Do you sometimes feel that there’s too much information available these days on how to stay healthy or get better if you are ill? It can be so overwhelming and confusing that it’s enough to make your head explode several times over. How do you decide between one “healthy” option and another? Are they all really healthy for YOU?
I’m the queen of health strategies, having tried just about everything under the sun. Eventually, I discovered that some very, very “good” things, are very, very bad for me. Still, inculcated with so many strong concepts about what is “good,” it took me a very long time to stop harming myself with a number of “healthy” foods. I just couldn’t quite believe that eating vegetables could be bad for me. Finally, it became painfully obvious.
Here are two examples to illustrate the point.
Natural food chemicals
It may be mind-boggling for you to learn that fruits and vegetables contain a wide variety of naturally occurring chemicals for the purpose of protecting themselves from predators. These are not additives or synthetic chemicals applied to the produce, but the natural chemical structures of the plants themselves. Most people can process these natural chemicals without a problem. However, a segment of the population has trouble with one or more of these substances due to an altered biochemical process in the body. When not processed efficiently, these compounds can build up in the body and initiate a range of symptoms. This is called “food intolerance” and is different than classic IgE mediated food allergy, although some compounds can contribute to the release of histamine in the body thereby contributing to allergy-like symptoms.
Allergists at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Allergy Unit in Australia explain how food intolerances are not immune-related, but rather:
“They are triggered by food chemicals which cause reactions by irritating nerve endings in different parts of the body, rather in the way that certain drugs can cause side-effects in sensitive people.”
These reactions are dose dependent, meaning they depend upon the amount of the substance that enters and accumulates in your body. Symptoms will not necessarily occur after eating a particular food once, although they might if you have developed severe intolerance, but rather when your threshold is reached. This makes food intolerances confusing and difficult to evaluate. The Allergy Unit goes on to explain:
“…Some people are born with a sensitive constitution and react more readily to food chemicals than others. The tendency is probably inherited, but environmental triggers — a sudden change of diet, a bad food or drug reaction, a nasty viral infection (for example, gastroenteritis, glandular fever) — can bring on symptoms at any age by altering the way the body reacts to food chemicals.”
….It’s important to realize that the natural chemicals in many ‘healthy’ foods can be just as much of a problem for sensitive people as the ‘artificial’ ones used as food additives.”
So you may be able to eat anything and everything for a good part of your life and then gradually or even suddenly food intolerances appear. Due to the dose dependent nature of food intolerance, you may be able to tolerate a food one day, but not the next when you ate a larger amount or several foods containing the same food chemical. You have symptoms, but you are scratching your head without a clue as to what might be triggering them. Your doctor can’t figure it out either.
What are these potentially nasty substances that occur in seemingly healthful foods like broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, nectarines, kiwis, grapes, and the list goes on and on? This is a list of some, but not all of them.
- amines, which includes histamine
- free glutamates
These compounds can trigger symptoms like headaches and migraines, muscle and/or joint pain, mouth ulcers, nausea, stomach pain, bowel irritation, hives, eczema, other skin rashes, asthma, and others. Behavioral problems in children can be aggravated by natural food chemicals.
Most “healthy” fruits and vegetables send me into a spiral of pain and distress, and I’ve now met many others who experience the same untoward effects.
Janice Vickerstaff Joneja, Ph.D., RD. explains food intolerances in great detail in her book Dealing with Food Allergies: A Practical Guide to Detecting Culprit Foods and Eating a Healthy, Enjoyable Diet (2003 edition). She outlines a number of special diets for eliminating one or more of the offending substances. For example, the Histamine Restricted Diet details which foods include histamines and which ones will trigger histamine release in the body. Joneja recommends an elimination diet as the best method for detecting compounds that may be causing problems for you. This is not a classic elimination diet that involves rotating foods by food family, but rather a diet low in natural food chemicals.
There are many proponents singing the praises of a raw food diet, but is it the right approach for everyone?
In traditional medical systems like Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine, individuals are seen as having a basic constitution. Your constitution explains a great deal about your strengths and weaknesses physically, emotionally, and mentally. Thus knowing your constitution provides invaluable information about the best foods, activities, and environments for you. For example, in Ayurveda there are three basic constitutions as well as combinations of the three. One’s constitution can also be impacted by illness, adding another layer of complexity. Of the three constitutions, people with a predominantly Pitta constitution are able to handle raw foods far better than those with either a Vata or Kapha constitution. A raw foods diet may be a perfect fit if you are a Pitta, but it could trigger a digestive nightmare for a VATA.
The main lesson
This main lesson is a simple one. Your will only find the right health strategy by listening to your very own body. While it’s always positive to be receptive to new ideas about health, ultimately you are the one that knows yourself best. Tune in and follow the wisdom of your own body rather than someone else’s health agenda.
- Dealing with Food Allergies: A Practical Guide to Detecting Culprit Foods and Eating a Healthy, Enjoyable Diet (2003 edition), Janice Vickerstaff Joneja
- Prakriti, Your Ayurvedic Constitution, Robert Svoboda
- Plant Poisons and Rotten Stuff - an overview of the Failsafe Diet
- MSG Truth – All about free glutamates from a former Food Process Engineer and Scientist
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