About 4 years ago, while I was trying to get pregnant for the first time, I started to experience my first symptoms of an autoimmune condition called psoriasis. For me, it showed up as very dry, cracked, itchy and painful skin mainly on my hands and face. It made it very painful to do things like wash dishes, bathe, or anything that involved my hands being submerged in water. I also had a hard time applying makeup due to some really thick scaly skin on my eyelids. It got worse in the dry winter months. I tried all the hand creams and crazy remedies I had read about on the internet, but I did not experience any REAL symptom relief until I did some food sensitivity testing with my naturopath and discovered there were foods I was consuming EVERYDAY that were simply not compatible with my digestive system at the time. Prior to seeking out my Naturopath I had visited a dermatologist who diagnosed my psoriasis and prescribed me two VERY expensive steroid creams with some VERY scary side effects. When I asked what was causing my psoriasis, he simply said “We (the dermatology community) do not know what causes this condition.” There was no mention of autoimmunity and certainly no discussion of how my diet could be contributing. I never filled those prescriptions because in my heart I knew in order to feel real relief, I would need to address the cause rather than just mask the symptoms.
I did ALOT of research and discovered that gut health is a huge contributing factor in the development of autoimmune conditions and that food sensitivities could be the culprit. This was prior to me pursuing my Nutritional Therapy education. So I did the testing for both allergies and sensitivities. After my first round testing, I removed the offending foods and worked on a gut healing protocol. Amazingly, my psoriasis went away completely within a couple of months! Since that first round of testing I have had two babies and honestly got a little lax with avoiding the foods that trigger my symptoms. Interestingly enough, while pregnant my autoimmune condition goes into remission and I can eat just about anything, SO I DID! Soon after my daughter Emelia was born, however, the effects of those foods began to show up in the form of an autoimmune flare.
Before I talked about the testing I’ve done and my results, it is important to discuss what food sensitivities are, and why you should be concerned about them. For me, I was living a healthy lifestyle, eating whole, real foods, exercising and getting plenty of sleep. I wasn’t aware that although my diet was filled with really healthy nutritious foods, some of those foods were not healthy for MY body! I was still feeling some pretty real side effects that seemed unconnected at the time, infertility and psoriasis. Symptoms from food sensitivities can show up as obvious things like gas and bloating, to less obvious things like acne, headache, fatigue, and autoimmune conditions.
In my quest to better serve my clients, and once again put my condition into remission, I wanted to be able to recommend an easy and affordable in home food sensitivity test as an alternative to working with a naturopath; which can sometimes be cost prohibitive. That is where EverlyWell comes in. I wanted to try the product and process first to be able to determine if this is something I would recommend to my clients as a part of their work with me and Nutritional Therapy.
So what is a food sensitivity?
A food sensitivity is a reaction to food that can be associated with increased levels of IgG antibodies that are reactive to that particular food (or a component of a food). In everyday language, this means that your body’s immune system perceives certain proteins (even foods that aren’t thought of as “proteins” still have protein components) as foreign, and therefore mounts an attack against them. Food sensitivities are often hard to pinpoint because the symptoms of reactivity are often delayed up to 2-3 days after the food is ingested. This is what makes an elimination diet really difficult. It has to be a very long and drawn out process to remove all of the potentially offending foods, and then add them back in slowly one by one to test your body’s reaction. This process can take months to years depending on how many suspected gut irritants there are.
I actually tried an elimination diet with this psoriasis flare up, eliminating the foods that showed up in my previous testing, and while I saw some improvement, I knew there was something I was missing. It is a cheaper alternative to identify and test sensitivities but you are likely to miss something that you are reactive to. I knew a blood test was the next step to finally have all of the information I needed and to get near immediate answers.
For a brief overview, some food sensitivity symptoms can include:
- Mental Fog (aka Brain Fog)
- Skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, dry, itchy skin
- Gas & Bloating
- Joint pain
- Acid Reflux
- Headaches & Migraines
- Diarrhea and/or Constipation
- Depression and Anxiety
What is the difference between food sensitivities & food allergies?
When people discuss food intolerances, the words sensitivity and allergy are sometimes used interchangeably. For someone who has a true allergy, this is unfortunate because allergies can be life threatening and need to be taken VERY seriously. Here is the difference:
- Food allergies can be life-threatening and include symptoms like hives, anaphylactic shock, vomiting, and swelling of the tongue and throat. It is an immune response that causes a histamine response immediately after the food is ingested. Often people with true food allergies are required to carry Epi Pens in case of accidental ingestion and require hospitalization to recover.
- A food sensitivity or intolerance is a reaction to a food that is less serious and not life threatening. It can be caused by a number of things like the condition of your intestinal lining or the lack of a certain enzyme needed to break down a given molecule. For example, someone with a dairy intolerance may lack the enzyme needed to breakdown lactose in milk products. The effects are not life threatening, but may be mild to severe and can show up soon after or up to a few days after the milk was ingested.
What do positive food sensitivity results mean?
When you get your results back from EverlyWell, you will learn your reactivity levels to all foods tested, there are 96 included with the Food Sensitivity test. The next step would be to eliminate the foods you are reactive to. There are different levels of reactivity so you can decide which levels you will remove; just highly reactive or moderate and mild as well. If you test high to a bunch of foods and you are eating those foods every day, it could mean you have leaky gut. Leaky gut is a condition where larger than normal food particles are making their way through your intestinal lining and your body then mounts an attack against them. It can also be caused by lifestyle factors like stress, or things like not chewing your food properly (there are a whole host of potential causes). In order to correct a leaky gut, you need to remove offending foods, and address the lifestyle and digestive factors that caused it in the first place. You would then follow a protocol to HEAL and SEAL the gut. I highly recommend working with a professional (like me) who is experienced in this area.
I would recommend eliminating the foods from your diet for a period of at least 4-6 weeks, and then reintroduce them slowly to see how you feel.
The entire process is so simple and pain-free! I was freaked out by the finger prick, but it was no big deal. The test kit has an instruction booklet that explains the entire process in detail. Here it is in short form: After you purchase the kit, you will receive it in the mail a few days later. The shipping was really fast for me! You will then create a login on their website and register your kit. The kit includes a lancet to prick your finger and a card with 5 boxes that you will fill with a large drop of blood. You let the card dry for about 30 minutes, pack it all back up (all packing materials and shipping labels are included in the kit) and then you mail it back to the lab! Easy! Then you wait anywhere from 5-10 business days for your results. Your results are viewed online.
Your results will include some recommendations but I HIGHLY recommend working with a professional to interpret your results and create an action plan to move forward.
I have received my results from my Everlywell test and some results I expected, but others were a total surprise!
A side note: If you haven’t eaten a food within 4 weeks of taking the test, your sensitivity may not show up on testing (because by then the antibodies may no longer be in your bloodstream) So, if you’ve been on an elimination diet for a while, this will not give you accurate results. If you are following along on Instagram you will know that for a couple of weeks before I retested, I enjoyed adding in a bunch of foods that were previously removed due to my previous food sensitivity test results. Hello Eggs! You have to consume the offending foods before the test to ensure the antibodies, if there are any, show up when your new blood sample is taken. Additionally, with these results, if you are dealing with a leaky gut situation, your immune system may be making antibodies to a lot of the food you’re eating, because when you have a leaky gut, proteins from different foods get into your bloodstream through your permeable intestinal lining at which time your body sends soldiers to attack because these proteins are not where they are supposed to be. So these sensitivities are not truly sensitivities, just a sign that you need to do some gut healing.
My food sensitivity results showed 3 foods that were highly reactive, 5 that were moderately reactive, 20 that were mildly reactive, and 68 that showed low reactivity. Low Reactivity foods are considered non-reactive, as this level of reactivity is considered negligible. High Reactivity foods are considered very reactive. I will discuss my high, moderate and mild reactivity results, and what that means for me going forward.
My high reactivity and moderate reactivity foods were both surprising and unsurprising. Eggs, almonds & dairy showed up when I did my original testing so I expected to see them on this list. You all know I was praying HARD that eggs wouldn’t be reactive since I love them so much, but here they are… again! Bummer. Eggs and dairy are very common food sensitivities, those along with gluten are three things I commonly recommend people cut out first if they are going the route of trying an elimination diet first prior to doing any testing.
The results I was surprised by were the peas, cashews and walnuts. Peas?! I rarely ever eat peas yet they are highly reactive in my body. I got to thinking about where peas may be hidden and immediately thought of pea protein. A closer look at the ingredients in the greens powder I use in my smoothies EVERYDAY has pea protein as the very first (meaning most abundant) ingredient. Insert hand to forehead. This is a bummer because I love this greens powder, but it will be very easy to eliminate and replace with something else. I was surprised to see cashews although, perhaps I shouldn’t have been. Since almonds and dairy have been mainly out of my diet for the past three years, cashews (think milk, nut butter, cheese, queso, tortillas) and walnuts have been my main substitutions. I’ve been eating cashews in these various forms multiple times a day, EVERYDAY! It is common to see sensitivities to things you consume everyday. I think of it as your body’s way of asking for more variety. Green beans are not a staple of my diet, so they won’t be hard to eliminate, but I do consume them occasionally, every couple of weeks, so it is at least good to have this information!
This is a long list of 20 foods that I am mildly reactive to. What I believe these results show is that my gut may be in need of some healing, and that I am not necessarily reactive to these particular foods, it is more just a sign of what’s going on internally. Stress is a HUGE factor in contributing to leaky gut, and while I’m not stressed out in the conventional meaning of the phrase, my body is stressed due to the season of life I am in. Having a difficult pregnancy, being on best rest and then subsequently having Emelia in the NICU, then coming home with a newborn and toddler, breastfeeding, sleep deprivation while running my nutrition business and making time to still nourish the relationships in my life is all stress. It makes me tired just typing all that! So NO, I will not be eliminating all 20 mildly reactive foods, but I will be mindful to moderate them and not consume them everyday until my gut is healed and sealed. For example, coconut oil is my prefered choice for cooking oil, but I can easily switch it up to avocado oil. I also use coconut milk in my coffee, but I can easily drink my coffee black. I was also eating bananas and blueberries in my smoothies, but those can easily be swapped for other fruits, or just eliminated from my smoothies all together.
Since my original food sensitivity test showed that I was reactive to grains, I was excited to see that currently, grains seem to be something I can incorporate into my diet at least in moderation. Certain grains like oats and rice seem to be moderately reactive while others like GLUTEN showed virtually no reactivity! But wait, why didn’t gluten show up when I KNOW it makes me feel terrible? It’s because I have consumed virtually no gluten within the last three years, so my body is no longer producing antibodies against it. I did not focus on incorporating gluten back in my diet during the pre-re-testing period because I know it was not something I would ever want or need to include back into regular rotation.
Additionally, it appears that I am having some reactivity to most nuts, so I will try to eliminate all nuts on most days, and will eliminate almonds, cashews and walnuts completely for at least 4-6 weeks.
How I’m Approaching My Food Sensitivity Results
I will plan to eliminate the foods in the high and moderate reactivity categories for a period of 4-6 weeks. Let me reiterate I DO NOT VIEW THIS AS A LIST OF FOODS I WILL NEVER EAT AGAIN. If it were a true ALLERGY yes, but with sensitivities it is more a sign of what is going on inside. It is information that some gut healing needs to take place before I can enjoy these foods again. It may be that things like eggs and dairy will never have a place in my EVERYDAY life, but once the healing has taken place, they can make an occasional less frequent appearance and cause no harm. The foods on the mildly reactive list will follow that protocol. I will still enjoy then from time to time, but will be mindful not to include them in my everyday life.
I believe no food healthy or not should be considered off limites forever, unless you have a life threatening allergy, or you know it just makes you feel like crap. Even then, if it’s not a true allergy, and you want to consume that food, you should feel empowered to do so armed with the knowledge of how your body will react. You better believe I will consume some amazing gluten containing baked good sometime in the future when I determine it is worth it for me to do so. I believe we should focus on including as much variety in our food choices as possible, not as few. So I take these results as information, not as a definitive eat this, not that list. Makes sense?
I am happy to have this information for myself as well as a reliable, afforadable at home option to offer my clients for whom working with a naturopath is not an option. I was very impressed by EverlyWell. Here is some additional information that makes EverlyWell a trustworthy option:
If you have any questions about testing your food sensitivities or interpreting the results, please feel free to reach out to me!