The prospect of living with food allergies can be daunting and I often tell newly diagnosed clients that there are two ways to approach an allergen-free diet. Typically it’s as simple as choosing to “eat” or “be” allergen free. For example, if a client and myself identify a connection between the consumption of specific grains and severe gastric distress, I tell them that in order to heal the gut they need eliminate gluten by either eating gluten free or being gluten free.
From the perspective of a holistic nutritionist, eating allergen free simply means exchanging all your favorite gluten-rich foods for the gluten free varieties. For example, switching your favorite whole-wheat sandwich bread for the gluten free variety that is often made with rice flour. Taking this approach to dramatic dietary modification that some food allergies may require is what I would like to call, “the easier, softer way.” Essentially all you have to do to adhere to the new diet is potentially change the grocery store you frequent and venture down a few new aisles.
Eating in this manner certainly has its advantages. The transition is fairly easy and few lifestyle modifications must take place in order to satisfy your new diet’s demands. However, there are many disadvantages with pulling the quick “switch-a-roo” on your favorite packaged goods. Allergen free, specifically gluten free, packaged goods are often higher in fats and oils than their gluten containing counterparts in order to help them hold together in the absence of gluten’s stickiness. Added fats and oils are also an attempt by food manufacturers to improve palatability when highly stimulating gliadorphins, or gluteomorphins, opioid peptides are not produced during the digestion of gluten. Finally, without the ability to “fortify” foods with whole grains, the fiber content in gluten free goods drops significantly, which can encourage the release of larger amounts of insulin, which can contribute to wild swings in energy and mood. Together, an increase in fat and a decrease in fiber may help contribute to high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes.
The second approach to eating an allergen free diet embraces whole, real, unprocessed foods, which often require wholesale change in diet and lifestyle. To me this means non-offending fruits, vegetables, grains and animal products prepared in a simple manner inside the home. Being allergen free also encourages the removal of packaged foods as they can often serve as a dietary crutch.
The primary benefit of being allergen free is that it is probably the best way to avoid inadvertent exposure to offending foods and physical discomfort. Without the need to worry about cross-contamination, hidden ingredients in restaurant food or having to carry around an EpiPen in case the unthinkable happens can relieve a lot of stress and make life tremendously more enjoyable. Real, whole foods are also incredibly healthy and are a valuable source of the vitamins and minerals that are important in healing the damage caused by undiagnosed food intolerances and improving overall health and wellbeing. On the opposite side of the being allergen free coin is that it takes a good amount of time and commitment to learn how to plan and prepare healthful meals. Also, approaching dietary modification this way encourages a certain degree of awareness with regards to reading food labels, restaurant practices and potential sources of exposure, which may inspire any number of emotions and reactions towards having to observe a special diet.
Fortunately, for those of us who develop such an allergy later in life, being gluten free can happen almost automatically as a side effect of not knowing how to best navigate the maze of packaged goods that fill the aisles of our neighborhood grocery store. Similarly, young children can move pretty smoothly into such a diet because they typically haven’t developed strong dietary preferences or potential stigmatization. Teens are another story, but no eating pattern or social obstacle is insurmountable when approached in a mindful manner.
Being gluten free aligns very well with the nutrient density ideal we discussed last week.
The distinction between “eating” and “being” allergen free may seem fairly insignificant, but in the face of life altering food allergies, the approach you choose can have a tremendous impact on the body’s ability to heal. If the prospect of jumping into a real food diet excites you, by all means go for it. I can help you with that! If your reluctant to throw the baby out with the bathwater, for lack of better terms, eating gluten free may be a good way to transition into a diet that will better support your body’s needs. If this sounds more like your speed, I am can help you get there as well. Simply put, support your body in the best way possible and your body will support you in the best way that it can.
Shopping to eat gluten free image courtesy of wellandgoodnyc.com. Shopping to be gluten free image courtesy of Whole Foods Market