Hi there! Welcome to Flawed yet Functional! I’ve had some thoughts on my mind about food sensitivities. I am sensitive to gluten, dairy, and eggs, but what does that really mean for me? Is it the same thing as a food allergy? Will I go into anaphylaxis shock if I eat one of those? Today I’d like to flesh out what food sensitivities mean to a Type 1 Diabetic who is not taking additional insulin.
What is a Food Sensitivity?
A food sensitivity is different from a food allergy or food intolerance. Food allergies cause an immune response, think a child stopping breathing after eating a peanut. A food intolerance causes issues in the digestive track but does not cause an immune response, think cramping caused by eating lactose in a lactose-intolerant person. Now the tricky one, food sensitivity which is harder to identify because symptoms may begin in 45 minutes or take several days to develop, and it can affect any organ in the body, not just the digestive system. An example of this is eczema or for me, elevated blood sugar.
For more information, check out these articles:
- Think You Might Have a Food Intolerance?
- What is a Food Intolerance?
- What is a Food Sensitivity and How do You Know if You Have One
As I mentioned before, I am sensitive to gluten, dairy, and eggs (that I know of so far!), and I’d like to explain to you how I figured this out, what these allergens do to my body, and how to recover from an exposure.
How to Identify Food Sensitivities
Food sensitivities are tricky to nail down because (1) the symptoms don’t manifest themselves immediately and (2) they have a long tail. What I mean by a “long tail” is that it takes a while for the effect of the food to completely leave the system.
Because of the two reasons mentioned above, there aren’t many medical tests that do a good job of identifying food sensitivities. The best way to identify them is by using a food journal in conjunction with an elimination diet. Check out this post for a free printable food journal, and look up The Paleo Approach or The Autoimmune Solution for guidance on an elimination diet and reintroductions.
Everyone’s body reacts differently to food, and our diets (and life) are too complicated to remember every thing we ate, drank, participated in, or even how we slept. The food journal will allow you to track all these things and your symptoms/reactions to foods so you can properly identify your food sensitivities.
Effect of Food Sensitivities
I’m going out on a limb here explaining this. I am not a medical doctor giving medical advice. Rather, I am a normal person taking control of her health and figuring things out!
I believe my pancreas was attacked by my immune system (an immune response) because I am sensitive to gluten. Gluten is highly inflammatory, and it inflamed the walls of my gut allowing partially digested food and gluten to enter the blood stream. Partially digested food and gluten are a foreign invaders in the blood stream, so my immune system when on the offensive. Unfortunately, for my pancreas, the gluten and other grain molecules look very similar to beta cells in the pancreas. Both were attacked until my pancreas did not have enough beta cells to produce enough insulin for the food I was eating. High blood sugar is the result along with a Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis.
I believe the autoimmune reaction stopped when I stopped eating gluten. This is why I’ve been able to avoid additional insulin injections for 1.5 years now. I am keeping my pancreas alive by not eating gluten. Stated plainly: I believe gluten causes an immune response in those sensitive to gluten.
Through my two rounds of elimination diets, I have discovered I am also sensitive to dairy and eggs. If I eat these two inflammatory foods, my gut wall inflames allowing partially digested food into the blood stream which results in elevated blood sugar. The difference when I eat dairy and eggs is it does not lead to an immune response so my pancreas is not being attacked at the same time (It IS being more taxed though. It has to work even harder in its 80% dead state to recover from what I’ve eaten.). My blood sugar remains elevated until my gut walls heal from the inflammation.
Within 24 hours of an accidental exposure to gluten, dairy, or eggs, my blood sugar rises above 170, sometimes as high as 200. Gluten and eggs elevate my blood sugar the highest and for the longest period of time. Dairy is less severe in blood sugar effect and duration.
For your reference in case you were curious, here are the parameters I’ve discovered. These are specific to my body and health. If you are also a Type 1 Diabetic, these will likely be different for you.
- Fasting blood glucose the following day: low 200’s
- Blood glucose during healing period: fasting blood glucose in 170-200 range with lunch, dinner, and bed time above normal but not terribly so (130-160)
- Duration: ~18 days
- Fasting blood glucose the following day: 170’s if source identified immediately, if a second exposure within a day or two then low 200’s
- Blood glucose during healing period: fasting blood glucose in 180-200 range with lunch, dinner, and bed time above normal (150-200)
- Duration: ~19 days
- Fasting blood glucose the following day: 180’s
- Blood glucose during healing period: fasting blood glucose in 150-170 range, remainder of the day at the high end of normal (130 pre-meal and 150 bedtime)
- Duration: 5-7 days
For all three of these types of exposures, my blood sugar returns to normal slowly over the course of the healing time period (5-19 days). The first reading to return to normal is my pre-dinner reading, followed by pre-lunch then bedtime and lastly my fasting blood glucose reading. Isn’t that funny? This pattern is true for anything that irritates my gut. Interesting.
What Precautions Do I Take After an Exposure?
Identify and Eliminate the Source of Contamination
I scour my food log (food, activities, restaurants, etc.) with my husband to help me identify the cross contamination. Don’t be embarrassed to talk it over with someone! Another set of eyes is SO helpful! Most of the time, the event occurs outside my house, so no further action can be taken. However, if it did happen in my house, I get rid of whatever has the contamination in it. With a vengeance. I need to tell you about cast iron pans and cross-contamination sometime…I’ll update soon!
Tighten Down on Carbohydrate Intake
Keto all day, baby! When my gut is healthy, I do not need to be in ketosis to manage my blood sugar. However, when my gut is inflamed, I limit my carbs to less than 40 per day so as to not tax my pancreas further.
I believe less than 30 carbs is recommended for ketosis, but I have tremendous trouble getting that low without dairy and eggs in my diet. My vegetable intake gets me above 30! In an effort to reduce carbs though, I lean heavier into the cruciferous family (cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, etc.) and leafy greens (kale, Swiss chard, lettuce, etc.).
Maintain Good Habits
The mental and emotional toll on an exposure is real. It is depression, deflating, and infuriating when things go wrong when you are trying SO hard. Take a step back, try to breathe, that stress will do nothing for your symptoms, and it will likely make them worse. Focus on maintaining the healthy habits you already have in place: sleep, water, exercise, etc.
I’ve had enough accidental exposures to know that my body will recover. My gut will heal. If I am feeding my body the right food, then I have full confidence that my body will return to normal soon. Soon is relative though, see the above section! Waiting is hard. High blood glucose readings are a kick to the gut and a knife in the heart of someone who is working hard to control their health without medication. My advice to you? Remember this life is a marathon, not a sprint. These are chronic conditions we are dealing with, not acute. It took time to develop the condition. It will take time to restore your body to health. Be kind to yourself and wait patiently while your body heals.
**Disclaimer: This is not meant to be medical advice but rather sharing my story of healing my gut through food and healthy habits. If you are a Type 1 Diabetic, elevated blood sugar cannot go unchecked for long. Seek help from your doctor if you feel the effects of high blood sugar or if you are not able to get your blood sugar down with diet.**
This is my take on food sensitivities as an insulin-free Type 1 Diabetic. I hope you find it informative to you in your health situation. Or maybe just a nugget of information to tuck away for another time. Your health is (likely) completely within your control. With Google, an inquisitive mind, and a kitchen at your disposal, I believe you can heal a great many things.
Do you suspect you have a food sensitivity? Have you considered an elimination diet to identify it? Are you willing to change what you eat to regain your health?