food sensitivities
Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS

Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS

Award-winning nutritionist and New York Times bestselling author.

June 26, 2015

Are Food Sensitivities Sabotaging Your Health?

How to reboot your system with simple food swaps and diet tweaks.

A secret epidemic of hidden food allergies is raging. This complicated issue has tormented many of my clients over the years, people who can’t figure out why they have headaches, stomach aches, fatigue, low blood cholesterol, low blood levels of Vitamins D and K, and zinc, dermatitis, and various types of abdominal pain. All manner of gut grief mysteriously plagues their daily lives with no obvious cause.

Food sensitivities are difficult to discern for several reasons. First of all, you may be sensitive to a wide variety of foods. So you just can’t eliminate one food and expect your problems to vanish. Secondly, many individuals don’t have problems that show up right away.  Delayed food responses can manifest up to two days after the “toxic” food was ingested, so many would never suspect their symptoms were tied to food.  So we have to do some detective work to find the culprits.

And, food allergies can be scary. If you are allergic to peanuts, for example, eating a peanut or peanut butter will cause an immediate, obvious reaction—wheezing, hives or digestive upset—that points directly to the source. About 11 million Americans have these kinds of food allergies, including 6 percent of children less than 3 years old and 3 to 4 percent of adults. Each year about 30,000 people receive life-saving treatment in emergency rooms after suffering from severe allergic reactions to food.

While digestive challenges like Irritable Bowel Syndrome as well as heartburn/GERD, constipation, and diarrhea have all been linked with food sensitivities, there is a whole array of baffling symptoms that can spread far beyond just the digestive tract:

  • Unexplained mood swings and mental problems such as panic attacks, attention deficit disorder, depression, irritability and nervousness
  • Persistent pain, such as headaches, joint pain, muscle aches, arthritis
  • Mucous problems, such as congested nose and sinuses, runny nose, persistent phlegm, constant sneezing
  • Puffy eyes, dark bags and swelling beneath the eyes
  • Weight that yo-yos up and down every day by as much as 5 pounds; edema
  • Chronic fatigue and extreme tiredness after eating
  • Meniere’s disease, an inner ear problem causing tinnitus and vertigo

Risk Factors for Food Sensitivities

Ninety percent of food allergies and sensitivities stem from the most common reaction-producing foods: wheat, milk, corn, unfermented soy and peanuts.  In some cases, like peanuts for example, a true allergy can lead to anaphylactic shock, a deadly allergic response in which the body releases histamines, causing tissues to swell, inhibiting breathing and interfering with blood flow, and sometimes leading to heart failure. Make no mistake, allergies can be fatal.

Delayed “food sensitivities” are especially problematic because most health practitioners are not aware enough to recognize or want to look for them. So, let’s take a look at some of the most common underlying factors that promote food sensitivity issues:

Antibiotics. A double-edged sword, the overuse of antibiotics attacks our probiotic bacteria, which adds to an already challenging “full-blown” allergy situation. Since probiotics in the gut moderate our immune responses, it only makes sense that they also moderate allergic reactions, restraining the overreacting inflammations of the immune system.

Too much of a few foods. The more we eat of a potentially-reactive food, the more likely we are to become sensitive to that food because of constant reactions which eventually break down the immune system. That’s another reason that I find today’s typical diet so disturbing.

Lactose, casein, and various chemical intolerances. Lactose or milk sugar intolerance is the most common food intolerance and one of the most frequently bemoaned sources of gut grief. This condition affects one in ten Americans whose bodies can’t make lactase, the enzyme that breaks down the lactose in milk. Another prevalent food intolerance is linked to the protein casein which is found in milk and all cheese products.

The Gut Flush Food Sensitivity Protocol

For most of us, sensitivities seem to cluster around a few commonly-consumed foods, mostly wheat, corn, and milk. Interestingly, there may also be herbs and spices that you have a reaction to and are simply not aware of. For example, black pepper is a commonly found spice intolerance.  If you suspect food sensitivities are derailing your health, try the following suggestions to help tip the balance in your favor.

Learn to speak the lingo. If you think you’re sensitive to ingredients like MSG, learn about its alternate names on labels. On packaging, MSG may be referred to as hydrolyzed soy protein, autolyzed plant protein, or hydrolyzed vegetable protein. Unfortunately, MSG may even be something as seemingly innocuous as “natural flavorings.”

Practice an elimination diet. When you think you are sensitive to a particular food, an elimination diet can help you identify the problem more precisely. Follow this process to systematically narrow down your list of suspects:

  • Choose a food that you commonly eat and eliminate it first.
  • Eliminate all dishes made with this food from your meals at home.
  • When shopping, read labels to see if any undesirable ingredient is listed.
  • In restaurants, always consult with your server about the preparation of your food. You can’t always tell from the menu exactly what’s in a dish. Explain your problem and the restaurant should accommodate your special needs.
  • Continue to eliminate the suspected food for at least two to three weeks, keeping a simple log to help you notice if your symptoms ease.
  • If they disappear, briefly reintroduce the food and see if symptoms return.
  • If they do, you know you need to permanently eliminate that food from your diet.

Focus on “safe” foods.  Enough of my clients have shown risk factors for gluten sensitivity that when I see the first blush of symptoms, I usually recommend they eliminate gluten from their diets. To be honest, aside from a bit of a learning curve, there is truly no nutritional downside. The upside is, even if you don’t have a bonafide gluten sensitivity, you’ll automatically be eating fewer corrosive carbohydrates, which can only help you fortify and flush your gut even faster.

Ease food sensitivities by easing stress. Studies have shown that exercise and other stress reducing strategies can help alleviate or moderate allergies. Try a few of these strategies to immediately help manage fallout from your food sensitivities:

  • Walk daily. Thirty minutes of walking a day can reduce stress, tone your immune system and reduce your risk of allergies
  • Have a massage once a week. The easy, rhythmic experience of a massage can help improve blood circulation and ease anxiety.
  • Take a yoga class twice a week. Ask your instructor for particular yoga postures can boost circulation, tone muscles and ease health problems linked to excess stress
  • Focus on your breathing. Research on meditation shows that easy, controlled breathing may help the body deal with allergies. First thing in the morning, don’t just pop out of bed– slowly breathe in and out, focusing on the movements of your diaphragm. Spend at least 3 to 5 minutes consciously relaxing and breathing.

Take fish oil and GLA on a daily basis. Fish oil and gamma linolenic acid (GLA) are natural anti-inflammatories and may modulate allergy-type symptoms. The essential fatty acids play a key role in cardiovascular, brain, joint, and immune system health.

Allow antioxidants to do their work. Antioxidants help the body cope with any aftereffects of allergic reactions and fight oxidative stress.  I personally recommend Oxy-5000 from UNI KEY which contains catalase, superoxide dismutase, glutathione, N-acetyl cysteine, L-Cysteine, Vitamin B2, Vitamin E, and Thioproline.

Do you suffer from a food sensitivity? What measures have you taken to restore your GI health?

Related Articles and Podcasts

Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS, is an award-winning New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty books including The Fat Flush Plan series and her latest book, Radical Metabolism. She’s been rewriting the rules of nutrition for more than 40 years and is internationally recognized as a pioneer in the field of diet, detox and women’s health issues. 

For a FREE daily dose of tips and strategies for maintaining healthy weight, conquering insomnia, and much more…check out my Radical Health Tips.

I’d like to meet and greet you on my Facebook groups, so won’t you check us out at the Radical Metabolism RevolutionFat Flush Nation, or my Inner Circle!


  1. Lisa L.

    It makes a lot of sense that stress would get connected to food allergies. Thank you for all the practical and helpful suggestions to track down the cause of this problem.

  2. Arlene D.

    I’ve struggled for many years with lots of food allergies. You have such practical suggestions for conquoring them. You blog has been tremendously insightful for me. Thank you.

  3. Sunny C

    I don’t have food sensitivities but I’m under lots of stress. I’m going to try to follow all your tips for balancing my life and reducing the effects of the stress. They are all doable and enjoyable activities for me. Thank you Ann Louise, I’ve read most of your books and loved them.

  4. Nutrition Pro

    Ann Louise, I’ve been a fan for many years and always learn so much from following your blogs. You have always been on the cutting edge with your information. I can use your suggestions in my own nutrition practice. Thanks for all you do!

  5. Sally

    I have been following your Gut Flush Plan and it has reduced my food allergies. Lots of good ideas in here too. I will take your suggestions from this blog too.

  6. Linda M

    Wow,this blog explains so much. My husband has both tinnitus and vertigo. He’s been under a lot of stress for many years. We never thought it could be related to a food allergy. This is really good information. We will investigate this possibility. Thanks!

  7. Betsy

    I am guilty of eating a lot of the same foods. I eat a lot of eggs, which I thought were good for me but come to find out I may be having a problem with the sulfur in the eggs. I have gone to once a week with the eggs and I feel better.

  8. Melinda.

    I never knew about taking GLA for inflammation from my food sensitivities, but it makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the info.!

  9. Ryan

    The information on the different forms of MSG is enlightening. I suspect I have an allergy because many times I don’t feel good after I have Chinese food. I will start checking labels for other forms of it. Thanks!

  10. Alyce

    I have swelling underneath my eyes which I thought was from lack of sleep. It is interesting that it could be related to a food allergy. I will start with the common foods you listed and see if the bags disappear. You always have great information, thank you!

  11. Melisa

    It’s so interesting that taking antioxidants can help with allergies. I do get sinus drainage when I have dairy. I just looked at the Oxy5000 and it looks like a powerful antioxidant. I am planning to try it.

  12. David

    As my stress has increased, my food allergies have gotten worse. I’ll try the antioxidant you are recommending. Thanks.

  13. Shari

    I know it will be helpful to do the food elimination diet. I have sensitivities but haven’t been able to pin them down.

  14. Darlene

    This is very interesting. I’m going to try going gluten free. Thank you for the information.


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  1. Focus on Gut Health to Boost your Immunity and Feel Healthier - […] Food sensitivities are difficult to discern for several reasons. You may be sensitive to a wide variety of foods,…

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