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Intuitive Eating + Food Allergy

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Proper nutrition, much like medicine, does not have a one-size-fits-all approach. In fact, what works for one person may not work for another. This is also why fad diets often don’t work. 

One of the more recent nutrition concepts that extends into counseling practices is Intuitive Eating, which encourages us to steer away from the diet mentality, and instead embrace positive lifestyle behaviors. The authors and dietitians behind Intuitive Eating, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, first wrote about the concept in 1995, publishing what is today the best-known book for helping rebuild healthy body images and restoring normal healthy eating behaviors. 

When I hear diet talk from friends, family, and clients, I’m often conflicted. On the one hand, I applaud the perceived need to change. On the other hand, I know scientifically that diets don’t often work; behavior and lifestyle changes are what stick. There is an overwhelming body of scientific literature that offers insight as to why our bodies fight diets. So if diets don’t work, then how do we make healthier, long lasting, and positive lifestyle changes? Here’s where Intuitive Eating comes into play. 

I like to compare Intuitive Eating to your best self-care day—it’s listening exactly to what your body needs, accepting it, nourishing it, and moving on. It’s giving your body the nutrients it needs while listening to your internal cues. 

The following are the 10 main ideas behind Intuitive Eating: 

1.   Reject the diet mentality. Get rid of the ideas and materials (books, magazines, etc.) that encourage and offer false hope of quick weight loss. 

2.   Honor your hunger. Physically and biologically feed your body the adequate energy it needs to function properly. Build trust in yourself that your body will tell you exactly what it needs. 

3.   Make peace with food. Give yourself permission to eat and abolish food rules. No foods are forbidden (unless you have a food allergy, that is). More on that later!

4.   Challenge the food police. Don’t applaud yourself for only eating x number of calories or feel guilty for eating that piece of birthday cake. 

5.   Respect your fullness. Really listen to the body signals that tell you you’re full. 

6.   Discover the satisfaction factor. Savor the foods that bring you joy and pleasure. You’ll typically find you end up eating less of that “forbidden” food because you took the time to savor it. 

7.   Honor your feelings without using food. Stress, anxiety, and boredom are some of the feelings that are often responsible for triggering emotional eating. Instead, pay attention to your emotional responses. 

8.   Respect your body. Accept your genes. You would never force your feet into the wrong shoes. Give your body the respect it deserves. 

9.   Exercise. Focus on how you feel while working out. If you hate it, try something new. Look at the true motivation behind your workout—is it to lose weight? Feel an endorphin high? Reduce stress?

10.  Honor your health. Make food choices that honor your health, but that also make you feel good. You don’t have to have a perfect diet. Remember, it’s progress over time that matters, not any one meal or one day that will make the difference. 

Over time, I’ve grown curious as to how food allergies, intolerances, and other medical conditions might apply to a philosophy like Intuitive Eating, which challenges us to actively listen to our bodies’ dietary needs. Initially it seemed counterintuitive to combine the two: one teaches us that we should intuitively feed our body what it needs/wants, while the other requires us to avoid certain foods for medical purposes. 

But what if Intuitive Eating could unlock greater freedom, patience, and kindness towards their bodies for those with food allergies?

Intrigued? Let’s dig into the details. 

Diets don’t work for a variety of reasons. Scientifically, when you restrict food or are on a diet, your brain produces something called neuropeptide Y, which triggers your brain to crave carbohydrates. Familiar with that feeling you get at 11am because you skipped breakfast? Pay a little thank you to your brain. It’s physically reminding you that you haven’t eaten and that you need to feed it carbohydrates because they are our body’s primary and preferred source of energy. When the body is in a deficit, we are physically depriving it of the calories and nutrients it needs to function. 

This isn’t to say all diets are bad. In particular, medically-prescribed diets are often extremely helpful and medically necessary for those suffering from food allergies, intolerances, and other medical conditions. However, many diets end up depriving your body of the vital nutrients it needs to function properly. The more you deny your hunger and fight your natural biology, the stronger and more intense these food cravings can become. 

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you either suffer from a food allergy or intolerance, or care for someone who does. Food allergies force us to eliminate foods or food groups to keep us safe. Intuitive Eating encourages us to ditch all food-related rules. How do you reconcile the two? What about challenging the idea that food allergies are a limitation, and instead, thinking of your food allergy as part of your body’s intuition? By reframing the way you think about your food allergy, you acknowledge your food cravings and indulge in the foods that your body CAN tolerate. Craving ice cream but have a dairy allergy? Search out dairy-free ice cream alternatives—there are a lot of comparable ones out there that are delicious and will do the trick. This way you honor your cravings, while respecting your body’s intuitive dietary boundaries. 

If you’re curious to learn more about Intuitive Eating, here are a few resources:

1.     https://www.intuitiveeating.org

2.     10 principles explained in depth: https://www.intuitiveeating.org/10-principles-of-intuitive-eating/

3.    Additional resources: https://www.intuitiveeating.org/resources/articles/

Rebecca Noren is on the Allergy Amulet health advisory board and works with chef Ming Tsai. Rebecca holds a master's degree in nutrition and is a registered dietitian. She is dedicated to bringing her expertise in public relations, marketing, and culinary production to the intersection of food, health, and food allergies. 

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Humans Are Pooping Plastic

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Got your attention? Thought so. 😉

If you’re thinking, What does poop have to do with food allergies? First, food allergies affect our health and diet, which implicates our digestive tract. Number two, research is increasingly looking to the gut for answers around the rise in food allergies. For these reasons, we thought the topic was a-poo-priate. 💩

This past summer, Austrian researchers reported that the deluge of plastic entering our environment is now entering our stool. That’s right—plastic has been discovered in 114 aquatic species90% of seabirds, and now, evidently, in us. 

As part of this first-of-its-kind study, researchers followed eight volunteers from a handful of European countries, tracked their consumption habits, and then sampled their stool. Small fibers of plastic—known as microplastics—were found in all participants’ feces to varying degrees, amounting to the first documentation of plastic in human feces to date. The findings confirmed what many scientists have long suspected: we’re eating plastic.

Scientists are now grappling with the health implications, which are largely unknown. Microplastics are capable of damaging the reproductive and gastrointestinal systems in sea life, but little is known about their impact on humans.

On average, 13 billion microplastic particles enter US waterways every day through the municipal water supply. An estimated 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans each year. The latter bulk of plastic gets broken down into smaller bits, which are eaten by smaller organisms, and make their way up the food chain.

How does this relate to the food allergy and intolerance community? 

First, we know that immune health is closely tied to food allergies and intolerances. Experts have found that plastic in the gut can suppress the immune system and increase the likelihood of gastrointestinal diseases like inflammatory bowel disease. Second, research has shown that exposure to phthalates, which are found in many plastics, can increase childhood risk of allergies. According to the lead researcher of the study, Dr. Philipp Schwabi: “[my] primary concern is the human impact… especially [on] patients with gastrointestinal diseases.” He notes that “the smallest particles are capable of entering the bloodstream, the lymphatic system and may even reach the liver.”

While research on the human impact of plastic is still early, one thing is clear: plastic may be harming our immune systems, which could potentially implicate our body’s ability to tolerate and digest certain foods.

We’re eating our waste—that much is clear. Now the question is, what are we going to do about it? 

-      Abi and the Allergy Amulet Team 

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Breaking Bread

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This past Christmas Eve, I listened to the soft sounds of Ave Maria and Silent Night waft through candlelit pews. My father has sung in a church choir ever since I was a child, like his father before him, so from a young age I was instilled with an appreciation for robed singers harmonizing centuries-old Latin hymns. I’m also a sucker for Christmas carols. 😉

As the communion bread was passed around among the pews, I thought about people who could not eat the bread—not because they weren’t baptized, but because they were allergic or intolerant.

Growing up, our family belonged to a small stone Episcopalian church on a grassy hill that could have been pulled out of the Scottish Highlands or a child’s storybook. At one point, we had a female priest, which was something of a rarity back then. Sermons routinely invoked global current affairs and the common values shared across religions, and everyone, regardless of creed, was welcome. We were a progressive church. The communion bread was also baked in the church kitchen and tasted heavenly. I’d walk up to the altar, cup my hands, and receive a hunk of doughy bread, which I’d dip into a chalice of wine. I can’t remember ever worrying about my food allergies during Sunday communion growing up. Plain bread as a kid was always considered safe. That has since changed. 

Today, 1 in 13 kids has a food allergy, and millions more have a gluten intolerance. We live in a different world from a couple decades back. The communion bread I ate growing up definitely contained wheat, although I never knew anyone that had a problem with gluten back then. These days, however, it seems as though at least one person at every dinner party is gluten-free. To accommodate, many churches now offer gluten-free bread with communion.

The rise of gluten-free products has been a double-edged sword for the nut-allergic like me: on the one hand, it has helped increase awareness and accommodations for those with food allergies and intolerances; on the other hand, nut substitutes (like almond flour) for wheat have become increasingly common. 

Years ago, I admittedly thought the spike in gluten-free products was more fad than the result of a growing severe medical condition. That all changed when I spoke to a woman at a food allergy conference years back who relayed the harrowing experience of her young son and how their family discovered his gluten intolerance. On Sundays, her son would develop debilitating migraines that would keep him bed ridden for days. As she described her experience, and his symptoms, I was horrified. Her family connected the dots back to the communion bread. “Gluten did that to your son!?” I thought. Unfortunately, their church wasn’t able to accommodate his gluten intolerance, and her family was forced to join another parish. 

At the Scottish storybook church, if you declined the bread or wine, you could fold your arms across your chest and receive a blessing from the priest. At the church I attended this Christmas Eve, communion bread was passed between parishioners in pews on trays, and wine (which turned out to be grape juice), was served in small plastic cups. Surprisingly, an individual blessing did not appear to be an alternative option. You’d think a simple blessing like this would be an option at all churches, allowing everyone to partake in communion and ensuring that the food allergic and intolerant aren’t left out.

Religion, like food, should bring people together. Breaking bread has long been a symbol of community and peace. That community piece is lost, however, if everyone isn’t afforded a seat at the table. 

- Abi & the Allergy Amulet Team

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Scientists Find Link Between Antacid & Antibiotic Exposure and Food Allergies & Asthma

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As someone who remembers (with disgust) that pink goo as a child (also known as the antibiotic amoxicillin), I read this headline in shock. Did that chalky bubble gum syrup make me more susceptible to developing food allergies and asthma?

Here’s what the scientists found. 

In a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers looked at approximately 800,000 infants that had ingested antibiotics or antacids in their first six months of life. They found that those exposed were more likely to develop food allergies or asthma. 

Babies are routinely prescribed antacids for regurgitating food or experiencing acid reflux after a feeding. This is very common in infants, so you can appreciate why this study is sending shockwaves throughout the parenting community!

The research hones in on how antacids and antibiotics affect an infant’s microbiome—that place where trillions of bacteria help aid in digestion, fight infection, and regulate the immune system. We know that antibiotics kill the bad bacteria that make us sick, but they also wipe out the good stuff that keeps us healthy. Antacids similarly can help ease digestion, but a less acidic stomach can alter the bacterial composition of the intestine and reduce protein digestion

The microbiome has been a hotbed of research lately—especially in the food allergy field. As we’ve discussed in a previous post, one of the leading theories behind the rise in food allergies is the impact that chemicals and medications are having on our microbiome and gut health—especially at a young age. We’ve also previously written on gut health and the important role the microbiome plays in healthy immune function.  

“This does not mean that infants should never get antacids or antibiotics,” Dr. Claire McCarthy notes in response to the study. “Antibiotics can be lifesaving for infants with bacterial infections, and there are situations when antacids can be extremely useful.” She adds though that both medications are often overprescribed and encourages doctors to “ask if it is truly necessary [to prescribe these medications]—and whether there are any alternative treatments that might be tried.” The lead author of the study, Dr. Edward Mitre, also recommended in light of the findings that “antibiotics and acid-suppressive medications should only be used in situations of clear clinical benefit.”

The recent surge in research surrounding gut health and the microbiome is a welcome trend, and one that will hopefully lead us to more concrete answers surrounding the origin of food allergies and how to mitigate or eliminate them altogether. 

- Abi and the Allergy Amulet Team

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Everything’s Coming Up… Rotten

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Something in our world is changing. Our bodies are rejecting the food we eat. Even the experts don’t really know why.

In January, Netflix debuted an original six-part documentary series titled Rotten. The series travels deep into the heart of the food supply chain to reveal more than a few unsavory truths about what we eat. Of particular interest to the Allergy Amulet team was the second part of the series: The Peanut Problem.

This episode surveys experts across different fields to understand why the US has witnessed a surge in food allergies in recent decades—more specifically, to peanuts.

According to Dr. Ruchi Gupta of Lurie Children’s Hospital, one in four kids with a food allergy is allergic to peanuts, and more than half of those kids have experienced a life-threatening allergic reaction. 

The problem has become so widespread, in fact, that the peanut industry is beginning to take action. Peanut farmers have started pouring millions of dollars into food allergy research to help address the problem. To date, the National Peanut Board has donated approximately $22M to food allergy research. One company is even developing an allergy-free peanut, which could be on the market as early as next year. 

Peanuts are in trouble. In only a few years they have seen their reputation transform.

The Rotten series artfully underscores the risks that dining out presents. Responsible for nearly half of food allergy fatalities, restaurants have emerged as battlegrounds for those managing food allergies. Chefs must routinely navigate these food allergy minefields—and most kitchens are ill-equipped for the job.

We bend over backwards to make sure our food is safe. Bend over backwards because it’s life and death. – Ming Tsai, Head Chef, Blue Dragon

Surprisingly, no one really knows what’s going on. Doctors are still struggling with what seems to be a simple question: why the increase in food allergies? And why now?

According to Dr. Gupta, it’s likely a combination of genetics and our environment, with environmental factors triggering changes to the composition of our microbiome.

Getting your immune system to know this is ok, that in and of itself would be incredible. – Dr. Ruchi Gupta, Lurie Children’s Hospital

Some of the leading theories discussed in this segment, which we also discuss in an earlier post, include:

-       Microbiome changes: how antibiotic usage in infants and other environmental factors have affected our gut bacteria.

-       Clean state: the idea that the modern world is too clean and the lack of early exposure to dirt, bacteria, and animals weakens the immune system.

-       Early avoidance: for the past decade allergists have advised parents to avoid introducing allergenic foods early in life—it turns out early introduction may prevent the onset of food allergies.  

Much remains uncertain as to the reason for the rise in food allergies, and there is not yet a cure on the horizon. In the interim, management tools, standard precautionary measures (always carry epinephrine!), and treatment options like OIT can make living with food allergies a little easier.

We highly recommend carving out some time to watch this series—you won’t be disappointed.  Whether you have a food allergy, care for someone that does, or simply care about the food you eat—this series has something for everyone.

-       Meg and the Allergy Amulet Team

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Four Easy Steps to Improve Gut Health

We’ve all heard the saying “You are what you eat.” Though true, a more accurate saying would be “You are what you digest and absorb.” The difference is in the gut. Gut health is essential to whole-body health. Over 50% percent of our immune cells reside in the intestines (a component of the gut), which means that the food and bacteria that enter that space have a huge impact on our immune system.

Before we discuss strategies to improve gut health, here’s a crash course on the gut:

The gut (gastrointestinal tract) is the long tube that starts at the mouth and ends at the rectum (see image). It is lined with millions of cells which act as a barrier between the food we ingest and our bloodstream. A weakened lining (intestinal permeability) allows food particles to enter the bloodstream, which can trigger an immune response, including an allergic reaction. This response is different from one triggered by a food intolerance, which instead affects the body’s ability to digest food.  

The correlation between gut health and food allergies is still largely unknown. However, a growing body of research suggests that gut health and food allergies are closely intertwined. 

What IS clear is that gut health plays an important role in maintaining a healthy immune system. Accordingly, below are four steps you can take to improve your gut health.

1.     Add bone broth to your diet.

You can help maximize gut nutrient absorption and preserve the integrity of the gut barrier by consuming glutamine-rich foods like bone broth. There are many healing nutrients and anti-inflammatory properties in bone broth such as glutamine. Glutamine is an anti-inflammatory nutrient known for its role in gut healing. Bone broth also contains minerals in a form the body can easily absorb.

The thought of making bone broth is intimidating to many, but the process is surprisingly simple. Plus bones are not hard to find! Tips and recipe here.

2.     Consume probiotic and prebiotic-rich foods.

The gut microbiome stores all bacteria in the large intestine. These bacteria feed off of the food and fiber we eat. Probiotics are the actual bacteria in the gut, whereas prebiotics are the foods that feed those bacteria.

How does bacteria relate to food allergies? Good bacteria help regulate inflammatory responses in the gut (like an allergic reaction). These bacteria teach our immune system how to tolerate dietary proteins and other allergens in the environment. For example, research has shown that certain strains of bacteria in the Clostridia family may desensitize individuals to food allergens.  

Probiotic-rich foods include: sauerkraut, kimchee, kombucha, miso, tempeh, and dairy sources (kefir, yogurt, cottage cheese) that say “contains live cultures.”

Prebiotic-rich foods include: asparagus, garlic, legumes, flaxseed, onion, leeks, chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, leafy greens, oats, and potatoes (cooked with a slight crunch left).

3.     Avoid microbe killers and digestion disruptors.

If you were walking barefoot and stepped on a sharp woodchip that got stuck in your foot, what is the first thing you would do? Would you remove the woodchip or would you add ointment and a bandage? No-brainer, right? You’d remove the woodchip. So, when it comes to gut health, we need to first start by removing those foods from our diet that harm the gut. This means different things for different people. Research has shown that for some individuals, gluten, dairy, eggs, or soy can trigger gut inflammation—even without symptoms. Others may experience symptoms after ingesting certain foods like citrus, chocolate, or MSG. Depending on the person, the process of identifying which foods may be harming your gut varies. Many people maintain a healthy gut simply by avoiding processed foods. The synthetic ingredients found in most processed foods are generally harmful to gut health. Beyond that, to identify which individual foods may be affecting your gut and immune system, it is helpful to get an individual assessment from a dietitian, nutritionist, or healthcare provider who practices integrative or functional medicine.

To keep the gut microbiome healthy, it also helps to avoid frequent antibiotic and antacid use. Though antibiotics kill bad bacteria, they also kill the good, leaving our gut ill-equipped to do its job. And make sure to always consume probiotics during and after antibiotic use.

4.     Stick to real food!

Unfortunately, our modern diet tends to be packed with junk food. Processed foods, refined sugars, and artificial ingredients wreak havoc on our gut. By consuming whole foods on a daily basis (this is especially important for kids), the gut not only gets the fiber it needs to feed the good bacteria, but also gets a boatload of micronutrients to fuel the immune system.

Recipes and guides here!

 

This guest post was written by Robyn Johnson: MS, RDN, and LD—Integrative Dietitian Nutritionist.

 

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