Are Your Food Choices Making You Ill?

Monday, June 7, 2010
Have you thought about doing an "elimination diet" to find the triggers that are setting off chronic health symptoms?

Removing common allergens from your diet? Be sure to avoid them in less obvious places too: in your supplement bottles and prepackaged foods. Many supplement manufacturers use dairyor wheat-based binders and artificial colorings in their products. If you’re allergic to corn, you have even more detective work to do. Most processed foods include corn as a hidden ingredient, which can appear on labels in many forms, including citric and lactic acid, glucose, fructose, maltodextrin, ethanol (in alcohol), sorbitol, mannitol, xanthan gum, modified and unmodified starches, dextrins, cyclodetrins and MSG.
— Source: Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma)

Are chronic digestive issues, general aches and pains, sinusitis, mood issues, or skin problems getting you down? Look no further than your refrigerator or pantry to find the potential culprit. Food sensitivities are common causes of many stubborn, chronic health symptoms. An elimination diet can help.

“People know that foods like wheat and dairy are common food allergens, but what surprises many people are all the symptoms that can be connected with those foods,” says Michelle Babb, MS, RD, CD, a nutritionist at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, the teaching clinic of Bastyr University.

Although this doesn’t sound like good news, it can be a life-changing discovery. “I’ve seen elimination diets resolve patients’ health issues completely,” Babb says. “I’ve seen people become able to stop taking pain medications. It’s actually rarer to not see someone’s issues improve after an elimination diet.”

An elimination diet involves the short-term removal of any potential food allergens (such as wheat, dairy, corn and soy) as well as artificial sweeteners and colorings. Patients usually eat a “clean” diet of whole, unprocessed foods (preferably organic) and avoid caffeine, sugar, alcohol and chocolate. Although many variations of the diet exist, it is best to follow a plan developed specifically for you by a trained nutritionist or naturopathic physician. Babb instructs people to avoid all of the common food allergens for three weeks before starting the process of reintroducing foods one at a time. Food reintroductions can take three to six weeks.

This doesn’t mean you have to eat joylessly or starve (although some weight loss can be a side benefit of an elimination diet); you can find plenty of options for cooking and shopping for delicious foods with the right guidance and support. Bastyr Center offers many helpful resources for the elimination dieter, including guided shopping tours, recipes, lists of qualified prepared foods, and frequent check-ins to discuss obstacles and victories. “Because of the many resources we offer, we set people up to be very successful, and they go into it feeling like they have a lot of food choices,” Babb says.

And if you discover that certain foods do, in fact, cause or aggravate your health issues, you have choices. “Usually what I tell people is that it doesn’t mean they have to eliminate these things forever,” Babb says. “Maybe some of these foods are something they can tolerate on a rotating basis or have fewer times a week.”

“However,” she adds, “most people find that eating differently – even if it’s permanent – is a far better option than feeling like they did before they identified their food sensitivities.”

To learn more about food sensitivities, make an appointment at Bastyr Center by calling (206) 834-4100.

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