Is Your Food Making You Sick

As you know I have been focusing lately on handling my husbands’ celiac disease diagnosis.  It has taken time and a lot of learning for all of us to adjust our diet to accommodate this change.  I have been changing the recipes for the traditional Moroccan foods he loves to create a version he can eat. When I first start writing about this change I got a LOT of emails from people who were either personally making this adjustment or who had a family member who required similar changes. To be truthful it threw me for a loop. I didn’t realize how many people were struggling with this!

I asked my friend Nour who publishes Nourition and is a dietitian to guest post this week on the topic “Is Your Food Making You Sick?”  Maybe you remember but MarocBaba’s celiac diagnosis was discovered by me.  I had noticed when he would get sick and what he had eaten beforehand. After an elimination diet (and him feeling much better) we went to the doctor to get an official diagnosis.  At the time the doctor was trying to discover what was wrong by running a lot of (expensive) tests.  We were able to forgo those tests and save a lot of money.  I hope that Nour’s advice here will help and please keep in mind she also is available for one to one coaching and support as well.

Is Your Food Making You Sick? Part One

Amanda expressed that many of you have food allergies and asked me to write about them. Coincidentally, this is one of my specialties. I help individuals eliminate the pain, discomfort, and emotional toll that result from food sensitivities and intolerances so they get their lives back and start doing all the great things they love to do.

I’ll start by explaining the different ways your body can react to food: allergy, sensitivity, or intolerance.

Food allergy is a well-understood reaction in your body that involves the immune system. A food that would normally be recognized safe triggers your immune cells to react in a mechanism known as IgE. As a result, histamines are released from white blood cells, causing symptoms like tingling or itching in the mouth, swelling of lips, face and tongue, trouble breathing, eczema, hives, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and/or fainting. Sometimes, a food allergy can cause an anaphylactic reaction—constriction of airways, dropped blood pressure, loss of consciousness—that necessitates an ER trip to prevent death or coma.

Common allergy foods are peanuts and tree nuts, eggs, fish, shellfish, milk, and soy.

Food allergies are not pleasant. On the bright side though, they are easier to detect than the next type I’ll be talking about. The reaction occurs within a few minutes to two hours of ingesting the food, the allergic reaction is definitive, and any amount—tiny or large—triggers it. They’re caused by one mechanism in the body (IgE), making diagnosis tests for the allergist a bit simpler.

Food sensitivity is a reaction to food that also involves the immune system. However, this type of reaction is less understood compared to food allergies. In fact, some clinicians don’t believe in it. I do and I have the research to back me up. Different immune mechanisms are involved that are not IgE, so they’re called non-IgE reactions (if you want more details I’ll be happy to share). In food sensitivities, the reactions can be delayed for up to 3 days, depending on the dose—a tiny amount might be ok but a larger one is not, and the symptoms are often chronic that people get used to them and think of them as normal and just who they are. Some people with food sensitivities feel that something is off but they just can’t put their hands on it. Because sensitivities result from different mechanisms, it’s important that the test for them is inclusive. Food sensitivities cause irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, inflammatory arthritis, migraines and other headaches, eczema, chronic hives, ADD and ADHD, chronic fatigue, and depression. A body with unresolved food sensitivity is in a constant state of inflammation. Trigger foods can be food colorings, additives, or something as healthy as onions.

Food intolerance does not involve the immune system but rather the digestive system. Normally, your body has enzymes to digest food. In some people, the enzymes don’t function properly or not enough is available, and the food compound travels to the large intestines instead of being absorbed. There, the gut bacteria happily digest and ferment that food, and that’s what causes gas, bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. You might be familiar with lactose intolerance, but did you know other sugars could cause a similar effect? These simple carbohydrates are collectively labeled FODMAPs (Fermentable, Oligo-, Di- and Mono-saccharides and Polyols) and contribute to irritable bowel syndrome (gas, bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal pain). They’re found in many foods, such as dairy, fruits, vegetables, honey, and sweeteners (sorbitol, manitol, etc) usually found in sugar-free gum and cough drops. The solution is to pinpoint which of these types of small carbohydrate causes symptoms, and then eliminating its sources from your diet.

In the next post, I’ll give you more info about sensitivities and intolerances, as well as answer Amanda’s questions: what trigger foods to avoid and how to eat a balanced diet and make good choices when you have food allergies. 

Watch for Nour’s follow up post on Friday.  Be sure to visit her on Facebook and Twitter as well!


  Author Bio: Nour Zibdeh, MS RD CLT, is a nutrition coach who helps people with food sensitivities eliminate their  symptoms so they live without their pain and suffering. She also helps people who struggle with their weight, heart disease, food cravings, and emotional eating figure out what and how to eat to reach their health goals while eating intuitively, nourishing their bodies, and enjoying their food. Nour is originally from Jordan, a wife, and mom of two young boys. She can be reached at and blogs on nutrition and shares healthy recipes at