Straight out of the gate the four most problematic foods are gluten, dairy, eggs, and nuts, closely followed by corn. Having this vital piece of information early will serve us well as we move through the rest of this article. That said, the list of foods known to trigger a reaction is long and varied. As surprising as this may sound, many “trigger” foods are perceived to be healthy. To be clear, organic food has the potential to act as a trigger with the same intensity as its nonorganic counterpart. No really, it’s true.
I know what you are thinking because I’ve had the same thought — why would the immune system react like this to healthy organic food? First, let’s first back up and get a better understanding of what a reaction is and isn’t.
To describe any reaction to food, you may hear terms such as a food intolerance, food allergy, and food hypersensitivity. Often times they are used interchangeably. This is not only confusing, it’s also incorrect. Here’s why.
Food intolerances are relatively common and are said to affect one in five of us. Reactions can vary, but the immune system is not involved in a food intolerance. Trying to replicate a reaction to a known food intolerance is difficult. Not least because there can be any number of factors that contribute to the intolerance. Food intolerances are known as non-immunological reactions.
By comparison, food allergies or hypersensitivity are a reaction to a protein found in certain foods. This does involve the immune system. This type of reaction is less common and is believed to affect one in fifty of us.
The good news is, once we learn to recognize the connection between food and the way it makes us feel, it becomes an empowering tool. And here’s the not so good news..
Once the offending protein has been identified, a predictable reaction can then be replicated. With some degree of certainty, even a small amount of problem food will cause a reaction by the immune system. These types of reactions are known as immunological reactions.
As soon as your body has labeled a particular food as problematic, antigens are then made that ignite the immune response. Antibodies that bind to those antigens are then formed. To simplify, we could think of this process as the body highlighting any foreign invader it deems suspect. The body does this as a way to guide an attack by the immune system. So that the science bit out of the way but we still need to know why the immune system is doing this in relation to food.
To better understand, know that you aren’t the only one who likes to eat — so do bugs. Certain plants already know this, but they can’t exactly pick themselves up and run away. To keep themselves from being eaten alive, they have learned to adapt. Some plants now have the ability to produce small amounts of reactive chemicals. Depending on how sensitive your digestive system is, some people will react more violently to these chemicals than others.
Food in the nightshade family can cause a wide range of problems. It’s worth noting that there are more than 2000 plants in the nightshade family. Thankfully, the list of the ones you might want to eat is relatively short, here it is.
● White Potatoes (but not sweet)
● Goji Berries
● Peppers (bell peppers, chili peppers, paprika, tamales, tomatillos, pimentos, cayenne etc.)
● Tobacco (some people chew it)
Foods in the nightshade family are thought to weaken the tight joints in the small intestine. (Hello again cheeky-leaky gut). This allows tiny food particles (and excrement) to spill into the bloodstream. Now we have our trigger, we also get an increased hit of inflammation, I’ll go over inflammation in more detail later. For now, I want to keep our wellness puzzle neat and tidy and running in logical order. Hence the topics we have already covered are now beginning to make sense.
The good news is if you commit to cutting out foods in the nightshade family you can expect to see an improvement in symptoms. Those symptoms may include (but are not limited to) joint pain such as arthritis, fatigue, and muscle pain and tightness. Are you catching this joint pain sufferer?
If this is you, try eliminating foods in the nightshade family for 30 days and watch what happens. A quick word of warning, this isn’t something you can do halfheartedly. Why?
Once the immune system has been spooked, it’s always on red alert. This means you can’t cheat even a teeny weeny little bit. Everywhere you go, so does your immune system. This is something to be mindful of particularly if you don’t feel well after eating. Geesh, do you see how this is all beginning to link together?
Unfortunately, foods that are capable of triggering an adverse reaction aren’t confined to the nightshade family. As we have some ground to cover let’s leave nightshades for the moment and take a closer look at types of food mold.
In one form or another, we are all exposed to low levels of food mold. This isn’t just the mold we see growing on stale bread. It’s often too small to see with the naked eye and just about any food is susceptible. There is a school of thought that suggests that a peanut allergy may in part be due to the mold found on peanuts. While the nut debate remains speculative, I thought it an interesting addition to the subject.
In sensitive individuals, repeated exposure to any kind of food mold will make the diagnostic process quite challenging. Hence once again, awareness becomes key. Low-level exposure to food mold can present itself as headaches or brain fog. Higher levels can result in more serious problems.
With so many everyday foods prone to mold, even coffee can become a culprit. EU countries, South Korea, and Japan have strict regulations regarding levels of mold found in coffee. Ironically, in the U.S. and Canada, there are no such limits. Whats up with that?
If you are a coffee drinker, be sure to get your coffee as a whole bean and grind it up yourself. Beans with the least amount of mold often come from the higher elevations.
Lectins are extremely problematic for anyone with a suspected autoimmune condition. Although you may not have heard of lectins, scientists have known about them since 1884. Lectins are found in abundance in certain fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, legumes, milk, and members of the yup, they are also in the nightshade family (and hello again to you Mr. potato).
Lectins (not leptins) are a type of protein that can bind to cell membranes. They are sugar-binding and become the “glyco” portion of glycol-conjugates on the membranes. Some research suggests that cutting out lectins can reduce autoimmune symptoms to the point where they become manageable.
There are literally thousands of versions of lectins but not all of them are truly problematic. The ones that are capable of causing any irritation to the gut lining are the ones to watch out for. The worst offenders, deemed to have vastly higher lectin contents are listed below.
FOODS HIGH IN LECTINS
● All grains and cereals
● Nightshades, including tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and eggplant
● Gluten from wheat, rye, barley, malt. (Maybe even oat on occasion because of cross-contaminated during processing)
● Beans and legumes, including soy and peanut. Cashews are considered part of the bean family
● All dairy, including milk, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, and kefir
● Yeast (except brewer’s yeast and nutritional)
● To be on the safe side, fruits should be restricted during the first 30-day trial period and then gradually reintroduced.
For whatever reason, some people are more likely to have sensitive reactions to lectins than others. In most cases, seeds can be notoriously hard to digest. Perhaps mother nature constructed them that way to ensure that any animal eating the seed will later poop it out intact. For us humans, soaking seeds until they sprout a tail can help with digestion.
Foods with lower levels of lectins include mushrooms, broccoli, onions, bok choy, cauliflower, leafy greens, pumpkin, squash, sweet potato, carrots, and asparagus, as well as berries, citrus fruits, pineapple, cherries, and apples.
You can also add to this list animal protein from fish, seafood, eggs, meat, and poultry, as well as fats from olive oil, avocado, and butter — all of which have low levels of lectins. Before you throw yourself under a number 53 bus, know that you can reduce your overall lectin intake by cooking with a pressure cooker, I’ll touch on this again later. Moving along nicely, let’s take a closer look at grains capable of triggering the immune system.
Today, grains are found in everything from pasta to spice mixes, cakes to processed meats, and even salad dressing. The list is impossibly long so it’s important to note that they can be found in just about any subset of food. Because of the way grains are stored when harvested, they can also be susceptible to hidden molds. For some, any grain can become a problem but the one I’m sure you have already heard of is gluten.
While some people may believe that going gluten-free is some kind of new fad, the discovery of this problem grain was actually first made in Holland by professor Willem-Karel Dicke back in the early 1950s.
Gluten is the seed of wheat and an insoluble protein composite. In plain English, this simply means it’s difficult for the digestive system to break down. If I were a betting man (which I’m not), I’d bet that grains are, at least in part, contributing to most of the symptoms in the gut. “All Disease Begins in The Gut.” — Hippocrates.
As mentioned earlier, an intolerance to gluten isn’t the same thing as an allergy. An intolerance is the lesser of the two evils and it can certainly rear its head in any number of ways. But comparing a gluten intolerance to an allergy is the equivalent of comparing a very bad sunburn to a third-degree burn.
A true allergy to gluten becomes a more serious autoimmune condition known as celiac disease. This results in damage to the small intestine whenever gluten is ingested.
A common mistake people often make when they are told they have an issue with gluten is they then load up on gluten-free bread or gluten-free cookies. But, wait, that’s good, right? Meh, not so fast.
Once you have a problem with gluten you have a spectacularly higher probability of reacting negatively to other grains. Simply switching to a different grain that doesn’t contain gluten is like switching to a different pack of cigarettes.
Some people have an immediate and noticeable reaction to gluten; others have a delayed reaction that can occur gradually over several days. This type of disconnect becomes more challenging to deal with.
If you suspect you have a problem with gluten, the easiest way to test it is to go totally grain free for thirty days. After thirty days, watch what happens as you reintroduce grains into your diet. Yup, you could also get tested by your doctor, but any treatment is going to involve a strategy of total avoidance.
You might wonder why gluten is suddenly getting so much heat when bread dates back to biblical times. That’s a nice thought and I’m going to award you five points for effort. But you are perhaps thinking of wheat as being three feet tall and blowing gently in the wind. Am I right?
Sadly, those types of romantic golden wheat fields are long gone. They have been replaced by a much smaller, genetically modified version. To add to the problem, this type of wheat is often soaked with a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide known as glyphosate (Roundup). Is it me, or is Roundup beginning to cause more problems than it was intended to solve?
We could easily fill up the rest of our time together talking about problems relating to glyphosate and gluten. But for simplicity’s sake, let’s agree that for many, gluten avoidance has the potential to bring huge health benefits.
However, to do this right, we need to stop looking at this as being gluten-free and go completely grain free. This is the single biggest reason people with gluten problems fail to see progress.
Tip — To help you on your way, check out a book called Against All Grain by Danielle Walker. It’s packed with good ideas and healthy recipes.
Below is a list of foods believed to cause approximately 90% of all food allergies. Take a look and ask yourself which of these foods you consume on a regular basis?
Wheat and other grains with gluten, including barley, rye, and oats
● Milk and milk related products, yogurt, and cheese
● Peanuts (prone to molds)
● Tree nuts, like walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, brazil nuts, and pecans
● Fish (mostly in adults)
● Shellfish (mostly in adults)
● Food additives
Finally, I’d like you to hear the remarkable story of Dr. Terry Wahls.
Dr. Wahls was once a patient with a chronic, progressive disease and found herself confined to a wheelchair. As a qualified doctor, she used all her medical connections to the fullest. Even so, her condition got steadily worse.
In desperation, she tried a new path that included avoiding certain trigger foods. Today she walks free. Coming from a doctor I found her TED Talk fascinating.
What did we learn from this?
Once you have a spooked immune system, food can become an exploding minefield. To complicate matters, some of these trigger foods are often perceived as being healthy organic foods.
Like what you read? Please check out my book.