Could food being making you ill? Food sensitivities and their impact on our health

What we eat is incredibly important to our overall health. However, what constitutes a healthy diet is not quite one size fits all. Each person is unique — so what works for you might not be the same as what works for someone else.

Take for example: gluten. There has been a great deal of attention paid over the last decade or so to gluten, which is a protein composite found in wheat, barley and certain other grains. Gluten-free foods have become popular with people who see gluten as a health risk.

Is it? That depends. Some people are highly allergic to gluten, a condition called celiac disease. For someone with celiac, eating gluten can cause significant gastrointestinal upset, in addition to other symptoms. 

However, some people who don’t experience strong enough symptoms to qualify as having celiac do experience some discomfort after eating gluten. They are what is described as gluten-sensitive, and usually do better eating a gluten-free or low-gluten diet as well.

Many others may eat foods containing gluten with no problem at all.

In other words, gluten works for some people, is highly harmful to others, and somewhere in the middle for another group. Many foods are like this, to one degree or another. Traditional Chinese medicine even divides all foods into groups — warming, neutral and cooling — and recommends you stick with or avoid certain groups based on how you’re feeling or what medical conditions you have.

While medical testing and nutritional counseling can help determine what foods are right for you, the clearest answers lie in paying attention to your own body. Whenever I work with one of my patients to improve their nutrition, I suggest that they check in with how they feel for several hours after eating a meal. If they feel good — great! The foods in that meal probably work for them. If they don’t feel so good — well, that could mean whatever they ate isn’t a good fit.

Our bodies know what they need, and they’ll tell us if we’re willing to listen. There are basic rules of thumb that do apply universally: eat lots of greens, avoid processed foods and sugar. But beyond that, your body is your best source of advice on what to eat to stay healthy.