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The Pundits Pontificate on Food Allergies

Say the word "allergy" and most people think of hay fever, runny noses, watery eyes, or hives. Food sensitivities and food intolerances can manifest in many different ways. Mood swings, inability to concentrate, migraine headaches, diarrhea, constipation, extreme fatigue, hyperactivity, chronic colds, anxiety, depression and bloating--all may be linked to a sensitivity to a food or chemical.--Whole Foods Website Food Allergy Info Guide

The difference between an allergy and an intolerance is how the body handles the offending food. In a true food allergy, the body's immune system recognizes a reaction-provoking substance, or allergen, in the food -- usually a protein -- as foreign and produces antibodies to halt the "invasion." As the battle rages, symptoms appear throughout the body. The most common sites are the mouth (swelling of the lips), digestive tract (stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea), skin (hives, rashes or eczema), and the airways (wheezing or breathing problems). People with allergies must avoid the offending foods altogether.

Food intolerance is a much more common problem than allergy. Here, the problem is not with the body's immune system, but, rather, with its metabolism. The body cannot adequately digest a portion of the offending food, usually because of some chemical deficiency. For example, persons who have difficulty digesting milk (lactose intolerance) often are deficient in the intestinal enzyme lactase, which is needed to digest milk sugar (lactose). The deficiency can cause cramps and diarrhea if milk is consumed. Estimates are that about 80 percent of African-Americans have lactose intolerance, as do many people of Mediterranean or Hispanic origin. It is quite different from the true allergic reaction some have to the proteins in milk. Unlike allergies, intolerances generally intensify with age.
--The Good Health Web. Reprinted from FDA Consumer Magazine, Dec. 93.

[Food] intolerances can be responsible for a wide variety of complaints which, at first glance, seem to lack a plausible explanation. Intolerances can manifest themselves as:

  • gastrointestinal complaints: stomach ache, irritable bowel, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis
  • skin complaints: itching, eczema, acne, hives
  • joint and muscle complaints: ranging from atypical pains to rheumatoid arthritis
  • headache and migraine
  • chronic fatigue
  • asthma, chronic rhinitis or sinusitis
  • pre-menstrual syndrome
  • hypoglycaemia
  • depression, anxiety
  • sleeping disorders
--Amsterdam (The Netherlands) Clinic

The [Allergy Rotation Diet] theory is that the foods in each family have a lot of proteins in common, and if one is allergic to one item in a food family, one is more likely to be, or to develop an allergy to another food in the same family. Putting some time between these families allows the food proteins to clear from your body, and most of the antibodies to dissipate. This way, the immune system gets some rest, and is less likely to "panic," [and trigger] a major allergic episode.
--Allergy Food Rotation Diet Plan (includes lists of food families)

Foods causing strong reactions in [allergy] tests should (temporarily) be excluded from the diet. More moderate reactions allow for rotation of certain food items in the diet. These may be eaten once every four days. Especially during the first week(s) of the diet, withdrawal symptoms, similar to complaints stemming from the cessation of coffee, tobacco or alcohol consumption, may occur. The body seems to crave offending food items. Generally, these withdrawal symptoms disappear after a couple of weeks. Concurrently, those complaints relating to food sensitivity also diminish.

Using this dietary approach, the reaction to food allergens may decrease in the course of time. After a three-month moratorium, reintroduction of "forbidden" food items can be attempted, one at a time. In this way, food items still causing reactions can be isolated more easily. Often, at least part of existing intolerances completely disappear after an elimination/rotation diet.
--Amsterdam Clinic

Whatever your food sensitivity, you can find plenty of cookbooks that will help keep you healthy. Even if you don't suspect problems, most health professionals recommend a balanced, varied diet. Here's one list of books to expand your recipe repertoire.

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