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Allergenic Foods and Food Sensitivities

Even though a food is classified as “healthy” or being a good source of nutrition, it does not mean that everyone can freely consume it without consequences. People can have an allergy or intolerance to many nutrient rich foods.

At Nature Medicine every patient is given a diet diary on his/her first visit to help the ND understand what you are eating. Many are not aware of what they consume and how food can have a dramatic effect on one’s health. The diet diary includes a symptom column to bring patterns and associations with foods to light. Common ailments such as asthma, allergies, eczema, headaches, fatigue, bloating, gas and gastro-intestinal upset of any kind are directly affected by certain foods. It can be difficult to tell which foods are a problem because your body may be constantly overwhelmed with a chronic low-grade reaction-this has become your “normal”. In order to determine the common offenders elimination diets are the next step. Foods that can trigger many health problems, (for example “the five white sins”: white flour (breads and pastas), sugar, salt, fat (bad fats) and dairy are removed from the diet. Citrus (lemon is usually ok), wheat products, food additives and colorings can also create problems.

The Cleansing Diet used at Nature Medicine temporarily eliminates the most common problem foods from the diet for 5-10 days, giving the body an opportunity to rest. Many will notice a significant change in how they feel and a relief of symptoms. Foods are reintroduced one at a time. One food item per day is consumed at each meal. During the reintroduction period, if you have a re-occurrence of symptoms or the appearance of new symptoms, you most likely have a food sensitivity to that item. Think of your body with all its symptoms as being like a dirty kitchen floor; if you add more dirt, the kitchen floor it is still dirty. On the other hand, if you add dirt to a spotless kitchen floor, you will immediately see the dirt. The cleansing diet “cleans” out the body so we can see what is really happening.  If certain foods are causing symptoms, the patient should be tested and treated for food sensitivities using the Eliminate Allergy Technique (EAT).

Gluten Free Diet

Gluten is a protein found in many grains, especially wheat. Celiac disease is a condition where gluten cannot be tolerated in the diet. The gluten causes an autoimmune reaction in the intestines making it difficult to absorb nutrients.  As many as 1 in 133 people are diagnosed with Celiac disease in Canada. It is also possible to be sensitive to gluten and not have Celiac disease; this is referred to as often gluten intolerance. Common symptoms associated with gluten intolerance or Celiac are: gas, bloating, pain, diarrhea, nausea, acid reflux, fatigue, anemia, tingling and numbness in the legs, etc.

Dairy Free Diet

After infancy we are generally not well suited to consume milk. More than 7 million Canadians (20%) lack the enzymes to break down milk sugar, a condition known as lactose intolerance. In South Eastern Asia, lactose intolerance is prevalent in 100% of Asians. Native Americans are 90% intolerant, South Americans, other Asians and most Africans are 50% lactose intolerant. The lowest prevalence is in North Western Europe and Scandinavia where the populations are 3-8% lactose intolerant. In the Mediterranean the prevalence rises to 70%. Milk contains many allergenic proteins such as casein.  Common complaints associated with dairy intolerance include gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, gastro-intestinal bleeding, anemia, nausea and vomiting, acid reflux, headaches/migraines, joint pain or arthritis, ear infections, hay fever, asthma, eczema, ADHD and bedwetting in children.

When You Cannot Buy Organic

For vegetables:  Avoid the ‘dirty dozen’ and consume foods with the least contamination (please refer to the Pesticides for more information).  Remember to thoroughly wash your foods with soap or with a vegetable wash from your local supermarket or health food store.

For Meat: Buy lean cuts of pesticide free meats. Trim the fat as the majority of the chemicals from pesticides are stored in the fatty parts of the animal.

If You Are Pressed For Time

Make recipes in large batches on your days off and freeze extra portions for readymade meals.  Soups, stews, chili and brown rice can be cooked in larger quantities and used for a few days after. A slow cooker is another great way to save time and make food in advance.

Steaming Veggies

A gentle way to cook vegetables and retain most of the nutrients is steaming. Add an expandable steamer insert to any pot or purchase a steamer pot with a perforated insert.  Lightly steam the vegetables to a crisp-tender consistency to maintain maximum nutrients.  Reuse the water in soups for added vitamins.  You can buy parchment paper in rolls like aluminum foil or in ready-made bags to wrap up veggies, fish, herbs and spices for readymade meals. Place the fresh raw ingredient in the bag or wrap it in the paper so the steam cannot escape and put in the oven.  It is a quick method to cook and an easy clean-up too.

Tips for understanding ingredients labels

The following information was referenced from

  1. Remember that ingredients are listed in order of their proportion in the product. This means the first 3 ingredients matter far more than anything else. The top 3 ingredients are what you are primarily eating.
  2. If the list of ingredients contains long, chemical-sounding words that you cannot pronounce, avoid that item. It likely contains various toxic chemicals. Make sure you can recognize each ingredient.
  3. When it comes to flour, wheat can be misleading. All flour derived from wheat can be called “wheat flour,” even if it is processed, bleached and stripped of its nutrition. Only “whole grain wheat flour” is a healthful form of wheat flour. (Many consumers mistakenly believe that “wheat flour” products are whole grain products. In fact, this is not the case).
  4. Be aware of serving sizes.  For example, 2 chips have blank calories, but who really eats two chips? Food manufacturers can and do use this tactic to seemingly reduce the number of calories, grams of sugar or grams of fat in the package.
  5. Certain brown products are not healthier than white products. Brown sugar is just white sugar with brown coloring and flavoring added, unless it is 100% natural brown sugar. Brown bread may not be healthier than white bread, unless it is made with whole grains.
  6. Be conscious of where products that use herbs as an added health benefit are on the ingredient list.  Some foods that include “goji berries” towards the end of the list actually contain very small amounts. A good product that really wants to use this herb will be listed closer to the front.
  7. Remember that ingredients lists do not have to list chemical contaminants. Foods can be contaminated with pesticides, solvents, acrylamides, PFOA, perchlorate (rocket fuel) and other toxic chemicals without needing to list them at all. The best way to minimize your ingestion of toxic chemicals is to buy organic, or go with fresh, minimally-processed foods.
  8. Look for words like “sprouted” or “raw” to indicate a higher-quality of natural foods. Sprouted grains and seeds are far healthier than non-sprouted. Raw ingredients are generally healthier than processed or cooked. Whole grains are healthier than “enriched” grains.

For more tips and recipes refer to the Nature Medicine Healthy Living Cookbook. You can download a free pdf copy from the following link

Kitchen Tools for Healthy Living


Remember the 21-day rule to make a new habit and the 20-second rule to ensure your chance of ongoing successful changes (please refer to Changing Habits).