What is a food allergy exactly? The term food allergy tends to be used loosely, and it is often used to describe any adverse reaction caused by consuming a particular food.
Technically, an allergy is when the food triggers an immunological response, causing the levels of certain antibodies in the blood to rise (i.e. IgE, IgG, IgM) and it is measurable. While I am only discussing IgG type food allergies here, please know that more life-threatening allergies involving IgE antibodies (aka Type I) require immediate medical attention.
Between 60-80% of food allergy problems are delayed hypersensitivity reactions (aka Type II and Type III ), where symptoms present anywhere from hours to days after the food(s) has been consumed.
Let’s face it, having food allergies is difficult enough as it is, but dealing with them while travelling is even more challenging. I am currently on vacay in Mexico and have fallen off of my elimination diet. I have been gluten free since September 2013, and have noticed a big improvement in my digestion and elimination processes. I also lost the constant bloating I used to feel, as well as some weight, without doing anything else. This is usually how you know you have a problem with gluten, apart from testing, that is.
The blood tests I had last fall though, revealed that I am also allergic to dairy, eggs and almonds (to name a few) most of all. Since then I have cut them out, until now, that is. Although my test revealed no IgG antibodies to gluten anymore, I still avoid it because dairy protein and gluten protein are similar, and having an allergy to one, often means you will have a problem with the other.
We usually stay at “home-aways” while on holidays, specifically so that we can cook and have more control over our nutrition; however, we normally treat ourselves to one meal out a day. I usually also bring some food along in my suitcase, which takes a bit of planning, but can be well worth the effort. Being gluten-free is fairly easy in Mexico, as long as you are not allergic to corn. Corn also contains gluten, but it is different from wheat gluten, and not everyone reacts to it the same way as the gluten protein found in wheat.1 This is a hot topic for debate however, as you will see if you do some research.
I had forgotten how prevalent cheese is in many restaurant items though (since we rarely eat out at home), so I ended up having some dairy on our trip. Spanish is not my native language, and while I know some words, I didn’t know how to ask about items containing dairy. I also decided to try having eggs, since we have previously found the eggs in Mexico (at least where we were) to be quite fresh with bright orangy yolks, and full of flavour. As a Nutritionist though, I know better; when coming off of an elimination diet, one should only re-introduce one item every 3-4 days. This is because if you do have a reaction to an item, you’ll know which one it was, as opposed to having multiple items and then not knowing which one caused the reaction.
One of the things I noticed pretty quickly, was the fact that my skin started breaking out again, and was a bit red (mixed in with sun-exposure, this can be hard to detect). Having had my Rosacea under control (more on this in another post), means that I was less than thrilled with this symptom. I also felt more bloated and sluggish. Other symptoms include digestive upset, a stuffy or runny nose, persistent throat clearing and/or coughing, some of which I experienced as well.
Our holiday was great, and I enjoyed the food, but not my body’s reaction to it. What does this mean I need to do now that I am back home though? The solution unfortunately means I have to restart my elimination diet once again. For how long you ask? Well…four months is best. This is due to the fact that the half life of an IgG antibody is about 3 weeks, and it takes 5 to 7 half lives to completely eliminate a specific IgG antibody from the body. Therefore, it could take up to 4 months for the IgG levels to a reactive food to drop down to the non-reactive range. I had only been off eggs and dairy for three months, so clearly, that was not long enough for me.
Next time you head off on holidays, look up some words for the foods you’re allergic to in the language of where you are going, and have them ready on your phone or a print out. This way, hopefully you can avoid ingesting some of the foods you might be wanting to avoid for a while still. If you have access to wifi or a good data plan while travelling, you can look them up on the fly using Google Translate. There are also some good phone apps out there for translating, and some allow you to download offline dictionaries for when connectivity is scarce. Happy Trails!