Monday, November 14, 2011
Identify the Food Sensitivities That Slow You Down
Here’s how I discovered the effect food sensitivities have on energy. It was around 1990 and I had recently started my career in health and fitness at the Equinox Fitness Clubs in New York City. I had a small basement office in the beautiful Equinox building in the Flatiron district of New York, where I was seeing clients for nutritional counseling.
A friend named Mary came in. “I’m really fit”, she said, “and I eat really well. But I simple can’t seem to lose weight. Oh, and by the way, I’ve had these headaches ever since I was a little girl. They come and go, they drain my energy, and I can never work out when I have the. Got any ideas?”
Well, my first idea is usually this, especially when weight loss is stalled: Go back to basics. Eat food you can hunt, fish, gather, or pluck – i.e., food that isn’t processed. Then see what happens. Mary tried an elimination diet: no wheat, dairy, or sugar. No bread, no milk, you know the drill.
Fast forward a couple of weeks. Mary came back in, happy as a proverbial clam. “I got off my plateau and started losing”, she told me excitedly. And then, almost as a afterthought, she added: “Oh, and by the way, the weirdest thing happened. I haven’t had a headache, and my energy is through the roof!”.
DEATH TO ENERGY RESERVES
So here’s the deal. Allergies are only one small piece of the pie when it comes to your body telling you about foods it doesn’t like. Only about foods it doesn’t’ like. Only about 5 percent of the population has what’s considered classic food allergies, where there is an immediate, measurable, observable, physical response to a food or substance (if you prick their skin with the substance, you will almost immediately see a rash develop). But a huge percentage of people have something else – delayed food sensitivities. And those are death to your energy reserves.
The difficulty in identifying delayed food sensitivities is that they are exactly as advertised – delayed. You might eat the offending food at lunch, and then early in the evening (or even the next day) find yourself dragging, or feeling bloated, or having brain fog where you can’t seem to shake yourself alert. But by then, you no longer associate the low-energy feeling with the food the triggered it (if you even remember eating it in the first place!).
Symptoms of food sensitivities run the gamut from the above mentioned items to annoying muscle aches and headaches (as in Mary’s case). They almost always sap your energy, sometimes immediately, sometimes later, sometimes mildly, sometimes a lot.
What to do, what to do?
START WITH THE USUAL SUSPECTS
Nutrition and holistic health professions abound with partisans of various kinds of food testing and “allergy” (actually delayed food sensitivity) testing. Some are really good (the ALCAT test and the LEAP test in particular; see resources), and some are not so good. Many are expensive and frequently need someone to help you interpret them. (“But, doc, this says I’m highly sensitive to asparagus and I never eat asparagus!”)
Fortunately, there’s a really easy, low-tech way to test yourself for food sensitivities. And guess what? It doesn’t cost anything.
You start with what I call “the usual suspects”. My friend Elson Haas, M.D., author of The False Fat Diet, calls them “the sensitive seven”. They’re the usual suspects because the majority of people (not all, but most) who have food sensitivities find that one of these (or several of these) is the offending food or ingredient. (If that’s the case, bingo! Case closed!)
If, however, eliminating these seven doesn’t improve your energy, you might want to consult with a health professional about more extensive food sensitivity testing if you believe that food sensitivities are at the bottom of your lowered energy state. But I can tell you this - a huge, double-digit percentage of people will see their energy improve a lot by eliminating these seven foods and food groups.
Here’s the list of what Haas calls the “sensitive seven”.
1. Wheat (and/or all grains)
2. diary (especially milk and cheese)
7. Citrus fruits
Now a word about number one on the list-grains. I know that I’m about to say may sound like heresy in a world the gets most of its calories from grains, and in a country whose nutritional policy is based on a food pyramid that puts grains at the center of any healthy diet. But I’ve never shied away from controversy, and I’m not going to start now: Grains are just not a great food for many people. If you’re one of them – and there are many more of you than you might think – eating grains is going to be an energy disaster.
Here’s why. Most grains* (wheat, barley, rye, spelt, durum, and semolina) contain a sticky, gluey substance called gluten. If you’re gluten-sensitive and you eat gluten, watch out. You certainly won’t have optimal energy, and you may have a host of other unpleasant (or even worse) symptoms as well.
There is a serious digestive disease called celiac disease that is pretty much defined by a complete intolerance to gluten. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine and interferes with the absorption of nutrients. We used to think it was rare; we now known it occurs in approximately 1 percent of the world’s populations, and in even higher rates in some countries (about 1 in 133 people in the United States) .
Even without full-blown celiac disease, you may have gluten sensitivity. My great friend, the nutritional scientist Shari Lieberman, Ph.D., C.N.S., has written the definitive book on the far-ranging symptoms that can be triggered by gluten sensitivity (The Gluten Connection: How Gluten Sensitivity Can Be Sabotaging Your Health-And What You Can Do to Take Control Now). To those who are sensitive to gluten, “bread is not the staff of life”, Lieberman says, “it is a slow-working poison”.
Personally, I’ve seen some major action on the energy front when people just remove grains and dairy from their diet (and even more action energetically when they remove sugar as well). Give it at least two weeks (three is better) and see what you think.
I’m willing to bet it’ll make a great difference in your energy.
*According to Lieberman, oats don’t actually contain gluten, but because of widespread cross-contamination from fields in which wheat has been grown, or processing in plants that refine wheat, they may not be safe for gluten-sensitive individuals unless certified to be gluten-free.