This is an interesting topic because I’m sure you’ve heard of more and more people having issues with a range of different foods.

Food allergies and sensitivities can wreak havoc on your body. A true food allergy produces a systemic immune response causing a host of symptoms such as digestive upset, hives, swollen airways, or even anaphylaxis.

Allergy VS Intolerance

According to the Mayo Clinic, approximately 6 to 8 percent of kids under age 5 and about 3 to 4 percent of adults suffer from true food allergies. If this number seems low given the number of people you know that suffer after eating certain foods, then you may be making a common misidentification. While only a small percentage of the population has actual food allergies (which can be life threatening), many, many others suffer from food intolerances.

So, what’s the difference? According to Mayo Clinic Asthma and Allergy Specialist James T. C. Li, M.D., Ph.D., eating even trace amounts of a food you are actually allergic to can cause a severe and multi-systemic immune reaction that may include vomiting, cramps, hives, tingling in the throat, and even closure of airways. Eating foods you are intolerant to, on the other hand, causes a less severe reaction, and you have a much higher threshold of the food you can be exposed to. For example, most people are aware of how severe peanut allergies can be. If you’ve ever had a kid in your child’s class with a peanut allergy, your children are asked not to bring any foods containing peanuts, because even trace exposure to the nuts can bring about a severe reaction. A child with a milk intolerance, on the other hand, can probably be exposed to that food and not have problems. They may even be able to ingest it in small amounts with minimal health issues; however, if they consume a substantial amount, then they may exhibit symptoms like stomach or joint pain, mucus buildup, and others.

Intolerance Symptoms

I’ve covered allergy symptoms above, but what about food intolerance? These may be a bit more difficult to figure out and link back to the foods, because may appear to be entirely unrelated to what you eat. In other cases, sensitivity symptoms may appear as soon as you eat the food. Symptoms of food intolerance include:

  • Headaches (including migraine)
  • Irritability, mood swings, or nervousness
  • Digestive upset
  • Heartburn
  • Depression
  • Inflammation
  • Mucus and respiratory problems
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Exhaustion
  • Lack of energy
  • Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
  • Skin disorders
  • Heart palpitation or arrhythmia

These are just a few of the many signs associated with consuming foods to which you have a sensitivity. Over the long-term, these symptoms may worsen. In some cases, food sensitivities can even lead to debilitating illness.

Common Food Allergens

Eight foods or groups of foods cause about 90 percent of all true food allergies. These foods are: 

  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Tree nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans, walnuts)
  • Peanuts
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Shellfish (shrimp, crab, lobster)
  • Fish (tuna, salmon, cod, halibut)

If you have an allergy to these foods, you need to avoid them completely. In fact, eating foods that have been processed on equipment that also processes these foods may be enough to trigger an allergic reaction. Because of this, many food labels list the fact that the product contains these foods or has been processed in plants that also process these foods in order to help people avoid allergens. For example, the label may say, “This product is manufactured on equipment that also processes peanuts,” or “Contains the following allergens: milk, soy, wheat.”

Common Foods that Cause Sensitivity

Any of the above ingredients may also cause food sensitivities. Other foods that people are commonly intolerant of contain histamines or amines, which are chemicals that may dilate blood vessels and increase inflammation. Foods that contain these compounds include:

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Aged, processed, or smoked meats, fish and cheeses
  • Vegetables like tomato, eggplant, and avocado
  • Fruits like kiwi, bananas, strawberries, and pineapple
  • Vinegars
  • Soy sauce
  • Cacao
  • Coffee and black tea
  • Yeast (not nutritional yeast)
  • Nuts

Food Additives

Additives in processed foods may also cause sensitivities to the foods that contain them. In some cases, these additives lead to even more health problems, because they are actually neurotoxic and can overexcite brain cells to the point of death. Neurotoxic additives are marked with an asterisk (*).

  • Food dyes
  • Artificial flavors
  • Preservatives (benzoate, nitrate, nitrite)
  • MSG* (monosodium glutamate)
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein*
  • Calcium caseinate*
  • Aspartame* (NutraSweet)
  • Sucralose
  • Other artificial sweeteners
  • Emulsifiers (like gums and lecithin)
  • High-fructose corn syrup and other corn-derived ingredients

Celiac Disease – A Look at Food Intolerance

What happens if you are unaware of intolerance but continue to eat foods containing ingredients to which you are sensitive? A number of conditions are directly related to food intolerance, and can lead to significant ongoing health problems. One such condition directly related to food intolerance is celiac disease.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder caused by gluten intolerance. Many foods contain gluten, including those derived from wheat, rye, and barley. When people with celiac disease ingest gluten (or even use products containing gluten on their skin), they trigger an immune response that damages the villi in the small intestine. These villi play an important role in digestion, allowing the body to absorb nutrients from the foods you eat. As they become more damaged by gluten, the villi absorb fewer nutrients, which can lead to a host of problems including malnutrition. Fortunately, people with celiac disease can reverse these symptoms by avoiding gluten altogether and rehabilitating the colon with a healthy diet and probiotics.

Food Sensitivities Can Sabotage You

If you are trying to meet health, beauty, and weight loss goals, then continuing to eat foods to which you are sensitive can sabotage your efforts. When you eat foods to which your body reacts, you may experience higher levels of inflammation, food cravings, and loss of energy among many others. All of these run counter to looking and feeling your best.

Consuming these foods also adds more sludge to your toxic load, gunking up your insides and rendering true health and beauty impossible.

What to Do

Do you suspect you have food sensitivities? The good news is that you can grow healthier by eating a nutritious diet, cleansing, and noting your body’s reaction to certain foods. Here’s how you can beat food sensitivities.

  1. Eliminate processed foods. Instead, focus on a natural plant-based diet consisting of organic fruits and vegetables, as well as whole, non-gluten grains.
  2. Drop the dairy. I believe most people are sensitive to dairy products and have difficulty digesting them. Humans were meant to ingest breast milk, not cow’s milk, and only for the first year or two of life. After that, dairy has no place in a human diet. Calcium can be found in other foods. Furthermore, foods such as dairy which have an acid-forming affect actually encourage the leaching of calcium from the body via urinary calcium excretion. Read more on this in The China Study. 
  3. Avoid gluten grains. Instead, eat grains like quinoa, millet, oat groats, and buckwheat.
  4. Avoid peanuts and cashews. These nuts often cause allergy and sensitivity problems.
  5. Eliminate tree nuts and then add them back into your diet one at a time to observe your body’s reaction. If you react, remove that nut entirely from your diet.
  6. Avoid vinegars, except for raw apple cider vinegar.
  7. Avoid animal proteins. If you do eat animal proteins, opt for minimally processed, local, grass-fed, organically farmed animal products raised without antibiotics or hormones.
  8. Follow The Beauty Detox Solution. This diet actually eliminates allergens and supports cleansing. Also, the Green Smoothie Diet is a good snack or cleansing diet as needed.
  9. Support your health habits with probiotics, which can help build beneficial bacteria.
If you take these steps and work to minimize foods to which you are allergic or have sensitivities, then you will feel and look better. You may even find that you are finally able to lose stubborn weight or shake long-term symptoms you weren’t even aware were related to food intolerances. As you continue to cleanse and replenish healthy bacteria, your immune system will grow stronger and your body healthier. You may even notice that some of the plant-based foods to which you were intolerant in the past now no longer cause problems.


New York Times Bestseller and Nutritionist