods by measuring the allergy-related antibody known as Immunoglobulin E (IgE), an antibody that attacks foreign proteins that produce an immediate allergic response. The antibodies travel to cells causing allergic reactions in the skin, gastrointestinal tract, and/or anaphylaxis. 

The IgG test measures Immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies. IgG antibodies are used to detect (predicting and/or serving as indicators) possible sensitivities or intolerances someone may have towards certain foods. They do not measure or produce immediate allergic responses. 

IgE antibodies occur in abnormally large quantities in people with allergies. IgE antibodies are the only true indicator of food allergies. On the other hand, IgG antibodies can be found in people that have food allergies, but also in the general world population. Experts believe that the production of IgG antibodies is a normal response to the food you’re eating on a regular basis. 

Three Types Of Blood Tests 

The IgE test measures the immune system’s response to particular foods by measuring allergy-related Immunoglobulin E antibodies. In order for this test to be accurate, you must have eaten the food within the last 72 hours of having the test done. The IgG test measures the immune system’s response to Immunoglobulin G antibodies. IgG antibodies are used to detect possible sensitivities or intolerances someone may have towards certain foods.   The Tissue Transglutaminase Antibodies (tTG-IgA) is the only test that shows if you suffer from Celiac Disease. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, only 1 percent of the population is gluten intolerant. 

If you think you have food allergies and something as simple as an elimination diet hasn’t helped you determine if something in your food may be causing issues, see your doctor and have them refer you to an allergist to determine what kind of testing you may need. 

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding IgG testing. Many traditional medical doctors believe that IgG testing is unreliable and that the results lack clinical utility while many holistic, naturopathic medical practitioners stand behind it.  

I believe the research regarding the overall reliability of IgG tests is strong enough, but I also think it’s important to further test their results with how your body feels when you eat certain foods. If you feel bloated, constipated and/or your heart rate goes up after eating something you think you’re sensitive to, these are good indicators you are.

If You’re Not Allergic To It, Then You Can Probably Eat It 

After personally having both the tests done and changing my food choices based on the results, I believe unless it’s proven you’re allergic to it (IgE), then you can probably eat it. My IgG test said I had a large amount of food sensitivities, and all to varying degrees. When I look back at what I was eating at the time of those tests, most of the foods that I had strong reactions to are staples in my diet like eggs, avocados, pineapple, and banana. Yeah... 

Over time, I reintroduced foods back into my diet that the IgG test indicated I had problems with, eating them once or twice a month. To be perfectly honest, I haven’t had a noticeable effect with the exception of gluten (I’m sensitive, not intolerant), corn, and most nuts, so I’m leaving those out. After three years of not having pineapples, bananas, avocados, and even cabbage I’m glad I’ve added them back. 

In a society so caught up in “eating clean” and eating well, food sensitivities and allergies have become another vehicle in which we deprive ourselves.  

Think about it, why would you deprive yourself of nutrient dense, whole foods if you aren’t severely allergic to them? If you’re not allergic or intolerant of it, then eat it (or eat them in moderation). Tamara Duker Freuman, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., makes a stellar point:

“People can’t keep up restrictive diets regardless of how they feel.”

In my opinion, if you're trying to develop a healthier relationship with food, don’t banish anything that doesn’t make you sick and/or negatively effect your health. Talk to your doctor and dietitian about finding balances so you can continue to develop a better, healthier life for yourself.


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