This is part of a series offering highlights from our panel on Optimizing Weight Loss, Digestion and Healthy Aging with Nutrition.
Erin Peisach, Food Sensitivity Detective
by Alica Diehl
Erin Peisach is a registered dietitian at the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine. Speaking at our nutrition panel in March, she said that if she had to make a blanket suggestion for all eaters, she’d recommend nutrient-dense, minimally processed food. However, she emphasized that every eater is an individual.
Describing her work with patients, Erin said “it’s not just about, ‘Am I eating enough carbs?’ or ‘I’m trying to lose weight; should I eat more protein?’ It’s also about how the food makes you feel.”
A big part of Erin’s job is helping patients manage adverse food reactions—abnormal responses to food. She outlined the many types of reactions, beginning with two broad categories: toxic and non-toxic.
While at some point, most people suffer a toxic response (think: food poisoning), it’s usually an isolated event and lasts only a few days. Non-toxic responses on the other hand, are ever-present in peoples’ lives.
Under the umbrella of non-toxic responses are food aversions, which may stem from negative childhood experiences; non-immune mediated responses, like lactose intolerance; and immune mediated responses, which come in three flavors: allergies, auto-immunities, and sensitivities.
Erin specializes in food sensitivities, which makes her a sort of health detective. While allergies are pretty straightforward—they produce an immediate reaction, it’s the same every time and may occur after a single molecule of exposure—sensitives are a lot more elusive. This has led some people to question their validity, but Erin assured us they are real. They just present themselves differently.
There are sensitivities to all types of food, and reactions are dose-dependent. So while consuming a trigger food in large quantities may cause a very clear reaction, a more moderate consumption may seem to have no affect. This can make sensitivities hard to uncover. Plus, symptoms vary widely, ranging from Inflammatory Bowel Disease to chronic migraines, rashes, arthritis, and more. It’s no wonder it takes a detective to get to the bottom of these food reactions!
If you think you may have a food sensitivity, Erin suggested trying a simple elimination diet. Stop eating the suspected trigger food for a few weeks, and see if symptoms subside. If that doesn’t work, or you’d feel more comfortable in the hands of a specialist, dietitians like Erin are well equipped to help you find relief.