Underlying cause #3: Food Sensitivities
It always amazes me when people come to see me with dozens of foods they are supposedly allergic to. What no one ever tells them is that it’s usually because their upper digestive system is not breaking their food down properly.
First let’s distinguish between a food allergy and a food sensitivity. A food allergy is a reaction to a protein in a food. It’s often a severe reaction. A food sensitivity is an allergic-type reaction to a non-protein substance and the severity of the reaction varies greatly. Most food sensitivities are a lot more subtle than true food allergies and they can be difficult to identify. But what unites both of them is often poor diet and poor digestion.
If the stomach is not breaking down the food properly, undigested food assaults the small intestine. The small intestine is where our food gets absorbed into our body. You could say that our food doesn’t really become us until it passes through the delicate lining of the small intestine. Under normal circumstances, the food is thoroughly digested before it enters the small intestine so that it can easily pass through the lining.
However, if something passes through that lining that shouldn’t, your immune system is waiting and ready to take care of the foreign invader. About 70% of our immune system lies in our gut.
But if food doesn’t get broken down properly, it can damage the lining of the small intestine. Things start leaking through in inappropriate sizes. This is known as “leaky gut”.
This sets the stage for food allergies and sensitivities as well as a whole host of immune issues such as asthma, skin conditions and autoimmune conditions.
Furthermore, inflammation develops in many areas of the digestive tract. Now we have all these conditions that end with -itis. Something that ends with -itis literally means inflammation. So now we have gastritis, inflammation in the stomach. Ileitis, inflammation in the ileum. Pancreatitis, colitis, diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis, etc. Get the point?
Medications deal with the inflammation on the symptomatic level. They may or may not help but they never address the root cause.
And what’s the root cause? Again, poor diet and poor digestive function. We keep throwing fire (poor food) on the fire (inflammation) and wonder why we have digestive problems.
In reality, most food sensitivities and food allergies can be resolved through a period of removing the offending food and healing the digestive tract.
How to do this?
Number one, make sure your stomach is breaking down food properly. Make sure the blender is set on high! My previous blog detailed steps for correcting poor stomach function.
Number two, stop eating pro-inflammatory foods. Unfortunately, there are a lot of pro-inflammatory foods out there. Basically, all processed foods promote inflammation in the body. Sugar is at the top of that list, which I’ve discussed at length. Next in my opinion are grains, especially those that contain gluten.
So for starters, let’s remember that grains, even whole ones, are high in starch. Starch is essentially long chains of glucose molecules. Glucose is sugar. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing as glucose is essential for life. The problem is that we juts consume so dang much of it in America. Think of the standard American breakfast – cereal, pancakes, waffles, bagels, toast, muffins, pastries. In other words, grains, grains, grains, grains and more grains. And most of that are refined grains.
Food for thought: Grains are fed to cattle in factory farms to fatten them up. Could the same dynamic be occurring in the US population?
“But I eat only whole grains”, you say. OK, good. But grains are still hard on the body’s digestive system. Traditional cultures, soaked, sprouted and fermented grains. This makes them more digestible. It also makes them more nutritious.
The food industry is not interested in doing this. Don’t ask Kellogg’s, Nabisco, Quaker Oats, General Mills or any other giant food corporation to do this anytime soon. It takes time and care to prepare grains properly. Time and care are not profitable.
And then there’s the gluten issue. Gluten is the main protein in wheat, barley and rye. It’s a very complex protein and it’s hard on the body’s digestive system. Furthermore, most wheat is the US is genetically modified and sprayed with pesticides.
This does not mean you need to give up grains forever. Grains can be very healthy for many people. However, I would recommend keeping them to a minimum for some time, especially for weight loss. And if you’re having a chronic digestive issue, consider a strict elimination diet for 2-3 weeks. You can do this for any food that you suspect is giving you problems.
Dairy, soy, corn, eggs are the more common foods that can cause many problems for people. The saying, “One man’s food is another man’s poison” is very true.
But if you’re experiencing a long term chronic issue and/or an inability to lose weight, start with eliminating grains and monitor your symptoms. I bet you’ll feel much better.
Finally, if you’re going to consume grains, choose sprouted grain products which you can find in health food stores. Sprouted grains have a smaller gluten content, higher nutrient content and are easier on digestion.
Another good habit is to soak grains overnight in warm water with a tablespoon or two of an acidic medium such as whey, yogurt, kefir, buttermilk or lemon juice. Soak in equal parts water for a minimum of 7 hours and up to 24 hours. In so doing the cooking time of grains is dramatically reduced. Oatmeal soaked overnight for example needs only to be a simmered for a few minutes. Truly instant oatmeal!
OK, be honest. Are you overwhelmed by the thought of having to give up grains? Does the thought of going breadless send shockwaves of terror through your body?
Admittedly, it can be a little overwhelming to do this on your own, especially if you’re experiencing a long term chronic digestive issue. This is where a qualified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner can help.
So next time we’ll continue our journey south in the digestive process and discuss the fourth underlying issue that can prevent weight loss and good health. Yes, it is still related to poor digestion. This is why the first four weeks of the new twelve week weight loss/wellness program I’ll be teaching are spent on correcting digestive issues. It is so vital to healthy weight loss and good overall health in general.
Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.