Not only have childhood obesity rates increased four-fold in the past decade, dreaded food allergies and intolerances are up, as well. According to the Food Allergy Initiative, one in every 13 children under the age of 18 has a food allergy. Food allergies arise when the body mistakes a particular food protein as an 'invader' and releases histamines and other chemicals into the blood to attack it – resulting in unpleasant symptoms such as hives, swelling, and vomiting, among others. This is different from a food intolerance, which does not involve the immune system, but may cause severe adverse responses after consumption or up to several hours or days later.
I remember eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the school cafeteria as a child and tearing open those tiny packages of roasted peanuts on the flights to grandma’s house. With allergies so prevalent these days, nostalgic events like these are a much less common occurence due to our overly sensitive immune and compromised digestive systems.
But just what has brought on this unfortunate increase in food allergies and intolerances? Let's look at some of the most major culprits.
1. Imbalance of Healthy Intestinal Bacteria and “Leaky Gut”
- Surprisingly enough, the total number of bacteria in your gut exceeds the number of cells in the rest of your body by a factor of about 10. In order to keep up your body's daily processes, including proper digestion and metabolism, it's best to have more good bacteria than bad. When you eat low-quality foods loaded with sugars and minimal fiber, the microbial balance of the gut is shifted. These are just examples of things that could lead to a compromised intestinal lining, also known as “leaky gut.” This breakdown in the intestinal barrier allows undigested food particles to enter into blood circulation, resulting in multiple disturbances.
- Probiotics are a great way to introduce new healthy bacteria into the gut, while prebiotics keep the good guys happy!
- Probiotics – kim chee, organic tempeh, kombucha, coconut kefir, miso, sauerkraut, and probiotic supplements
- Prebiotics – oats, slightly green bananas, yacon, cooked and cooled sweet potato, Jerusalem artichoke, raw honey, dandelion greens, garlic, and asparagus
2. Processed Foods, Genetically Modified Foods, Preservatives, and Artificial Colors and Flavors
- While not conclusive, some evidence has shown an association between Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and artificial food colorings and preservatives. This would be one instance where artificial additives seen in a wide variety of pre-packaged foods can cause an abnormal alteration in behavior or normal body function. In other instances, artificial sweeteners have been linked to metabolic disorders and processed meat preservatives have shown to be carcinogenic. Also within this category, we find genetically engineered foods (GE or GMO). Although there is no scientific evidence to back up these claims, genetically altered foods are being linked to the rise in allergies and food intolerance. Overall, it's best to avoid processed foods that contain harmful added ingredients and choose fresh, whole, organic foods when possible.
3. Lack of Enzymes
- If the body is lacking the enzyme lactase, which breaks down the milk sugar lactose, discomfort sets in after consuming dairy and frequent trips to the loo are sure to ensue. The same holds true for other nutrients, as well. As mentioned before, if food is not broken down well enough, large particles could seep through the “leaky gut” into your blood circulation. Since your blood stream does not take part in digestion, these food molecules are seen as threats by the immune system, eventually mounting an immune response. In the end, these enzyme deficiencies prevent complete digestion of specific compounds in foods and can lead to symptoms of food intolerance or allergies. Children with growth, learning, behavior, digestive, or skin issues often benefit from taking digestive enzymes. Enzymes are found in fresh, raw foods – the staples of your NutriBlast – as well as individual supplements!
4. Heavy Metals, Pesticides, and Herbicides
- Heavy metal toxicity has been the blame for various health conditions, including autism and Lyme disease. Mercury from vaccines, amalgam fillings, air and seafood can accumulate in the body and cause food allergies and intolerances. In addition, other foreign particles, such as pesticides and herbicides, can enter our digestive pathway through conventional produce. Our gut takes action to defend itself from these invaders, often leading to an inflammatory response. Heavy metals, pesticides, and antibiotics are known to disrupt the normal balance of intestinal bacteria, causing your body’s inability to handle particular foods.
5. Weak Immune System
- The same weakened immune system that leaves our little ones susceptible to colds and flu may also set them up for food allergies or intolerance. Introduce foods with immune-enhancing minerals zinc, selenium, and copper. Brazil nuts, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, oats, spinach, crimini mushrooms, cashews, garbanzo beans, and lentils are some great options for these nutrients.
The most common food allergens are proteins found in eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, soy and wheat. As one gets older, shellfish can become problematic, as can gluten, fructose, and yeast. Keep in mind: this doesn’t mean other foods are not potential allergens, too.
In addition to food allergies, childhood food intolerances are on the rise and often lead to undesirable symptoms, such as diarrhea, bloating, stomach pain, constipation, headaches, fatigue, back pain, weight gain, skin conditions, or stiff joints.
If you suspect a food allergy, it is best to get tested. Diagnosing food intolerance is not as simple and requires a little more detective work. My suggestion is to keep a food diary and note what foods you eat and what symptoms occur. Avoid foods you suspect might be triggers to see if symptoms subside. Then bring that food back into your diet after about 2-3 weeks and notice if symptoms return. This approach is known as an elimination diet. Continue to do this with the foods you believe are troublesome, alternating one at a time. Once identified, eliminate those foods and find alternatives that will still provide the beneficial nutrients you need.