What you need to know about your food allergies


The most common foods people are allergic to include: peanuts; walnuts; pecans or almonds; and wheat and gluten. Next ore fish (especially shellfish), eggs, milk, and soy.

Did you know that, according to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 5 million Americans -- 5 to 8 percent of children and 1 to 2 percent of adults -- have a true food allergy? The International Food Information Council Foundation defines a true food allergy as "a reaction of the body's immune system to something in a food or an ingredient in a food, usually a protein."

Are you really allergic?
You may not be allergic to foods, themselves -- you may have a food intolerance or sensitivity. Such an intolerance could be caused by lack of the specific enzyme needed to digest that food, stress-related upsets, or food poisoning.

Food allergies and intolerances can cause a variety of symptoms including: scratchy throat, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, bloating, hives, lightheadedness, headache, nasal congestion, runny nose, shortness of breath, drop in blood pressure, wheezing, and difficulty swallowing. In extreme cases of food allergy, loss of consciousness and anaphylaxis (a severe reaction to a substance that the body regards as foreign and potentially dangerous), may occur.

Finding the cause
While many reputable sources dismiss the theory that substances such as food additives and preservatives can cause allergic reactions, many believe they can, and often do, play a role. One such believer was Benjamin Feingold. His pioneering diets originally presented in the book Why Your Child is Hyperactive, prohibits the retake of artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.

The Food and Drug Administration admits that FD&C Yellow No. 5 (listed as tartrazine on medicine labels) can cause itching or hives in a small number of people. Other dyes can manifest allergic reactions. For example, the coloring used to make food and drinks red cochineal extract -- is made from cochineal bugs out of Central America. It has been reported that this substance can trigger anaphylactic shock in people who are allergic to it.

Aspartame, a sugar alternative, is in more foods and drinks than most of us are aware of. In 1981, the FDA determined it was sale, but since that time, research revealed that it contains methyl alcohol, a highly toxic poison that can cause recurrent headaches, mental aberrations, seizures, suicidal tendencies, behavioral disorders, birth defects, skin lesions, and urinary disturbances. In 1985, Richard J. Wurtman, in the journal Lancet, reported three cases of seizures resulting from people ingesting normal amounts of aspartame in foods and drinks over a specified period of time. These people had no previous history of seizures prior to the test. Russell Blaylock, in his book, Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills, explains that aspartame has a detrimental effect on the brain's neurotransmitter function and is implicated in problems related to concentration, focusing, and muscle control.

Additives/flavor enhancers
Other additives such as BHT/BHA can cause symptoms that mimic those caused by food allergies such as difficulty in breathing, fatigue, and skin blisters. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, and is a "flavor enhancer," according to an August 23, 1999 letter from Paige Sato, a spokesperson for Paramus, N.J.-based Ajinomoto USA, self-described as the world's first (since 1909) and largest supplier of MSG, Ajinomoto USA characterizes MSG as "a natural ingredient, made from corn glucose through a fermentation process similar to the one used to produce yogurt or beer."

Be that as it may, the American College of Allergy & Immunology, in a November 1991 position statement (supplied by Ajinomoto), said that "some people report experiencing moderate adverse symptoms after eating foods high in MSG. Although it has not been proven that MSG is the ingredient causing adverse reactions, in some people, symptoms may be prevented by avoiding foods high in MSG."

The ACAI statement goes on to say that reported reactions to MSG "include skin flushing, tightening of jaw or chest muscles, burning sensations along the back of the neck, nausea, and, most frequently, headaches, which may occur within hours after eating a meal consisting of foods high in MSG."

The statement also says, somewhat confusingly, that MSG is "considered to be a safe food ingredient, and the vast majority of people experience no ill effects after eating foods high in MSG. [...] MSG is not an allergen [...]." Nevertheless, if it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's most likely ... a duck. Therefore watch out.

The 'wonder-fat' substitute, olestra (Olean) is made from cottonseed and soybean oil, from which glycerin is removed and regular table sugar added. Our digestive enzymes cannot break down the resultant sucrose polyester molecules, therefore olestra is reported to pass through the intestines undigested. The Harvard School of Public Health warns that long-term consumption of olestra snack foods might result in gastrointestinal problems, including anal leakage, diarrhea, and possible anaphylactic reactions -- definite allergic reactions to a food.

Pesticides and added sulfites can create allergic reactions causing a person to think he is reacting to a food, when, in truth, the culprits are likely to be these additives. For example, children who are having reactions to food (or chemical additives) may be labeled as having ADD or ADHD. Citrus foods were once thought to be an allergenic food, but, more likely, symptoms are actually caused by the chemicals on and in the fruit. Theron G. Randolph, when studying the potential causes of a patient who exibited depression and asthmatic-type symptoms, discovered that it was not citrus fruit, but the pesticides on the fruit that triggered the symptoms. In addition, he discovered that she also reacted to chemical residue remaining on the packing containers that the fruit was shipped in.

Your best bet is to wash all produce thoroughly before eating it, and to buy organic whenever possible. Realize too, that symptoms may be a reaction to the chemicals in the packaging, such as fungicides applied to shipping crates for live produce and the phenol lining in cans that prevents the metal from bleaching tile color of the food. People who react to wine, may not be allergic to grapes, but only to the sulfites added. Therefore, when analyzing what you are allergic to, don't blame the food until you have taken into consideration what else it may contain.

Another reason for allergenic symptoms may be the inability of the food to be digested. In our book, The All-Natural High Performance Diet, we refer to enzymes as munchkins that help the digestive process. Man's body was designed to digest raw food, since we eat mostly cooked or processed meals, our store of enzymes is being depleted. This compromises digestion, creating a need for supplemental enzymes. We recommend plant enzymes because they work throughout the entire digestive tract, rather than just the stomach.

Excess refined sugar may also contribute to "leaky-gut," since it slows down the digestion process. If you eat sugar during a meal, the absorption of the food will be compromised, possibly resulting in allergy symptoms due to maldigestion.

Constituents of cow's milk
Cow's milk is one of those foods that many people have trouble digesting, probably due to one or more of its constituents, listed here:

Lactose: Some people cannot produce lactase, the enzyme needed to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk.
Casein: The culprit for some people is casein, which provides the majority of the protein found in milk. It is found in hard cheeses such as Cheddar, American, and Swiss, and it is a common additive in many non-dairy products.
If you're drinking cow's milk that is not certified organic, the pesticides applied to the feed and hormones given to the cows may be contributing to your food allergy symptoms, as well.

• Whey: Some people are allergic to the whey proteins found in milk. While whey-intolerant people may not be affected by goat's milk, which has a lower percentage of whey, most cheeses, including cottage, cream, and ricotta all contain significant percentages of whey.

Milk alternatives include rice or fermented soy milk, almond, or oat milk.

The first step in eliminating the symptoms of food allergies is to select only organic varieties of those suspected culprits. Once you have determined that it is not the pesticides, fungicides, additives, or packaging that are causing your symptoms, you can move to step #2, eliminating the specific food from your diet. This may not be as easy as it sounds. For instance, if you suspect you have a wheat intolerance, you must become an avid label reader, since bread and pasta are not the only places wheat shows up. It is a major ingredient in hundreds of foods, from soy sauce to veggie burgers. And, it may not be the wheat you are allergic to at all; gluten, a sticky protein, may be the culprit. Wheat alternatives are buckwheat (without wheat added), rye, rice, oat, barley, amaranth, quinoa, and corn. If your allergy to wheat is not severe, you may be able to tolerate spelt and kamut. If you are sensitive to gluten, seek out gluten-free breads.

You also may find that you do not have to eliminate a food, perhaps just the type of food. For example, soy as found in soymilk, tofu, and soy foods is most likely made from the unsprouted bean, which may be difficult to digest, causing you to produce gas and discomfort in the process. This leads you to the conclusion that you have a food allergy. Substituting fermented or sprouted soy milk, powder, or products may eliminate your symptoms. Infant formulas that use the unfermented bean can be the reason a baby is colicky.

To recover from your allergic responses, recommendations from a new book, Self Care Anywhere, include taking dandelion root supplement, or reishi mushroom tea as a liver detoxifier; L-glutamine to restore the integrity of the gastrointestinal lining; a good probiotic supplement to reintroduce the friendly bacteria; bioflavonoids; Bcomplex; vitamin C; ginger root herb to stimulate digestion; and a good essential fatty acid supplement to help reduce inflammatory responses. Additional information can be obtained from the Food Allergy Network at (800) 929-4040 or their website at www.foodallergy.org

Medical tests
There are tests which your health care practitioner can perform to test for food allergies. Common tests include the scratch or skin prick test and RAST, a blood test.

Other testing includes skin injections, patch tests, and an oral provocation test, which is basically a controlled elimination diet with food reintroduced during observation. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine, (215) 862-4544, can provide allergy testing especially taking into account additives and pesticides.

American College of Allergy & Immunology. "Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)" [position statement]. November 1991.

Blaylock, Russel L., M.D. Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills. Santa Fe, NM: Health Press, 1994.

Dufty, William F. Sugar Blues. Radnor, PA: Warner Books, 1993.

Mandell, Marshall, Scanlon, Lynne Waller, Dr. Mandell's 5-DAY Allergy Relief System. New York, NY: Crowell, 1979.

McCoy, J.J. How Safe is our Food Supply? New York, NY: Franklin Watts, 1990.

Ministry of Health, "Identifying food allergies," New Zealand, June 1996 [booklet]. Mundy, William Lowe, M.D. Curing Allergies with Visual Imagery. E. Canaan, CT: Safe Goods, 1999.

Randolph, Theron, M.D. Moss, Ralph, Ph.D. An Alternative Approach to Allergies (revised edition). New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1989.

Rapp, Doris, M.D. Is This Your Child's World. New York, NY: Wm. Morrow & Co., Inc., 1995.

Roberts, Hyman Jacob. Aspartame (Nutrasweet): Is It safe? Philadelphia, PA: The Charles Press, 1990.

Sato, Paige. Personal communication with Better Nutrition regarding MSG. August 23, 1999 [letter].

Skole, Gary. Self Care Anywhere. E. Canaan, CT: Safe Goods, 1999.

US Food and Drug Admin., "Food Allergies, Rare but Risky," FDA Consumer, May 1994 [online publication].

Wurtman, R.J. "Aspartame: Possible effects on seizure susceptibility." Lancet 2(8463): 1060, Nov 9, 1985.


By Howard Peiper, O.D. and Nina Anderson, C.N.E.

Adapted by O.D. and C.N.E.

Howard Peiper, O.D., and Nina Anderson, C.N.E., are researchers and authors of 12 books on preventive medicine including The A.D.D and A.D.H.D. Diet! and The All-Natural High Performance Diet.

In her book, Is This Your Child's World, Doris Ropp, M.D., gave some tips on structuring a food allergy identification program.

Keep a food diary for one week writing down everything you eat and how you feel emotionally, mentally, and physically throughout the day.
Record all cravings for food or snacks and rate them on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest craving). The more you crave something, the more your body reacts to "feed" the allergy.
Write or draw before and after eating each food. See if the image on your paper changes. It has been demonstrated that food allergies can create erratic or irrational drawings or dyslexic penmanship.
Take your pulse. If it increases by 20-40 points after eating a particular food, your body could be warning you about a food sensitivity.

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