Food sensitivities Why you feel the way you feel

Walking through the grocery store or browsing restaurant menus, you see more and more references to “dairy-free” and “gluten-free.” True food allergies occur in an estimated 3 to 4 percent of adults and 6 to 8 percent of children, but sensitivities to foods continue to become more prevalent, affecting 15 million Americans.

Why are we so sensitive now?

Times have changed and unfortunately so has our food. For example, gluten has increased by 50 percent in wheat today because these hybridized plants are favored for their ability to resist pesticides and to grow faster.

Our easy accessibility to any food has led to overexposure. Today, you can easily eat a loaf of bread or a pineapple a day if you choose. In the old days, you had to pick the wheat, grind it, process it, and bake it just to get one loaf for the entire family. Fruits and vegetables were available only when in season, but today we can access anything year round.

As for dairy, we did not start drinking milk until the early 1900s when the dairy industry sold us on its calcium content. Calcium sources from dark green vegetables like spinach and broccoli are actually higher and easier to assimilate than animal sources.

Studies have correlated food sensitivities with drinking water and pesticides on our foods. Higher levels of additives in the body like dichlorophenols, a chemical used in pesticides and to chlorinate water, has been associated with food sensitivities.

Food allergies/sensitivities

There are two types of allergic reactions: IgE immediate allergic reaction and IgG delayed allergic reaction. Immediate reactions are symptoms you will notice right away and can be life-threatening. For example, a person eats peanuts and breaks out in hives or experiences throat tightness. It is easy to make the correlation between a food and an immediate symptom.

Delayed reactions are not as straightforward and are addressed differently. With this type of a sensitivity you could eat a trigger food on Monday, but not experience symptoms for up to three days. This makes it difficult to discern which food is causing your symptoms. These reactions are not immediately life-threatening, but can significantly affect quality of life and development of chronic disease.

The rise in food sensitivities are linked to chronic inflammation and affects conditions like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, hypothyroidism, intestinal bowel diseases, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and more. Aside from contributing to chronic conditions, more subtle symptoms of food sensitivities include:

  • Constipation/diarrhea
  • Gas and/or bloating
  • Heartburn
  • Abdominal pain
  • Brain fog
  • Fatigue
  • Asthma
  • Eczema
  • Hives
  • Congestion
  • Productive cough
  • Anxiety
  • Acne
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Muscle and/or joint pain
  • And more

The most common foods that cause these symptoms include gluten (the protein found in wheat), dairy, eggs, corn, nuts, and soy. Discovering food allergies and avoiding them can make significant changes in your health and well-being. Food is the core of our health. If we are feeding our bodies something it considers an offender three times per day, our immune system goes awry.


Immediate reactions: This skin-prick test administered by an allergy specialist exposes a person’s skin to a solution containing a potential allergen by pricking the skin with a needle to allow the solution to penetrate. If the skin develops a red, raised itchy area, the patient is considered to have a positive allergic reaction to that substance.

Delayed reactions: This food allergy panel via a blood test is usually ordered by alternative healthcare providers and typically not done by a conventional doctor. The IgG test I use tests at least 95 foods including the most common allergens. With any kind of allergy or sensitivity testing, false negatives or positives are common. The tests merely act as a guide in treatment; the gold standard is eliminating exposure to the potential allergens to see if symptoms resolve.


After you have completed testing, you will eliminate the foods you reacted highly to for four to six weeks, then systematically reintroduce those foods back into your diet one at a time. Keep a diary of the changes you experience, and leave a few days after trying each food to clearly distinguish reactions. If you notice your symptoms return during the reintroduction period, you are very likely sensitive to that particular food.

Once you know your food sensitivities, you can make an informed decision of whether eating a particular food is worth the cost. I would be lying if I said I have not had gluten in eight years, but when I do, I make sure it is totally worth it.

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Thalia Farshchian is a naturopathic doctor at Discover Health in San Francisco. Her background includes both conventional and alternative modalities, and her practice is primarily focused on weight management, hormone imbalances and gastrointestinal conditions. E-mail: [email protected]