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Food diary, tests will show if it’s allergies or something else

Recently, the Longwood seminars from Harvard Health Publications featured a workshop on food allergies and how to tell if you’re reacting to wheat, milk or other foods.

Here’s some of the content of that seminar.

The gluten free diet was designed for people with celiac disease and who therefore cannot tolerate gluten containing foods because gluten (a protein found in many grains) damages the lining of their small intestine. Celiac disease is a very uncomfortable and serious condition that can lead to anemia, osteoporosis and intestinal cancers. About 1 percent of Americans (about 3 million people) have true celiac disease, but another 6 percent or about 18 million Americans are gluten sensitive. For the gluten sensitive people, the gluten doesn’t cause actual damage to their intestines but can cause gastrointestinal discomfort as well as headaches and fatigue. There is another group of individuals that are actually allergic to wheat. In this group, the symptoms are more like traditional allergy symptoms such as tingling around the mouth, hives, throat swelling and difficulty breathing.

Many foods including wheat, milk, eggs and seafood are well known to cause both food intolerances and allergies. The experts at Harvard state that it is important to distinguish what kind of reaction you’re having and what foods might be the cause.

Food intolerances are usually caused because one’s body lacks the enzyme needed to break down a component in the food. An example of this that most people will know is the lack of lactase needed to break down lactose in milk. Another reason that people have food intolerance is because the food contains a chemical or additive to which they are sensitive. Often as people are sensitized over repeated exposures to the sensitizing component, their intolerance becomes more noticeable. Lactose intolerance is manifested after someone with low levels of lactase ingests dairy foods. The symptoms include gas and diarrhea. Gluten sensitivity may manifest in stomach pains, bloating and fatigue. Food additives sensitivities may cause flushed skin, wheezing, headaches, palpitations or numbness and most often are from additives such as sulfites found in wine, dried fruits, and canned goods or food flavored with MSG.

Try keeping a food diary to help you identify the source of the problem, by writing down symptoms that occur after the ingestion of suspect foods. Then simply eliminate the offending food.

The Harvard experts note that a true food allergy involves the immune system. An individual’s body recognizes a normally harmless food such as milk or peanuts as a potentially harmful foreign protein and then produces high levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). Food allergies often start when people are very young but sometimes they can become troublesome only later in life. Some foods that frequently cause food allergies are; eggs, fish, shellfish, milk, peanuts, soy, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds and wheat. If someone is allergic to any of these foods or others, they could have a reaction from eating a very small amount of the food or even just being close to it. The symptoms might be hives, swelling, itchiness, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea. If the allergy is very severe an individual may have an anaphylactic reaction, which can begin with a rash, swelling of the tongue and throat, trouble breathing, dizziness or fainting. It can be life-threatening.

If you have a food allergy, see an allergist. The doctor can do a skin test which involves placing a solution containing an extract of the suspect food beneath the skin on the forearm or back to see if it produces a skin reaction. Another method is to do a blood test to see if your body is producing IgE antibodies to the food. The doctor may suggest that you carry an Epi-Pen (an epinephrine injector pen) just in case you develop a severe anaphylaxis due to a food allergy.

The experts at Harvard recommend that you avoid foods that bother you but not to avoid foods without good cause. Because of the current “gluten free campaign” many Americans mistakenly believe that all wheat and grain products are necessarily bad for them and that “gluten free” means healthy.

Listen to your body, its wisdom will lead you in the right direction. Aloha nui loa!


Jane Riley is a certified nutritional adviser. She can reached at and (808) 212-1451 and


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