We all talk and think a lot about food, and rightly so. Being a “foodie” has come to be a popular thing; and here in the Pacific Northwest we are gifted with so many farm-to-table and other culinary opportunities. Food is not only essential to nourishment, but it is a fantastic chance to enjoy time with other people. It is required for life, it gives us energy for our daily tasks, and our body spends most of its energy each day digesting food--around sixty percent!
With up-to-date research, we have all kinds of new questions to consider about what we are eating. We might wonder if it is GMO? Is it a local product? What does local even mean when some people travel one or two hours just to get to their jobs? What about organic, and does it really matter? Then there is Paleo, Ketogenic, Vegan, and every diet in between. Dozens of people each week are told they have become “gluten intolerant.” We have lots of ideas and feelings about food, but do we really know that much about our food today?
The food production industry in the United States has become complicated: less like a kitchen and more like a laboratory. The lines between food groups are becoming increasingly blurred, as extracts from one food are added to another to produce a desired outcome.
Let’s say you are told by your doctor, or you just decide on your own, to be dairy free. Did you know that most leafy green vegetables, even organic brands, have lactobacillus from a dairy medium sprayed on them? How about alternatives to cow’s milk? Most nut milks are lactose free, but actually have dairy substances added back into them (called enriched) for the nutrient value. Many people may not notice any type of reaction to the added ingredients, but they are there. If you are hoping to see how your body reacts to the total absence of dairy, you will need a fine-tooth comb and a bloodhound to sleuth out all the places that dairy is hiding in your diet.
Gluten is another popular buzzword right now, as many people are hoping that going “gluten-free” will improve their digestion and overall health. Interestingly, it is a common occurrence that when gluten-intolerant people go to Europe, they can freely eat all their bread (and thus gluten). The reason offered by most doctors and nutritionists is that European grains are not hybridized and manipulated as they are in the United States. That is true. But what if it was more complicated than that? What if most (not all) of those people were actually potato intolerant?
In the US, most flour is enriched, meaning food producers add B-vitamins to it. B-vitamins are produced on a potato medium in the lab. Most bread uses a pinch of iodized salt (unless ingredients specify sea salt). Do you know that your iodized table salt (which is used in most restaurants and in most mass-produced items) has potato sugar added to it? Most commercial bread uses manufactured yeast; yeast used in this country is grown on a potato medium. Your shredded cheese is sprayed with potato starch so it will not clump together. In Europe, none of this happens.
So, are those of us labeled as “gluten intolerant” really reacting to gluten, or are they actually potato intolerant?
And it is not just gluten, or potato, that hides in our processed foods. Rennet, used for making cheese, is either made from vegetable or meat sources, though it is not always clearly labeled. Lecithin, if not labeled as soy, is made from egg sources. People allergic to these substances may not even realize they are receiving them into their body.
Do you see what I mean about the lines being blurred? If you really want to know what is in your food, you have to be willing to dig for the answers. If you are avoiding a certain food because it causes issues in your body, it could be the food, or it could be the ingredient, or the ingredient within an ingredient within your food, or even within a body care product.
In Part 2 of this article, I will discuss the difference between food allergies and food intolerance…yes, that’s a teaser.