Twenty years ago, you rarely heard of gluten, dairy and peanut allergies in the U.S. Boy, how things can change. I'm not sure I know a single family who doesn't have at least one member allergic to some type of food or ingredient. I can only remember one child having a food allergy when I was a child. No one brought their own gluten free or dairy free pizza when they came to spend the night. No one brought a gluten free cupcake to a birthday party. Classrooms didn't have "peanut free" signs on their doors.
It would be great if the solution was obvious. Unfortunately, there are likely many factors contributing to the rapidly increasing food allergy epidemic. I say "epidemic" because few health-related issues have grown as rapidly as food allergies...in the U.S.
While we in the U.S. are finding gluten-free grocery aisles, menu options and even entire restaurants dedicated to serving only gluten-free fare, did you know no other country in the world has the same levels of gluten allergies? If you go to Italy, you will be hard-pressed to find a single child who can't eat pasta or bread. Go to China and no one there has ever heard of gluten allergies. In fact, many Asian countries use vital wheat gluten alone as an inexpensive meat substitute (seitan).
This has to make you think - is it genetics or is it something we're doing differently here in the U.S.? Hmmmmm. Take a look at our FDA and food supply and you'll quickly realize yes, we do things VERY differently here.
Take, for instance, our dependence on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Monsanto and other food manufacturers believe by formulating a stronger, pest-resistant, heartier grain (typically corn and soybean), you can yield more usable grain and therefore manufacture more product. Even other crops, such as wheat, which aren't always GMOs are susceptible because they share groundwater and pollination from nearby GMO crops. It's becoming harder to quarantine non-GMO crops from the pollution of the GMO crops.
This leads me to the potential reasons for food allergies:
POSSIBLE REASON #1: GMOs
Other countries have banned GMO crops from being planted, even burning Monsanto crops that pop up. These countries have said, "NO" to bio-engineered food. Unfortunately, there are many reports of our FDA being corrupted by the big lobbyists, even having members who also sit on the boards of some of the worst offenders. GMOs are not naturally found in nature and are therefore considered foreign invaders in our bodies. Our stressed-out immune systems try to grapple with these new proteins humans have never ingested in the eons since existence.
POSSIBLE REASON #2: PROCESSED FOODS
Our country is obsessed with the convenience of processed foods. No other country has such a love affair with packaged foods. We pay for it with our weight (the most obese nation on earth), our disease (the most diseased industrialized nation on earth) and our allergies? When you mess with food and add unnatural (not found in nature) ingredients to preserve, flavor, color or enhance it, your body doesn't know what to do with it. These are in essence, foreign objects and your body's immune system attacks it. Over-stress the immune system and you get allergies - the body's natural response to foreign invaders.
POSSIBLE REASON #3: FOREIGN FOOD
We aren't eating what our bodies were meant to eat. A wise doctor once told me our ancestry matters immensely when it comes to what we eat. As our genes adapt over the centuries to our environment, so do our digestive systems. That's why an island culture can live 100+ years without ever eating a vegetable, only tropical fruits and seafood; while a mountain culture can eat mostly meats and root vegetables, and an Asian culture can survive off of rice and vegetables with little to no meat and fare just as well.
We love new diets which promise weight loss, cancer prevention and longevity. The problem with all of these diets, such as Paleo, Atkins, veganism, etc is that one size does not fit all. One person may find the Paleo diet does wonders for them but that doesn't mean it will do wonders for you. Every person comes from a different genetic makeup and each body has differing needs.
A PERSONAL STORY
Beyond genetics, your body might need something a specific diet doesn't deliver and those needs could change over time. Here's a personal example:
I was vegan for years. I loved the way I felt and had no side effects other than increased energy, great digestion and general happiness. Then I got sick. Really sick. After months of tests, procedures and doctors, we never truly figured out what happened. All we knew was it started with a stomach bug and ended with 10% of my weight falling off in only 5 weeks time. Scary.
As I tried to rebuild my body from the trauma, I realized a vegan diet wasn't going to cut it. I needed to rebuild lots of muscle that was consumed when my body fat was depleted. When my appetite finally returned and I could eat more than a banana, I tried going back to the vegan diet but felt terrible - weak, malnourished and depressed. I began eating lean meats and goat dairy and slowly my weight began to increase, as did my energy and strength.
As much as I loved being vegan, I knew my body well enough to know it was telling me it needed more than plants. While my diet is still primarily plants, I do still eat organic chicken, fish, venison and goat dairy several times a week. It isn't my main course like it was when I was a child, but 4-6 oz of clean, organic meat has done wonders for my body and I'm stronger than ever.
I tell you this to encourage you to listen to your body. What works for a friend may not work for you. The most important thing to remember, no matter what diet or food habits you pledge your allegiance, is EAT WHOLE FOODS. No diet in the world can tell you processed food is better for you than real food found in nature. This means you should buy ingredients, not convenience meals. Yes, you will be in the kitchen more but you'll be in the doctor's office less.
That should be my new motto: EAT REAL FOOD. GET IN THE KITCHEN AND STAY OUT OF THE DOCTOR'S OFFICE!
P.S. A few little girls came over today to help me and my daughter with a new cookie recipe I wanted to try. All 4 girls said they liked the cookies and would make them again. Good news for you moms - the recipe has NO sugar, NO oils, NO eggs, NO wheat, and NO nuts! So check it out on my Recipes link and here's to allergy-free Banana Oat cookies!