Food sensitivities and allergies are extremely common these days because so many of us have compromised immune systems due to the rise of heavy use of pesticides sprayed on our foods, the over consumption of genetically modified and processed foods, and other environmental toxins that we breathe in on a regular basis...just to name a few reasons. Some people are born with sensitivities to certain foods but many, including myself, have developed food sensitivities and allergies over time which can actually be the result of a leaky gut syndrome. If you are not familiar with leaky gut, it is when the gut is damaged causing small holes in the intestinal lining which allows food particles and toxins that are normally digested to go directly into the bloodstream causing an immune response that can come in the form of food allergies and sensitivities, brain fog, eczema, headaches, bloating, fatigue, muscle aches, diarrhea and many more symptoms.
There are several ways that one can find out about food allergies and sensitivities. A popular but less accurate way to find out about problematic foods is to get some form of allergy testing which usually done through blood work. This method has been used for years but you will most likely discover that you are reacting to more foods than actually show up on your test results. My preferred testing method is to do an elimination diet which is where you will remove allergenic foods for about two weeks, then slowly add back in one food at a time and note how your body reacts to it over the next 24-48 hours. I used the elimination diet to find out about my food sensitivity to dairy, egg white, and soy, then later confirmed my soy allergy through blood work.
Now just because you react to a food doesn't mean that you have to avoid that food for the rest of your life. Most of the time you can remove the food for an extended period of time and work on healing your leaky gut through eating healthy whole foods and supplementation, then later add the food back in and enjoy sparingly. I did this with my egg white sensitivity. I removed eggs completely for several months while healing my gut then slowly added back in organic pasture-raised whole eggs and now I can enjoy them regularly.
But in the meantime while you are healing your gut, you will want to do your best to keep that food out of your diet. This can be especially hard when you are eating out. As I mentioned earlier I am allergic to soy, lactose intolerant, and I avoid gluten because I recognize the poor effects that gluten has on the immune system. Avoiding these three foods while eating out isn’t an easy task and takes some effort. I’ve had really amazing experiences with accommodating restaurants and really awful ones where I had to leave restaurants because they every food item on the menu was marinated in soybean (vegetable) oil. Preparation and communication are key when you want to enjoy a nice meal without feeling sick, gassy or bloated.
6 Tips For Eating Out With Food Allergies and Sensitivities
- Call ahead before you dine. Call ahead before you head out for dinner and ask to speak to a manager or head chef, tell them what your food allergy is and ask what items (if any) you could safely order from the menu. Some restaurants even have a designated allergy menu that will list out all of the ingredients making it easy for you to decide what to eat. Most restaurants are very accommodating and are happy to prepare you something that is not on the menu.
- Be a food detective and ask your server a lot of questions. Tell your server that you have a food allergy upon sitting down. Ask questions about cooking oils and other ingredients used in marinades and sauces. Most servers are not educated about food allergies so you need to be a detective and ask a lot of questions. Ask that your food be prepared away from other dishes and that the pans and utensils used are cleaned thoroughly to avoid cross contamination.
- Simpler meals are always better. The less complicated your order is, the less likely that they will mess it up. A simple dish made up of protein such as chicken or fish served with avocado slices and sautéed vegetables cooked in olive oil is really hard to mess up. Just because it isn't pasta or bread loaded down with sauces doesn't mean it still can't be a delicious meal!
- Make a list of your favorite allergy friendly restaurants. Talk to others who have food allergies in your area and find out what their favorite restaurants are. Check Allergy friendly websites and phone apps such as Allergy Eats or do a search in Yelp or Google for allergy friendly restaurants. My go to restaurants are Bareburger, Hu Kitchen, Dig Inn, Siggy’s Good Food and Whole Foods Market because they have several soy, dairy & gluten-free meal options, the food is amazing and they have several locations around New York City. Make a list of several go-to spot so you always have a handful of restaurants to suggest for lunch and dinner.
- Realize that some cuisines may be off limits for a while. From my experience I’ve noticed that the hardest restaurants to avoid soy and gluten are Mexican, Chinese and Thai. That's not always the case because I've found a few exceptions to the rule so it's still best to call ahead. Just be prepared to search for another cuisine. Italian restaurants can be great for avoiding soy, dairy and gluten because most of them cook with olive oil and now many have gluten-free options.
- Be prepared to be disappointed and uncomfortable from time to time. No one likes to seem like the “picky” eater or weird person who is allergic to everything, but just try remember how important it is to avoid foods that are making you inflamed and sick. Some friends and family may not understand your dietary restrictions and that's totally okay. Communication is key so make sure you explain your new way of eating to your loved ones, offer to answer any questions that they may have, and ask for their understanding.
*These tips are for less severe food allergies and sensitivities. If you have more serious allergies such as anaphylaxis, then you should take extra precautions when dining out.