Eating Healthy Without Digestive Discomfort

How well our bodies digest the food we eat affects how we feel and how we maintain good health. Summer is the time of year when more of us experience seasonal allergies, and what we choose to eat can have a direct effect on how our bodies respond to environmental allergens. Some of us also suffer year-round with uncomfortable symptoms that are triggered by the food we eat, and often these foods are part of what we typically think of as a “healthy” diet. Reactions can include headache, runny nose, watery or itchy eyes and digestive disorders such as gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, acid reflux and joint pain. These symptoms can be worse in spring or late summer, especially when we are exposed to pollen from trees, grass and ragweed.

        When we eat certain foods that are not broken down properly they pass through our digestive tract and the immune system detects that there is a problem. When the digestive system is not performing optimally, weaknesses occur in the gut as a result of undigested food particles (such as fats, protein, carbohydrates).They can even leak into the bloodstream through the gut, where the immune system recognizes them as foreign objects and starts to defend itself and causes an immune reaction. That’s when we can experience symptoms.

        The chemistry of certain foods and our ability to digest fats, proteins and carbohydrates all play a role in how we run our system. While gluten and lactose are well-known triggers, other food can also affect how we feel after a meal. Two other lesser-known triggers of digestive discomfort are oxalates and high-histamine foods.

        Oxalates, or oxalic acids, are compounds that naturally occur in many plants, and sensitivity can occur when our bodies take in this chemical. A healthy spinach salad might be a good choice for someone that doesn’t have a problem with oxalates, but for those with systems that are more sensitive, eating a “healthy” spinach salad can cause the immune system to react with an inflammatory response.

        High-histamine foods, including those that are fermented, cured or vinegar-based, can trigger uncomfortable reactions in our body, as well as headaches, runny nose and mucous. Apple cider vinegar, bone broth, kombucha, alcohol and cured meats are all considered high-histamine foods.

        A qualified healthcare practitioner can order laboratory urine testing or food panel tests to identify food sensitivities and digestive issues. A 24-hour urinalysis reveals how the body digests fat, protein and carbohydrates, and shows many imbalances from undigested food that can cause many reactions in the body. This test also helps to identify vitamin and mineral deficiencies as well as candida/yeast overgrowth. After proper identification, the practitioner may suggest dietary modification to calm the system, and then gradually re-introduce suspect foods. Other therapies for sensitivities vary and may include enzyme replacement therapy and specific supplements to strengthen the digestive system and help minimize reactions.

        An easy way to reduce digestive discomfort and sensitivity reactions is to substitute foods that are more easily digested, rather than giving up on salad. For example, swap out red lettuce for spinach. Stone fruits like cherries, plums and peaches substitute for high-oxalic blueberries and raspberries, as do apple or pear slices and watermelon. With a little research, it becomes easy to make other food exchanges at the grocery store or farmers’ market.

Reneé Barasch is a certified digestive health specialist, detoxification/purification specialist and the founder of Digestive Health Solutions, located at 480 Elm Place, Ste. 108, in Highland Park. For more information, call 847-207-2034 or visit



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