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Allergy Free Cooking - Intro

Allergy-free cooking seems to be a topic that crops up on a regular basis.  Lately  friends have suddenly needed to learn how to eliminate a certain food from their diet.  I can’t say I’m an expert but I am sure getting there.

My family has battled food allergies ever since I can remember.  I have one brother with a fairly severe allergy to blackberries (and similar berries) and another who is allergic to milk.  That was just the tip of the iceberg.  The allergy discoveries keep coming.

Over the years I have learned how to cook gluten-free and dairy free.  With my mom’s recently discovered food allergy, I am learning to cook without eggs.

We’ve decided to do another allergy trial this spring to see if we can narrow down the allergy that is affecting me.  While doing this, I thought it was a perfect time to share with you what I know.

I know that the world of food allergies seems new.  In some ways, it is.  We have altered our food and we have a different sort of access to it than our ancestors.  That coupled with our realization that food allergies exist, we’re discovering more and more people have food allergies or sensitivities.

I know I just threw in the word sensitivities and hadn’t mentioned it before.  The reason is this – I believe that if a food makes us sick then we are allergic to it.  However, medical science disagrees.  There are differences to an allergy and a sensitivity when it comes to diagnosis.  In the end, you should avoid that food.

The best way to determine if you will have a reaction to a food is to eliminate it from your diet.  Three weeks is best but one week will give you similar results.  Once you have eliminated it from your diet, then eat it – in as pure a form as you can.  If you become ill in any way, you may have a food allergy.  Before you are certain, you may want to avoid the food a couple of days and try again just in case there was another factor.

Food allergies do not all manifest in the same way.  This is important to know because we often think of anaphylactic shock (a severe reaction that causes the throat to swell) when we think of allergies.  That is a horrible and immediate reaction but if that’s the way your body would react – you’d already know by now.

Most allergies are subtle and many people tolerate the allergy or blame it on something else.  For example, gluten allergies often damage the lining of the intestines causing a general feeling of illness.  The damage could occur for a long time before a symptom shows up.

I do have one slight exception to the food allergy/sensitivity distinction – that’s the symptoms that occur with dairy.  There are two types of dairy allergy – a lactose allergy and a protein allergy.  A lactose allergy is not really an allergy but the inability to properly breakdown the sugar found in milk.  This causes gas to build up which results in pain and other obvious issues.  This is more along the lines of sensitivity because it’s not the body rejecting the food but a lack of the enzyme.  This is easily corrected by either eating dairy products that have the lactose broken down or adding enzymes to your body.  The symptoms are not caused by a histamine response.

Let me explain what a histamine response is because it just didn’t occur to me to share sooner.  The body has an amazing system for protecting its self from foreign bodies.  It works hard to keep us healthy.  When a foreign body invades the body has a plan in place.  When the foreign body is an allergen, the response is called a histamine response (it’s why we take antihistamines).  These can be as simple as the body trying to flush the allergen out with runny noses and watery eyes.

Unfortunately, sometimes this system goes wrong or overworks causing severe medical issues such as anaphylactic shock.  Other times, the histamine reaction becomes more destructive than helpful – such as in the gluten response that leaves the body destroying its own intestines.

I’m not a medical doctor so I can’t explain why.  I’m not even sure there is an explanation at this point in time.  I will say that the reactions to allergies are broad and it’s amazing when you learn how allergies make you sick.

This post is certainly going a different direction than I had originally thought so I will finish up with some symptoms and leave food substitutions to another post.

Knowing what symptoms other people have had can help you determine symptoms in your self.

Common reactions include – abdominal distress (pains, excessive gas, etc), runny or stuffy nose (brought on within hours of eating the food), headaches or migraines, swollen eyes, and fatigue.

Some less common reactions – depression, numbness, joint pain.

There are those out there that believe Autism or other disorders can be cured with a gluten/dairy free diet.  I, personally, believe that the symptoms the diet cured were not Autism but a food allergy.  Thus proving that some food allergies affect neurological functions.

My mother battled depression and recently discovered that it was an allergy to eggs.  The reaction was so severe that she wasn’t sure she would survive the night due to the bottomless pit she had sunk in to.  The next morning when the eggs had worked their way out of her body, she was back to what should have been normal her entire life.

Now if you have a neurological or emotion diagnosis – talk with your doctor before attempting to determine if your symptoms are caused by a food allergy.  Medication can affect your ability to determine your food reaction but you can’t just stop taking it to find out.  This is something you will have to work out with your doctor.  (Remember – I am not a doctor, I am sharing anecdotal evidence.)

Tomorrow, I will have an introduction to gluten free cooking and tips for a gluten free diet.