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When the foods you love don't love you

Posted May 25 2010 12:00am
Imagine a food you really enjoy, one you eat almost every day and can’t picture living without. Now think: what would you do if you found out that food was making you sick?

It’s one of life’s ironies that we often develop intolerances to some of our favorite foods. I’m not talking about allergic reactions, which may involve a food you rarely eat and can cause a life-threatening immune system response like swelling or hives, constricted breathing, or even loss of consciousness. A relatively small percentage of people have true food allergies. Intolerances affect a much greater number of us, and the symptoms tend to be less extreme, but damaging nonetheless.

Food intolerances often cause nagging health problems that persist for years with no obvious explanation, like digestive discomfort, eczema, migraine headaches, mood swings, fatigue, or joint pain. You may never think to connect these symptoms with a food you regularly eat.

So why do our favorite go-to foods, like wheat, dairy, eggs, and nuts, often turn out to be the ones that create trouble for us?

It could be for that very reason: we eat them day in and day out.

If we ate according to nature’s schedule, the way people have traditionally done, we’d be forced to take a break from these foods during parts of the year when our supplies ran out. For example, we wouldn’t eat eggs during the short days of winter, because that’s when chickens stop laying. (No, chickens don’t naturally produce eggs all year ‘round. We bathe them in artificial light so they meet our constant demand.)

But since modern food production has enabled us to have any food any time we want, we eat the same foods every day, thus exposing our digestive systems to the same irritants over and over without giving our bodies a chance to rest and heal.

There’s hope, however. Not everyone with food intolerances will have to avoid their problem foods for the rest of their lives. Some people are able to manage food intolerances with digestive enzymes or hydrochloric acid supplements. Others find they can handle small amounts of the problem food, just not large quantities.

A few nutritionists have even suggested that avoiding a problem food altogether for a certain length of time may “re-set” the digestive system, enabling you to eat the food again in the future without consequences. (Of course, people with true food allergies, or those who have celiac disease , the permanent inability to digest gluten, should never experiment in this way unless under a doctor’s direct supervision.)

Or maybe you will have to give up your favorite food forever. But if that food is causing you misery, you have to weigh the pleasure of eating it against the price you’ll pay later. In fact, isn’t this what we all do on some level, conscious or not, with any food that isn’t working for us - whether it’s a greasy doughnut or a second slice of pizza? Is that extra pizza really worth the heartburn you know it’s going to cause?

Only you can make that decision.

For more on food intolerances vs. food allergies, check out this article on WebMd .

Text copyright © 2010 Eleanor Kohlsaat LLC

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