Foods That Don't Love You Back
October, 2017 update:
I devoted an entire chapter to the Elimination/Provocation diet in my Essential Thyroid Cookbook. I understand that some elimination diets also exclude grains and legumes. I also want people to know that there’s a significant difference between an Elimination Diet and an Elimination/Provocation Diet.
I give a full explanation of why I don’t think that a Paleo/AIP diet is a one-size-fits-all approach in these chapters of the cookbook:
- Why This is Not Another Paleo/AIP Cookbook
- In Defense of Grains
- In Defense of Legumes
So far, the response to my approach from readers, my peers and colleagues, and other experts in the functional medicine community has been overwhelmingly supportive.
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I get a lot of questions about food sensitivities. My clients want to know the difference between a food sensitivity and a food allergy.
Here’s the difference. Food allergies cause an immediate response. Hives? Shortness of breath? Anaphylactic Shock? Swelling of the lips, face, tongue, or throat? Nausea or vomiting? Abdominal pain? Dizziness? These are all signs of a food allergy vis a vis the IgE immune response.
Food sensitivities are shiftier and can exact an even greater toll on our health because they can be more challenging to identify, often causing the ensuing cellular inflammation to rage on for years. Many people have food sensitivities and have no idea. This is the much more subtle yet still serious IgG immune response.
Because a food sensitivity often rears its ugly head a few days after the offender is eaten, it can make it difficult to trace the irritation to a particular food. Identifying these offenders can have a profound effect on your health, as silent inflammation is a major player in the onset of all degenerative diseases, according to the functional medicine community.
Symptoms of food sensitivities include, but are not limited to: fatigue, drowsiness after eating, brain fog, poor memory and concentration, agitation, mood swings, intense cravings (especially sugar, refined carbs, and starch), abdominal cramping, difficulty losing weight, depression, restlessness, irritability, headaches (including migraines), swollen and painful joints, muscle pain and stiffness, gas, bloating, flatulence, indigestion, heartburn, constipation, blurry vision, broken sleep, skin issues (eczema, psoriasis, acne), recurring sinusitis, and asthma.
Here’s another kicker. Eating foods that we are sensitive to can also up the ante on autoimmunity, including autoimmune hypothyroidism (Hashimoto’s). Just as the body launches a seek-and-destroy mission on the thyroid in the case of Hashimoto’s, the body will also see offending or inflammatory foods as the enemy and will antagonize the whole autoimmune response, making it difficult to get a handle on Hashimoto’s, or any autoimmune condition.
And…eating foods that our bodies see as “enemies” also increases our stress response, causing our adrenals to pump out even more stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol). So while having a food sensitivity itself can cause people to hold on to weight or gain weight, wayward cortisol (“the belly fat hormone”) sets up camp around our midsection.
How To Snuff out the Fire
This Elimination/Provocation Diet (eliminate, then see if there is a reaction/provocation) is very telling and can have a life-changing impact on your long-term health. It can be one of the most important things you ever do for your wellbeing and is considered “the gold standard” for identifying foods that don’t love you back. (Forget blood (ALCAT, for example) or skin testing for food sensitivities—these tests are mostly a waste of time and money, as they’re been repeatedly shown to be inconclusive.)
Eliminate these foods 100% for three weeks:
- gluten (including wheat, barley, and rye) *
- nightshades (eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, tobacco, and peppers, including cayenne powder)
- peanuts (which are legumes, not nuts)
- citrus fruits
* If you have Hashimoto’s, gluten should be categorically, 100% avoided, always. Do not reintroduce.
At the same time, take:
1. A quality probiotic
3. Drink bone broth or take a collagen/gelatin supplement
The diet itself is very healing and the three supplements above help to fast-track the cellular turnover of the digestive lining for maximum healing. (Many of my clients, prior to our work together, had done some iteration of an E/P diet without this specific supplementation. I guide them through the diet again with the supplementation, and the results are remarkably different.)
Okay, so after three weeks of this clean slate, reintroduce each food one at a time, eating 4-5 servings of that specific food on your reintroduction day. (Nightshades and nuts don’t need to be separated out, meaning on the day of your nightshade reintroduction, you can eat any and all nightshades and on the day of nut reintroduction, you can eat any and all nuts.)
Monitor symptoms for 3 days. If you have a reaction, BAM. There’s your answer. Reactions include an acute occurance of any of the symptoms listed above.
If you have a reaction, eliminate that food or food group for approximately 2-3 more months (depending on the severity of your reaction) while continuing the supplementation.
If you feel that three months is a long time, ask yourself if you’re willing to live with your symptoms—and your autoimmunity. What if, after three or so months, your gut was healed (for some, it takes a bit longer) and you could reintroduce that prior troublemaker without problems? When you think about the span of your lifetime, three months just doesn’t seem like that long, does it?
An easy way to eliminate these potentially offending foods is to use Sarah Schatz’s amazing meal plans. See her “Seven Common Allergen-Free” category; it most closely matches this diet. You can tweak as necessary. For example, she excludes all grains (including corn) and does NOT exclude nightshades or citrus, but many of her recipes don’t include these ingredients to begin with.
I love how her recipes and meal plans offer one of the easiest (and most enjoyable) ways I know to eat well and keep blood sugar balanced during this diet. This is a cleansing and detoxifying diet, and many people feel amazing—lighter and brighter, more energetic, more positive, and most people report losing a few pounds within a mere week.
Please know that elimination of foods we’re sensitive to can cause withdrawal symptoms for some people, such as fatigue, headache, or mild skin reactions. These usually subside in 2-3 days, so don’t despair. Taking a heaping teaspoon of powdered fiber (not Metamucil—something like psyllium, triphala, or acacia fiber) in 8 oz. of water and/or taking activated charcoal capsules can alleviate symptoms quickly.
Recommendations and tips:
- Read all food labels—the food industry can be tricky with naming ingredients.
- Many prepared foods have hidden additives and fillers that contain wheat and egg byproducts.
- Avoid packaged, canned, and convenience foods during this diet.