A lot of people who've learned I have food allergies usually ask right off the bat, "How did you find out you were allergic to that?"
Apparently, food allergies are not always an easy diagnosis for a doctor unless the symptoms are fairly standard in each case. I have a co-worker who's been experiencing what he believes to be a gastric-related stress for just over a year now, and he has experimented with fasting, then slowly adding things back into his diet in an effort to determine what might be bothering him.
I remember reading years ago about a little boy diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder who was not responding to his medications very well. His mother finally noticed that his symptoms seemed worse after dinner time and rather specifically if she served him peas. Turned out the kid had a pea allergy, and after diagnosis and a change in diet, his "ADD" symptoms magically vanished.
I'm going to discuss three food allergies of my own and how I deal with them. It may seem strange to think there are foods that so many of us are allergic to, us being omnivores and all, but very often a return to a more pure, fresh, wholesome diet can bring us benefits beyond good nutrition if it turns out we're allergic to things we really weren't designed to consume.
I was diagnosed with a caffeine allergy as a small child following an injury after falling down a flight of stairs. It turned out that caffeine aggravated the site, causing it to swell and bleed. I was hospitalized for three months and told I couldn't have chocolate any longer. How do you explain that to a five year old?
I had to learn what foods contained caffeine. The absolute worst thing about having a food allergy is all the people I run into who try and tell me what they think I'm allergic to and what I shouldn't be allergic to. Believe me, I KNOW what has caffeine in it and what doesn't. The consequences of not knowing could throw me right back into the hospital again! I recall growing disgusted with the idiot and his wife who kept yelling at me becaue I was drinking a Sprite, and they were both convinced that Sprite had more caffeine in it than even Mountain Dew, when it says right on the lable that it's caffeine-free. I know what sodas usually contain caffeine. The tricky one is root beer since easily half of the brands I've run across have it and the other half don't. For this reason, I not only have to know what generally has caffeine in it or not, but even how to differentiate between brands.
As a child, I discovered that I could ease my way up in tolerance with caffeine and for a while would take down a 2 litre bottle of Mountain Dew or Coke a day with no adverse side effects...unless I skipped a day. If I didn't maintain the amounts I was consuming and then immediately tried to pick up again where I'd last left off, I'd become run down, later learning I was bleeding internally. For various reasons, I have almost totally eliminated soft drinks from my diet now, preferring juice, tea, and tisanes. I am very much aware that even so called caffeine-free or decaf tea may actually contain small amounts of caffeine, so I maintain a very low level of the stuff on a daily basis. I am now so sensitive to caffeine that if I get a big load, the wacky, sped-up reaction is rather intense. I become noticeably jittery, talk a lot faster, and require something to do. I try to avoid big hits of the stuff.
There was an interesting article in Omni Magazine once where these scientists gave spiders a dose of crack cocaine, marijuana, or caffeine, then compared their web spinning skills to normal spiders. The crack spider's web was the most bizarre, followed by the caffeine spider, then the marijuana spider. Surprisingly, the marijuana spider's web was the closest to perfect. Caffeine is a drug that can impare judgement. Don't tell me I don't know what I'm talking about: I'm allergic to the stuff so I'm extremely familiar with its side effects. Yes, I get up every morning without coffee, I drink green tea that's so caffeine dilute that the stuff doesn't even rate on the ingredients list, and when I make my own hot tea I prefer it weak. A little nourishment in the morning is sufficient to get me thinking clearly. Wise food choices can perk you up as well as your morning brew.
I am a little lactose intolerant. I am not diagnosed with such; I am simply observant. Give me a milkshake or a bowl of ice cream and I'll reward you soon after with pretty bad flatulence. I can usually tolerate cheese, and people who don't think I know what I'm talking about often ask me why I say I'm lactose intolerant if I can eat cheese and yogurt. The fact is, these things are processed differently than regular milk, and the way a food is processed can make a difference in how you may react to it. I still need calcium, so I tend to eat meats prepared with bones still in them, and calcium-containing vegetables and calcium-enriched foods. For awhile, when I would occasionally suffer a little gastric reflux, I'd chew antacids with calcium in them...not aware that antacids can rob the body of calcium, and the little added to them might offset some of the damage they manage to do. That's when I started taking chia seed when heartburn strikes. A half teaspoon of chia seed downed with a few gulps of liquid, and I'm usually heartburn free within a few minutes. Chia aborbs liquids, up to eight times its weight in just ten minutes, so it turns the acidy backwash into an easily digestible gel. I also take calcium tablets midway through my day after my morning vitamin. I combine them with vitamins C and E and a little food. If I happen to eat again even later in the day, I'll take a final vitamin C in an effort to keep my immune system up and running. I also drink soymilk enriched with vitamin C, but let me warn you right now—soymilk does not substitute well for milk in most recipes that call for milk. I've had to learn this the hard way after pouring over a lot of material posted to the contrary. I also limit myself to one serving a day for no more than five days in a row. Allegedly, there may be some hormone disruption from soy's naturally occuring estrogens, and nobody needs too much of that. Coconut milk is a great substitute for milk if the recipe will allow sweetness. It does not taste good in scrambled eggs or omelets. For egg dishes, I've found a nice heaping helping of canned grated parmesan, romano, or some freshly grated asiago really helps hold the egg together nicely while enhancing the flavor of the dish. You may have to experiment if you think you're lactose intolerant, and find out if you can still consume dairy that's processed in different ways.
Speaking of processing differences, I only recently realized I have a wheat allergy. A co-worker has celiac disease, which means he can't easily digest gluten. I thought I might have a gluten allergy until I walked into a health-foods store and the woman who worked there asked me if I could tolerate barley. When I said yes, she told me I probably just had a wheat allergy, then. No, she was not a doctor. She suggested I try sourdough or sprouted wheat products, and since sprouted wheat crackers and bread are rather expensive and I happen to enjoy sourdough anyway, I ran with the latter.
How did I figure out I had a wheat allergy? Gross part coming up...I've had diarrhea for most of my life. I actually thought it was normal because for me it was the most likely way I'd go. I never seemed dehydrated nor experienced any other symptoms other than maybe a little gas to go along with it, and bread was my favorite food. They say that bread is the favorite food of overweight Americans, and I could believe it! When I tried the Neanderthin Diet (look it up yourself, I'm not promoting it because from what I've seen, different diets seem to work better for different people), my diarrhea stopped completely. Neanderthin postulates that if we eat the kind of wild diet our distant ancestors ate, we shouldn't be fat or suffer most food allergies anymore. For me, this was totally true since Neanderthin promotes fresh vegetables, some fruits, nuts and seeds, lean meats, and water, juice, and occasionally tea. Get it? Dropped my caffeine intake further, no dairy, no grains. Lost some weight on it, too, eating whenever I was hungry but sticking to the diet. When I cheated—how can you not chow down on the basket of fresh hot bread and rolls they set in front of you in many restaurants when you're absolutely famished and still waiting for your order— I came down with diarrhea again. So I did a little research online and discovered the link to gluten and/or wheat.
However, in the past, a diet lacking grain had caused me to suffer from riboflavin deficiency (to be honest, I also suffered scurvy at about the same time, and riboflavin can be found in some of the nutritious vegetables I was lacking), causing the corners of my mouth to rip wider and my earlobes to rip from the sides of my head, so I made the decision to add some non-wheat grains back into my diet. I now enjoy rice, quinoa, and barley as well as the occasional bit of sourdough. Let me also tell you that not everything labeled sourdough is the real thing. I've eaten burgers on bread touted as sourdough by restaurants, but reacted to it, making me think it just tastes like sourdough but isn't actually prepared with a fed yeast starter. Apparently the pre-digestion of the wheat by the enzymes secreted by the bacterial yeast allow me to finish digesting the stuff without worry. Intriguingly, I've also learned I can sometimes squeak by on small amounts of wheat, like when I enjoy the occasional flour tortilla wrap. Unless it's a mondo big tortilla, I'm sometimes okay. So, none of my food allergies are really that terrible unless you're trapped in an elevator with me and all we have to survive on is a big vat of milkshake.
Another co-worker has a son who is allergic to peanuts. Again, not every allergy is life-threatening, although we hear of people dying or almost dying from peanuts every now and then on the news. This guy tells me that sometimes, for fun, they'll slip this kid a peanut, then make fun of him as he breaks out in huge, red welts. I can't recommend you play with your allergies, but it is great to know just how badly they might affect you in case you run into some idiot who wants to see just what'll happen if he passes you some dip made with dried shrimp or a chocolate/peanut butter chip cookie.
If anyone tells you they have a food allergy, you NEED to respect that aspect of them. Failure to do so could potentially end up in death. Remember the kid in the news who killed his peanut-allergic girlfriend when he kissed her hours after he'd eaten a peanut butter sandwich? Remember when we lost free bags of peanuts on most airline flights for awhile? If you think you might suffer from a food allergy, do a little research, then post the suggestion to your physician. I can't recommend that you experiment with your diet. I only did so because nothing I was suffering from seemed all that serious. And don't think your world has turned upside-down because you might have to alter your diet a little. I eat pancakes and muffins and "quick"-breads now and then that I create myself from rice flour or hemp flour, and someone recently gave me some sourdough starter I just baked into two loaves of a fabulously moist, sweet and cinnamony yellow squash with walnuts bread. I've also found some great rice and quinoa pastas that substitute very well for wheat pasta, but corn-based pastas fall apart when you try to serve them. Word of caution: hemp flour does not substitute well in most recipes that use standard flour. It comes out a funky grey green and tastes a lot like cardboard, so I cut it to 25% or less with rice flour. I guess the best part of having a food allergy is exploring the world of cuisine to find amazing new dishes and ethnic creations you can enjoy without bother.
Chronic or recurring illness medicines don't seem to help with? Doctor's so sick of seeing you he's telling you he thinks your problem is all in your head? Try looking at your diet. It's not just energy—it's medicine itself, too.
Want to try something healthy in the world of dieting? Research the Neanderthin Diet, the Bible Diet, the Raw Foods Diet, the Whole Foods Diet, Macrobiotics, the Food As Medicine Diet, or any similar diet that stresses foods with little to no processing. Learn what countries or ethnic groups have the lowest obesity rates and find out what they eat and how much exercise they get on an average day. Wanna know why Americans are so fat and lazy? Pay attention to how much of your diet is based around or contains wheat. Look at the ingredient lists for cheap pet chows and see how wheat is used as an all-purpose cheap filler for the masses. Change your diet, change your life! Feel better, live better! Literally, you are what you eat!