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Food Sensitivities

"One man's food is another man's poison" is a familiar and centuries old saying which simply states that different people can have very different reactions to exactly the same food. For example, few of us would think twice about munching on peanuts while cheering for our favorite baseball team, however, for individuals with a sensitivity or allergy to peanuts, a mere whiff of just the peanut powder could pose a life threatening situation. Fortunately, few of us will ever have to worry about such extreme reactions to foods, but it may come as a surprise that at least 30% of us will experience one or more episodes of some kind of food sensitivity during our lifetime. These may cause symptoms with varying degrees of physical discomfort which are often never related to food as their source.

There is increasing evidence that food sensitivities are more common and have a wider and more varied impact on our health than previously realized. Although often equated with food allergies, food sensitivities also include food intolerances which, unlike allergies, are toxic reactions to foods that do not involve the immune system and are often more difficult to diagnose. Many of the symptoms of food sensitivities including vomiting, diarrhea, blood in the stool, eczema, urticaria (hives), skin rashes, wheezing and runny noses, are associated with an allergic reaction to specific foods. However, food sensitivities may also cause fatigue, gas, bloating, mood swings, nervousness, migraines and eating disorders. These symptoms which are more commonly related to food intolerance are less often associated with the consumption of food. Clinical research is accumulating evidence that the sensitivity to food can also increase the severity of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and other diseases normally not considered food related. So what are food sensitivities? Let us help you understand more about the causes of food sensitivities, how they affect your health and how the World's Healthiest Foods website can help you to select the foods that will help you maintain optimal physical, mental and emotional well being.


Food sensitivities include many different types of sensitivities to food which may arise for a wide variety of reasons making it a complex, oftentimes confusing and not easily defined area of study. Diagnosis can also be difficult because symptoms may be delayed for up to two days after a food has been consumed. In general, food sensitivities are the result of toxic responses to food and are divided into two categories: allergic responses; and food intolerances.

Food Allergies Involve the Immune System

Food allergies are defined as toxic clinical reactions to food or food additives that involve the immune system. The immune system is a complex system whose cells and molecules are found throughout your body to protect it from potentially harmful foreign molecules. It is most active in the areas of the body which have some direct contact with the outside world such as the skin, lungs, nose and gastrointestinal tract. The majority of potentially harmful molecules enter your body through your intestinal tract therefore, it is not surprising that over 60% of immune activity occurs in this area. The immune system is made up of a team of different types of cells that, while each having their own specific function, work together to protect the body from foreign invaders: B-cells produce antibodies; T-cells conduct surveillance for potentially dangerous molecules and kills dangerous cells such as disease-causing bacteria; and macrophages are the scavenger cells of your body acting like garbage trucks, cleaning up residue and removing potentially dangerous substances.

A surveillance team of cells determines whether newly introduced molecules pose a threat to your system. New molecules are constantly being introduced into the intestinal tract by the food that we eat. An allergic reaction occurs when your body identifies molecules as potentially harmful and toxic; these molecules are called antigens. The surveillance cells bind to the antigens activating the immune cells to release histamine and other chemicals which then signals the scavenger macrophages to come to the site and destroy them. Allergic reactions involving excessive histamine release can cause anaphylactic reactions (difficulty in breathing) which are responsible for 29,000 people in the United States ending up in the emergency ward each year. When the surveillance immune cells bind to an antigen and send out chemical messengers, they also communicate to other immune cells, the B-cells, which are instructed to make antibodies to the antigen

(Figure 1. Immune cell bonds antigen and releases chemical messengers, e.g., histamine)

Antibodies are long, branched molecules that have places for recognition and binding (attachment) of the antigen on one side, and a site on the other end that can call into action other immune responses.

An antibody will only bind one specific antigen and nothing else. When the antibody binds, or sticks, to the dangerous molecule it is acts like a red flag identifying the molecule as something potentially damaging that should be removed. Your macrophage cells are often called the 'scavenger' cells of the immune system and are specifically designed to remove damaging molecules from the body. After the antibody binds to a dangerous molecule the macrophages consume the molecule, taking it out of circulation and destroying it.

(Figure 2. Immune cell binds antigen and is activated to make antibodies. Antibodies bind antigens, and macrophages scavenge the antigen-antibody complexes.)

Symptoms of Food Allergies


The most common symptoms for food allergies include vomiting, diarrhea, blood in stools, eczema, hives, skin rashes, wheezing and a runny nose. Symptoms can vary depending upon a number of variables including age, the type of allergen (antigen), and the amount of food consumed. It may be difficult to associate the symptoms of an allergic reaction to a particular food because the response time can be highly variable. For example, an allergic response to eating fish will usually occur within minutes after consumption in the form of a rash, hives or asthma or a combination of these symptoms. However, the symptoms of an allergic reaction to cow's milk may be delayed for 24 to 48 hours after consuming the milk; these symptoms may also be low-grade and last for several days. If this does not make diagnosis difficult enough, reactions to foods made from cow's milk may also vary depending on how it was produced and the portion of the milk to which you are allergic. Delayed allergic reactions to foods are difficult to identify without eliminating the food from your diet for at least several weeks and slowly reintroducing it while taking note of any physical, emotional or mental changes as it is being reintroduced.

Foods That Cause Allergic Reactions


Over 140 different foods have been identified as causes of allergic reactions. According to a recent report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 90% of food allergies are associated with 8 food types:

  • Cow's milk

  • Hen's eggs

  • Peanuts

  • Soy foods

  • Wheat

  • Fish

  • Crustacean shellfish (such shrimp, prawns, lobster, and crab)

  • Tree nuts (such as almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, and chestnuts)

Cow's milk is one of the first foods to consider eliminating from your diet when attempting to determine the foods to which you may be allergic. It contains over 25 different molecules which have been identified by scientists as having the potential to elicit an allergic food response. One of the most common allergens in cow's milk is a protein called casein which is used in many products and is even found in soy based foods to boost their protein content. If you suspect an allergy to cow's milk you should also avoid other products made from or containing milk including cream, creamy sauces, ice cream and milk chocolate.

How a food has been prepared, processed, handled and stored can also have an effect on whether a food will cause an allergic reaction. For example, some molecules responsible for allergic reactions can be destroyed by heat. Individuals with allergies to cow's milk have reported that drinking heated milk does not cause the symptoms associated with their milk allergies suggesting that the molecules that are toxic to these individuals have been destroyed by the heating process. However, the molecules in peanuts that can cause highly toxic responses in people allergic to peanuts are known to be very stable and unaffected by even long periods of heating.

What Foods Can You Eat If You Have Food Allergies?

Among the foods which are least often associated with any type of food allergy are:

  • Apples

  • Lamb

  • Pears

  • Winter Squash

  • Sweet Potatoes

  • Cherries

  • Carrots

  • Rice

Winter squash, carrots and sweet potatoes are not only uncommon as allergens but also provide exceptionally rich sources of health promoting phytonutrients. Electing to eat organically grown foods also helps avoid the intake of pesticides and other allergy producing toxins.

Food allergies involve a unique interaction between an individual and particular foods. Listen to your body. There are no hard and fast rules as to what foods cause allergic reactions. You may be able to tolerate the more commonly allergenic foods while unable to tolerate a food which is rarely associated with allergies. Your personal health status and history of eating habits are also consideration when evaluating potential food allergies.

The best approach for managing food allergies is to follow an allergy avoidance diet to help determine the foods that may be problematic, and then avoid eating those foods. The World's Healthiest Foods website can help you design a menu for your own specific needs that will enable you to avoid the foods that are toxic for your body, while maintaining variety in your diet and enjoying good tasting, easy to prepare meals.

Food Intolerance Does Not Involve the Immune System

The majority of toxic responses to food is a result of food intolerance rather than food allergy. A food intolerance response is defined as any reproducible, toxic response to food that does not involve the immune system. Food intolerance responses can occur for many different reasons. A food can contain a molecule that your body has difficulty breaking down or digesting causing an intolerance response as that molecule is allowed to continue down your intestinal tract. Lactose intolerance is an example of this type of toxic food response. Food intolerances can also be caused by food additives such as sulfites which are added to processed foods to extend their shelf life.

Government agencies often include food poisoning as a food intolerance, but in this case, the part of food that is reacted to is not a deliberately added component during processing, but a naturally occurring toxin or an unintentionally added toxin (like the mercury in mercury-contaminated oceans that can end up in tuna), so an adverse reaction to this food would not be expected to occur every time you ate that particular type food. For this reason, most research scientists do not consider food poisoning to be a true food intolerance.

There are many types of food intolerances. The most common are intolerances to:

  • Lactose

  • Tyramine

  • Preservatives and Additives

  • Gluten

Lactose Intolerance

The most common food intolerance is lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance affects up to 10% of adults, and is associated with symptoms of flatulence (gas), abdominal distention (bloating), and diarrhea after consuming cow's milk. Cow's milk contains a sugar called lactose that requires the enzyme lactase for its digestion. People with lactose intolerance produce little or no lactase in their intestines and therefore are capable of digesting only a small amount of the lactose that is found in cow's milk. This leaves undigested lactose to travel through the digestive tract to the colon where it is fermented by the bacteria in the lower intestine producing the gas, pain and bloating associated with lactose intolerance.

Lactose intolerance does not involve the immune system and, therefore, is not considered a food allergy. However, food intolerances can also be the source of considerable physical discomfort and there are several ways to help alleviate the symptoms of lactose intolerance:

  • Avoid milk and milk products

  • Support the system with healthy lower gastrointestinal tract flora which helps remove lactose from the system

  • Select milk products such as yogurt which are more easily digested and may not produce the symptoms of lactose intolerance because it contains Lactobacilli bacteria which removes some of the available lactose.

  • Lactase enzyme in supplement form is also available to help digest lactose. When added to a cup of cow's milk, it can help break down most of its lactose. However, it is less effective when taken with an entire meal.


Reactions to tyramine (an amino acid-like molecule) or phenylalanine (another amino acid-like molecule) can result from eating the following foods:

  • Fermented cheeses

  • Fermented

  • Sausage

  • Chocolate

  • Sour Cream

  • Red wine

  • Avocado

  • Beer

  • Raspberries

  • Yeast

  • Picked Herring

Symptoms of tyramine intolerance can include urticaria (hives), angioedema (localized swelling due to fluid retention), migraines, wheezing, and even asthma. In fact, some researchers suggest that as many as 20 percent of migraines are caused by food intolerance or allergy, and tyramine intolerance is one of the most common of these toxic food responses.

Tyramine and Migraines

Tyramines are derivatives of amino acids called tyrosine. After long periods of time, some of the tyrosine amino acids in foods such as aged cheeses or meats will naturally be converted by bacteria into tyramines. This same process can also occur in your intestinal tract if digestion is slow allowing bacteria the time to convert tyrosine into tyramine. For this reason, tyramine-sensitive individuals should take steps to support their digestive system as well as reduce foods containing pre-formed tyramine in their meal plan.

Although the reason tyramine causes toxic food responses such as migraines is not clearly understood, research suggests that people suffering from migraines may not adequately neutralize tyramine. While normally neutralized through a detoxification process in the intestine and liver before it is absorbed into the body, tyramine sensitive individuals are believed to have increased amounts of unneutralized tyramine that gets absorbed and circulated to the brain where it may interfere with normal brain functions causing the pain that is experienced as a migraine.


Foods that help support the detoxification of tyramine include such sulfur-containing foods as:

  • Onion

  • Brussels Sprouts

  • Garlic

  • Broccoli

(Figure 3. Food with tyramine is ingested. Tyramine is not neutralized in the liver and goes into circulation going to the brain where it leads to migraine.)

Preservatives and Additives


Reports of food intolerance reactions to food preservatives and additives have been widely published. Food preservatives such as benzoates (including sodium benzoate, an additive found in literally thousands of different processed foods), sulfites, and hydroxytoluene including butylated hydroxytoluene, or BHT, a preservative commonly used in procssed foods, flavoring agents like salicylates, and dyes like yellow dye No. 5 (tartrazine) are known to cause hives. Since 1986, the FDA has required that sulfites added to foods be listed on the label and has banned the use of sulfites on fruits and vegetables intended to be eaten raw. Benzoate preservatives (including sodium benzoate), many different food dyes, and BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) have been found to produce intolerance reactions in aspirin-intolerant individuals.

Carefully reading food labels is one way individuals can try to avoid some of the food preservatives and additives to which they may be sensitive, however. when ingredients are present in very small amounts they are often not declared on the label. A better way to avoid potential toxins is to eat fresh, organically grown foods.

Gluten Intolerance


Gluten intolerance is oftentimes discussed separately from food intolerances and food allergies because it has characteristics of both of these food sensitivities. The sensitivity to gluten is an important component of celiac sprue. Individuals with this condition have problems with the absorption of nutrients; these problems are made much worse by consuming gluten-containing foods.

Gluten is not one single substance, but actually a varying mixture of substances. If wheat flour is used to make dough, and the dough is washed in water until all water-soluble components and starch is rinsed off, the remaining gummy yellowish-gray material consisting of proteins, carbohydrates, fats and minerals is called "gluten". About 80% of the gluten material is composed of proteins, and about 20% is composed of carbohydrates, fats, and minerals. About 400,000 tons of gluten is produced in the United States each year from about 5 million tons of wheat. Because the gluten in wheat flour creates a nice, spongy consistency in breads and other baked items, many manufacturers add gluten to their baked goods. There is much debate in the research literature over the role of oats, barley, and rye in a gluten-avoidance meal plan. Traditionally, wheat, oats, barley and rye have been referred to as the "gluten grains". However, in a strict chemical sense, the gluten from wheat has a very distinct combination of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and minerals when its flour is water-washed. There are some components of wheat proteins also found in oats and rye, but because it is unclear what portion of the gluten is responsible for allergic reactions, it is difficult to assess the role of these other grains in gluten intolerance. In addition, many individuals who are sensitive to wheat are not equally sensitive to oats, barley or rye. To be on the safe side, many individuals remove all of these foods from their diet when first trying to determine the possibility of gluten sensitivity.

Although food intolerances and food allergies cause symptoms in very different ways, the best way to manage both food intolerance and food allergy is the same - avoid eating the problematic food.

You can also use the Recipe Assistant, on this website to design a menu using the World's Healthiest Foods that will allow you to have variety and delicious meals while you are avoiding problematic foods.


It has been reported that while individuals may sometimes have adverse reactions to particular foods, these reactions are not always consistent. This is because the response to food involves not only the immune system or a particular sensitivity to some of the molecules in foods, but is also affected by the health of the entire digestive tract and whether it is providing a good barrier for your body. Therefore when the health of your digestive system is compromised you may have a sensitivity to foods which otherwise would not affect you adversely such as in times of extreme stress.

The role of your gastrointestinal tract, which includes your esophageal area, stomach, and your upper and lower intestinal tracts, is to take in the food you eat, break it down to molecule-size pieces, and have it absorbed into your body in a controlled way. Your gastrointestinal tract provides a protective barrier between the food you eat and the inside of your body, and when it is healthy and functioning efficiently, it lets in specific food molecules in specific places at specific times. Many things can affect this barrier and, when it is compromised in any way, it can let in food molecules that are not properly digested. This can cause a reaction to a food, not because you are sensitive to it, but because it is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Food Sensitivities, Esophageal Reflux and Your Stomach


The beginning of food digestion occurs in the stomach at the upper end of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The stomach has a protective mucosal layer called the stomach lining which protects it from the strong acid that is produced by specialized stomach cells called parietal cells. The acid in the stomach is a vital component in breaking down food particles. An allergic response in the stomach can produce an area of inflammation in the stomach wall causing lesions or sores in the stomach lining as well as potentially destroying the parietal cells. The reduced number of parietal cells results in less acid production ultimately inhibiting the proper breakdown of food in the stomach. When food is improperly broken down in the stomach large undigested particles are transported to the intestines where they cause additional inflammation and allergic responses as well as increasing the severity of symptoms that are already being experienced.

Along with toxic foods, alcohol consumption and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) can also destroy the stomach lining causing stomach inflammation and inadequate digestion of food. Medications that decrease stomach acid production also decrease the ability to digest food properly.

(Graphic 1a. Stomach acid is secreted normally without food allergy-related inflammation. When food allergy inflammation is present, it can cause destruction of cells in the stomach wall, which results in acid not being properly secreted. When this happens, food is not properly broken down.)

One specific type of food allergy in the stomach is called allergic eosinophilic gastroenteritis. This condition is characterized by symptoms of acid reflux, severe abdominal pain after eating, vomiting, and diarrhea. With allergic eosinophilic gastroenteritis, the esophageal area, stomach and upper intestinal tract can become inflamed compromising its proper function. Oftentimes, people who have serious acid reflux problems that are not responsive to medications have this condition. Although this condition is caused by an allergic reaction to food, food allergy tests reveal positive results in only about half of the tests conducted. If left untreated, the inflammation in the stomach can result in holes in the stomach lining leading to additional problems.

Gentle foods that can support healing of an inflamed stomach include:

  • Rice

  • Lamb

  • Vegetables

These foods can be used with an Allergy Avoidance Diet to support healing of the stomach. Also, avoiding alcohol and the most commonly allergenic foods would also prove to be beneficial:

  • Cow's Milk

  • Tomato

  • Wheat

  • Chocolate

  • Peanuts

  • Shellfish

Food Sensitivities and Your Gastrointestinal Barrier

One of the most important functions of your intestinal tract, especially the small intestine, is its selective barrier function. Your small intestine does an incredible job of keeping out the dangerous and unwanted molecules while letting in the nutrients, building blocks and energy-generating substances your body needs for survival. Your small intestine receives the food from your stomach, processes it further and then selectively and carefully takes into your body only those nutrients your body needs. Once inside your body, these nutrients get transported to the tissues that need them.

The barrier function in your small intestine works well most of the time. However, research has shown that when compromised, it can become 'leaky' and allow molecules that normally wouldn't get into your body to sneak through. The molecules travel to your liver where they may be destroyed. If they are not, they end up in your bloodstream and travel throughout your body.

(Graphic 1b. Intestinal Inflammation graphic: leaky gut.)

"Leaky gut" is the term commonly used to describe the condition when your small intestinal wall is broken down allowing large food particles to pass through. Leaky gut can be caused by intestinal inflammations from parasite or microbial infections as well as a food allergy response and can result in the development of multiple food allergies. Inflammation of the intestinal wall caused by allergic reactions to one food left untreated can facilitate allergic responses to others foods because the inflamed wall of the intestine allows toxic food molecules into the body that normally would be prevented from entering. Increasing number of food allergy responses taxes the ability of the macrophages to eliminate damaging food molecules. The immune system gets overwhelmed and increasing numbers of toxic food molecules are allowed into the body.

Leaky gut can often prevent the absorption of nutrients vital to your health. Nutrients are normally absorbed through the cells at the tip of the intestinal villi, however, when the intestine is damaged from inflammation, the villi are no longer healthy and in tact and are unable to properly absorb the available nutrients. Cow's milk, eggs, soy, and wheat are common allergens that are associated with intestinal inflammation and leaky gut.

Research has shown that stress can also cause leaky gut. This may help explain a type of food allergy called 'exercise-induced' food allergy which occurs after an individual has eaten shortly after exercising which is a form of physical stress. Individuals with this condition should avoid eating for at least one hour after exercising.

Food Sensitivities and Systemic Responses

The travel of toxic food particles via the bloodstream to other parts of the body can account for a rash on your arms or legs as a result of an allergic response. Many scientists and clinicians have looked at the role of food allergy in a number of systemic (whole body) diseases and conditions. Most notably, conditions associated with inflammation, such as red, inflamed patches of skin, called dermatitis, asthma and joint pain have been related to toxic food responses. Several studies have been published on the beneficial effects of using allergy-avoidance (elimination) diets to help decrease the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. It has also been observed that the symptoms of asthma become worse in some individuals after consuming certain foods. Avoidance of these foods has helped decrease the number and severity of symptoms in these individuals.

Food Sensitivities and Processed Foods

Reports suggest the incidence of conditions such as asthma, allergic rhinitis, and atopic dermatitis has increased during the past decade. While the increase in damaging pollutants, particularly in large cities, is most often attributed for this increase, many scientists believe the consumption of processed foods and the increased level of stress in our daily lives are also major contributors to the rise in the frequency of these conditions. As mentioned above, processed foods contain higher levels of additives such as preservatives (benzoate-containing substances like sodium benzoate, sulfites, hydroxytoluene-containing substances like BHT), flavoring agents (salicylates), and dyes. Processed, non-organically grown foods may also contain pesticides which can also promote toxic responses in the body. Candies, such as chocolates, also contain many colorings, additives and preservatives as well as simple sugars.

Processed foods can also contain small amounts of residue of foods that are not listed on the label. Most manufacturing plants produce several types of food products and although regulations exist to assure these companies manufacture products under clean conditions, they do not require sterile conditions that would prevent any cross-contamination from the production of other food products. For example, a manufacturer may use the same equipment to produce wheat and non-wheat bread. It is possible that a small amount of wheat residue could inadvertently end up in a non-wheat product, however, these residues would not listed as an ingredient on its label.

This is of particular concern with peanut residue which can cause a severe allergic reaction from amounts so small that it is undetectable by all tests used to determine the cleanliness of equipment. Governmental agencies are responding by requiring manufacturers that use the same equipment to produce peanut products and non-peanut products to label their non-peanut products as possibly containing peanut residue.

Processed foods also add colors and flavorings which raise additional concerns. Colors, and particularly flavorings, are usually produced with "carrier" ingredients. In the past, manufacturers have been required to only list the main ingredients in the products and carrier ingredients were not included on this list. This practice has recently come under scrutiny by the FDA and other food industry organizations as reports of food intolerance or allergic reactions from allergens that were present in foods but were not listed on the labels continues to grow. The FDA is starting to require that labels list all ingredients, including carrier ingredients, however, it may be many years before all the processed food on our grocery shelves will have all the ingredients clearly labeled.

Whole, organically grown foods do not contain colorings, flavorings, preservatives or other hidden ingredients which may cause food sensitive reactions. This is a particularly important consideration for individuals with any type of food sensitivity.



It is not clear why we often crave foods to which we are sensitive, but several theories have been proposed to help explain why this may occur. Some researchers suggest that our bodies can become addicted to the chemical messengers such as histamine or cortisol which are secreted by immune cells in response to allergens in the body. It is hypothesized that while eating foods to which you are allergic can cause a rash or sneezing, the body also may experiences a soothing response from the presence of the chemical messengers increasing the desire to eat more of that food.

Another theory proposed by a well-known immunologist is based on the science of how antibodies and antigens connect (bind) to each other. Antibodies can bind to more than one site on an allergen in the food, therefore, when there is very little antigen but a large number of antibodies present, the antibodies will become cross-linked and make large complexes. It is theorized that these large complexes can cause an increase in symptoms. In this theory symptoms are related to a large number of antibodies in relation to antigens rather than being caused by the number of antigens. In fact, it is suggested that if you eat more of the antigen, you can decrease the number of antibody complexes by allowing each antibody to bind to an antigen rather than forming the large complexes thereby reducing the number of symptoms. Normal metabolism works to remove the food antigens and as the ratio of antibodies to antigens begins to rise, symptoms will begin to increase. Craving and addiction to food may be the result of the body's attempt to increase the number of antigens present and preventing the formation of the large antibody complexes that are associated with an increased number of symptoms.

(Graphic 2. Antigen excess and antibody excess ' Marinkovich model.)

Succumbing to food cravings to help alleviate symptoms is the beginning of a cycle of short term relief from symptoms and craving of the food as symptoms will increase again. This yo-yo effect is believed by some allergy specialists to be the reason why people who stop eating the foods to which they are allergic (go on elimination or avoidance diets) first go through several days when they feel worse before they start feeling much better. An allergy avoidance diet (also called the Elimination Diet) is instrumental in avoiding allergic reactions to food and is the way to break the cycle of addiction. An allergy avoidance diet allows the body to completely remove the antigen providing no reason for the formation of antibodies which will then also disappear. Clinicians suggest this is why some people can actually go back to eating a food to which they were once allergic after a year or two of avoiding the food.

Occasionally, a person will experience more symptoms for the first several days to a week when first beginning an allergy avoidance diet. While some clinicians believe this is caused by the cross-linking of antibodies as explained in the model above, others believe it is because the body is starting to mobilize toxins that had been store in fat tissue and other storage sites in the body. Whatever the reason, it is important to remain on the allergy avoidance diet even though symptoms may appear to be increasing. After staying on the diet for several weeks, you should begin to feel relief from symptoms and generally feel much better.


Most scientists agree that food allergies are more common in infants than in adults with 6 to 8% of infants and children experiencing food allergies, however, food intolerance is more prevalent in adults. In general, adults have more compromised digestive function due to stress, the intake of alcohol and the use of drugs like NSAIDS such as aspirin. In addition, the production of digestive enzymes and digestive function becomes more sluggish with age. Lactose intolerance is an example where the production of a digestive enzyme, lactase, commonly slows in people over the age of 40 when they may develop a intolerance to milk products they had not previously experienced.


Although food intolerance is more common in adults, food allergies in infants and young children can be of particular concern. This is especially true in infants where the immune system is not fully developed and the early introduction of foods like formulas or milk can cause serious problems because the infant's system is incapable of handling the molecules in the food that are toxic to his or her body. For instance, cow's milk is the most common cause of food allergy in infants and young children and is believed to be a cause of infant colic. Food allergies in children have also been associated with some forms of ear infections, such as recurring ear infections and inflammation, and with behavioral problems such as attention deficit disorder (e.g. ADD, ADHD).

Allergies are less common in infants that have been breast fed the first three months and there is a lower incidence of allergies in children who have been introduced to the most common allergenic foods at a later age. Therefore, to minimize problems with food allergies it is beneficial to breastfeed infants as long as possible and avoid the introduction of cow's milk and other highly allergenic foods within the first year of development. Some reports have also shown that the foods the mother consumes during pregnancy and while breastfeeding can be associated with allergy developing in the child. Therefore, mothers who are breastfeeding and women who are pregnant should be careful to avoid foods that they have identified as problematic and to which they may have an allergy.

Cow's milk is often a woman's main source of calcium. If it is necessary to avoid milk, there are many other food sources of calcium which do not cause allergic reactions. Concentrated sources of calcium include:kelp, bok choy, spinach, greens collard, mustard, turnip), nuts and seeds sesame seeds, almonds, chestnuts, walnuts, soy, tofu). Foods from the cabbage family, kale and collards, also contain very absorbable calcium.



Have you ever kept track of what happens to you after you eat certain foods? Many healthcare practitioners and physicians believe that the only definitive way to identify the foods that are toxic to your body is by using an allergy avoidance diet and keeping a diary of symptoms. In an allergy avoidance diet (also called an Elimination Diet), any food that is suspected to cause an allergy or intolerance reaction is removed from the diet and replaced with foods that are least likely to cause a toxic response.

The hypoallergenic foods, or those foods with a low-allergy-potential, include pears, apples, most vegetables, most beans and legumes (except peanuts, which are actually a legume rather than a nut) and the "non-gluten" grains (such as rice, millet, quinoa, and amaranth. Rice is particularly beneficial as part of the allergy avoidance diet as it is also not on the list of the 20 foods that are most likely to contain pesticide residues and is not known to contain oxalates. Whole, organically grown, brown rice is an excellent choice for an allergy avoidance diet.

In the United States, beginning in 2004 with the passage of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA), food labels have been required to identify the presence of any major food allergens. Since 90% of food allergies in the U.S. have been associated with 8 food types as reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), it is these 8 food types that are considered to be major food allergens in the U.S. and require identification on food labels. The 8 food types classified as major allergens are as follows: (1) wheat, (2) cow's milk, (3) hen's eggs, (4) fish, (5) crustacean shellfish (including shrimp, prawns, lobster and crab); (6) tree nuts (including cashews, almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts and chestnuts); (7) peanuts; and (8) soy foods. All of these foods are typically eliminated on an allergy avoidance diet.

Of course, allergic responses are not the only type of adverse reactions that a person could have to food. Digestive tract problems and general problems with fatigue and lack of energy are examples of adverse food reactions that might not involve allergy. Specific substances in food - for example, caffeine or alcohol - may be particularly problematic for some individuals in triggering adverse reactions. For this reason, caffeine and alcohol are also typically excluded on an allergy avoidance diet.

A food's degree of processing might also be related to the likelihood of an adverse reaction. A good example here is soybeans. Even though soy foods are included on the CDC's list of top allergenic foods, soy foods may not all be equally likely to trigger allergy or other adverse reactions. Highly processed forms of soy like soy protein isolate (SPI) - widely used in production of soy milk and infant soy formula - may be more likely to trigger adverse reactions than forms of soy that are whole-food based like traditionally fermented tofu, tempeh, miso, or natto. When following an allergy avoidance diet, highly processed forms of food may also be important to eliminate, as well as synthetic processing additives like artificial colors and artificial flavors.

When setting out on an allergy avoidance diet, a food and symptom diary is usually kept. After a period of two to three weeks, foods that have been avoided can be carefully re-introduced one-by-one while keeping a diary of symptoms. This re-introduction of foods is called the "Challenge" phase of an allergy avoidance diet, and only one suspected food should be reintroduced at a time. A period of two to four days per food introduced should allow time for delayed-response symptoms to appear. Without this time period, you might determine that you are sensitive to the wrong food.

If your symptoms are significant, you should consider working with a healthcare practitioner during the challenge period since re-introduction of a food to which you are extremely sensitive can result in more severe symptoms.

Healthcare practitioners sometimes use other clinical tests to determine suspected food allergies. However, since there are so many types of food sensitivity responses, the Elimination Diet is considered the "gold-standard" for identifying food sensitivities.


  1. Avoid foods to which you are intolerant and/or allergic. First and foremost, you must know your own body and what foods are toxic to your body. Food sensitivities are very individual. You can be sensitive to a food that no one else in your family or groups of friends finds problematic. It's part of why we are all individuals, and you should determine for yourself what foods may be causing damage to your body. Many healthcare practitioners are knowledgeable about food sensitivities and, especially if you are experiencing significant symptoms, you should consider talking with your healthcare practitioner about your diet and suspected food sensitivities.

  2. Eat organically-grown foods whenever possible. Especially if you suspect food sensitivities, you should avoid foods with pesticides, artificial colorings and preservatives. These synthetic food additives can cause food sensitivities and may promote the intensity of other symptoms you are experiencing. Avoiding these artificial additives is essential in determining the foods to which you are sensitive and in developing a diet that promotes your optimal health.

  3. Support healthy digestion. One way you can support healthy digestion is to ensure you have adequate amounts of digestive factors. After chewing, the food's next stop is the stomach, where an adequate amount of stomach acid (hydrochloric acid) is the next necessity. Stomach acid is required for adequate breakdown of proteins, and without proper breakdown, all proteins are potential antigens and toxic food molecules. Low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria) is common, especially in older people since as we age, we make less stomach acid. Research suggests that as many as half of the people over 60 years old have hypochlorhydria. A variety of factors can inhibit sufficient stomach acid production including the pathogenic bacteria, Helicobacter pylori, and frequent use of antacids. Hypochlorhydria is also associated with many diseases, such as asthma, celiac sprue, hepatitis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, and diabetes mellitus. Signs of hypochlorhydria include a sense of fullness after eating, bloating, excessive belching, indigestion, multiple food allergies, undigested food in the stool, and peeling and cracked fingernails.In addition to hydrochloric acid, the production of pancreatic enzymes and bicarbonate is also compromised in some people. If necessary, these digestive factors can be replaced with appropriate supplementation. Digestive enzyme support can also be obtained from fresh pineapple or papaya, which contain the enzyme bromelain, and other fresh vegetables and herbs. Processed foods, like canned pineapple, contain little enzyme activity since digestive enzymes are proteins, which are destroyed by heating, such as occurs in the sterilization process. How Does Digestion Work and How Can I Improve Mine? can tell you more about how to support healthy digestion.

  4. Support the gastrointestinal barrier. The gastrointestinal cell wall is the barrier between potentially toxic food molecules and the inside of your body; therefore, the integrity of this barrier is vital to your health. Support for the mucus that covers the cells in the gastrointestinal tract is very important, especially in the stomach. The mucus layer is one way the stomach and upper small intestine protect themselves against the damaging effects of stomach acid. Alcohol, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs, called NSAIDS (e.g., aspirin), and the pathogenic bacteria, Helicobacter pylori can all reduce the mucous layer, leading to lesions in the stomach and small intestinal tract walls. Choline provides nutritional support for a healthy mucous layer and is found in vegetables such as cauliflower and lettuce. Choline can be obtained from lecithin (phosphatidylcholine) as well, which is high in eggs and soybeans. Some foods also help combat or protect against the damage of Helicobacter pylori; these include catechins found in green tea, some spices such as cinnamon, carotenoids found in vegetables, and vitamin C, found in many fruits and vegetables.

Use the World's Healthiest Foods' recipes to ensure that you get the essential nutrients to promote good health while on the Elimination Diet. These nutrient-dense foods have the power to help you look and feel your best, and they can provide long-term health benefits including reducing your risk of health problems. If you have a specific health or eating concern, you should also visit the pages How to Use the Power of the World's Healthiest Foods to Stay Healthy, and What Foods are Good for My Immune System? for more information on foods that prevent disease, so you can develop a diet to support your optimal health, while avoiding those foods to which you are sensitive.


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