Food allergies – could healthy eating be making you sick?
Sometimes healthy eating can feel like two steps forward, one step back. Or even one step forward, two steps back. But in my experience, this is because it can be difficult to stick with a healthy diet and occasionally we eat more sugar or fat, or less green vegetables or brightly colored fruits than we know we need.
However, just when Ben and I were eating what I felt like was an ideal diet in terms of our health, with an emphasis on getting all of the protein and nutrients that we need (with plenty of treats) through a primarily plant-based diet, we got some news which means that we have to totally re-think things. As it turns out, all of my efforts to get both of us eating the healthiest possible diet (in my view at least) were probably making Ben feel worse.
For the past few years, Ben has been trying to get to the bottom of what is causing some physical symptoms he has had. He has been diagnosed with two separate conditions which both affect his esophagus – acid reflux and eosinophilic esophagitis. The latter of these two conditions is caused by an allergic reaction, and therefore Ben had some allergy tests done about a year ago, which showed that he was allergic to dust mites, cats, horses, and a few other things. We have done our best to minimize Ben’s exposure to these allergens (e.g., we wash the sheets and we dust very frequently, and I wash all of my clothes and shower right away if I have been around horses), but in spite of our best efforts and various medications targeting both of his conditions, Ben’s symptoms have never fully gone away.
On Thursday, we went back to see an immunologist about Ben’s allergies, and we found out that Ben actually has a very wide range of food allergies (in addition to airborne allergies), which could apparently be causing all of his symptoms, including the symptoms which have thus far been attributed to acid reflux.
In the long run, this is really wonderful news because it means that we may be able to find out what is actually going on, and we may be able to do something to eliminate Ben’s tight throat and indigestion which he has suffered from for longer than I have even known him. However, in the shorter term, it is quite challenging because it means that for the next six weeks, in addition to me avoiding all dairy products (and my IBS being much better when I don’t eat too much meat), Ben needs to avoid all foods which contain any of the following:
tomatoes, soy products, peas, beans, lentils, all other legumes, bananas, oranges, peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds, and kiwis.
The kiwis I can handle, but the first seven items listed above are building blocks of our diet lately – no tofu, no hummus, no beans, no lentils, no tomato paste or fresh or chopped tomatoes, etc. Ben seems to be allergic to all of the best sources of vegetarian protein, as well as some fruits and vegetables. In addition, in order to get to the bottom of Ben’s allergies, the doctor advised Ben not to even eat anything that says there may be traces of these ingredients, or anything that was made in a factory with any of these ingredients present. Now, I’m not sure if you have ever checked the allergy advice on food labels, but this prevents us from eating lots and lots of other foods because many companies say that their products are made in a factory where either soy or nuts were present, mostly just to prevent a lawsuit if someone is highly allergic and has an extreme reaction caused by the tiniest bit of cross-contamination. This is a bit frustrating, but I guess it is better to be safe than sorry.
I knew that these allergies would make meal planning difficult, but I had no idea just how difficult it would be. Soy, peanuts, peas (sometimes just pea protein), and tomatoes are in practically everything. For example, we had to check four different vegetable stock cube brands just to find one which was okay. In addition, Ben has to keep a food and symptom journal to try to identify any other allergens because, believe it or not, the list above is unfortunately not exhaustive. In fact, Ben was allergic to approximately a third of the foods which they tested, and this was really just a random sample of foods.
I initially took the news of Ben’s allergies quite hard because although I can of course still eat the foods Ben is allergic to, and Ben doesn’t want me to change my diet for him, we like to cook and eat together, and these are some of the highlights of my day. I do also worry slightly that it will impact the way I will feel, which is particularly important to me after I have worked so hard to find a way of eating which works well for me with my dairy intolerance and IBS (I avoid all dairy products and I feel much better if I don’t eat very much meat).
This is just the very beginning of the six week trial period, but Ben and I have worked to come up with a meal plan for this week which will be tasty and will encompass enough veggies for me with enough things Ben can eat as well. At least for this week, and probably for the next few weeks, we will be cooking with a bit more meat, which, depending on your own diet, this may be a good or a bad thing. But either way, this is what we feel need to do right now while we get to the bottom of Ben’s allergies, and I will make adjustments for myself if I need to. I will still be posting plenty of recipes for healthier baked goods and vegetarian and vegan foods, but please stick with me through this challenge while we experiment with some new foods as well. I promise there will be options available for everyone.
Although at times I am sure this will feel like a pain in the backside rather than a fun challenge, the truth is, I don’t know anyone other than Ben who would give up so many foods and also try so many new foods in order to help me find a diet which makes me feel my best. Therefore, the very least I can do is help Ben find a diet which makes him feel his best. And in time, we will have to figure out what works for both of us, and hopefully Ben won’t have to avoid all of these foods forever. Fingers crossed!
In the meantime, Ben is already feeling a bit better, which makes all of the effort worthwhile.
Do you have any food allergies? If so, what are you allergic to and what symptoms do you have? Within the past couple of days, I have found out that food allergies can manifest themselves as a stuffy nose or a tight throat, or feel like acid indigestion. Now I am curious about how else people might react to a food allergy, and I am wondering if more people have food allergies than we think.
Disclaimer: Although I am very interested in all of the topics I write about, and I would love to hear about your experiences, please remember that I am not an immunologist, dietitian, or nutritionist. This post is simply a reflection of my personal views and experiences, and not meant to directly advise anyone on their own diets, allergies, or medical conditions. Please see my disclaimer page for more information.