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Food Allergy vs. Intolerance: Do you Know the Difference?

It seems like everyone has a food sensitivity these days. However, there is an increase in individuals who are self-diagnosing their food allergies and intolerances, or even worse, using a food sensitivity as an excuse to restrict important foods from their diet.

Researchers estimate that 32 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.6 million children under 18. However, an expert-led survey found that almost 50 million people THINK they have one. This number was after the survey’s strict criteria for labeling a food allergy as well as its exclusion of food intolerance symptoms from the study.

In order to determine whether someone truly has an issue with food it is important to first understand the distinction between a food sensitivity/intolerance and an allergy.
  • A food sensitivity (or intolerance) = a symptomatic response to a food that is usually caused by a digestive issue, such as not producing enough of a certain enzyme to properly break down a food. This can lead to symptoms such as: bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or gas, but is NOT an immune response. (i.e IBS or lactose intolerance)
  • A food allergy = an adverse immune response to a dietary protein within a food. Basically, the body thinks it is being harmed from the particular food and causes a range of symptoms from mild (rash or itch) to more severe, life-threatening reactions such as difficulty breathing/anaphylaxis. (i.e Celiac Disease or nut allergy)
The major difference is that with a food sensitivity/intolerance you may be able to eat small amounts of the problematic food without trouble or mild symptoms, whereas with a food allergy you may be at a risk of a life-threatening reaction.
If you suspect you have a problem with a particular food(s), it is best to see an allergist or gastroenterologist. Never self-diagnose or remove key foods from the diet without consulting a Registered Dietitian first.

Food Spotlight: Artichokes

Not only do artichokes make such beautiful centerpieces with their unique texture and flower-shape, but they also provide several health benefits.
History: Artichokes are one of the oldest cultivated vegetables in the world. They originate from the Mediterranean and Northern African regions and have been harvested since the 5th century BC. It takes 6 months for the buds to be ready to eat, however they can be harvested as many as 30 times a season, with their peak season being in both the Spring and Fall.
Nutrition Profile: Artichokes are high in fiber and are loaded with vitamins and minerals like Vitamin C, Vitamin K, folate, phosphorus, and magnesium. In fact, a medium artichoke contains almost 7 grams of fiber, which is a whopping 23-28% of the reference daily intake (RDI). They are one of the richest sources of antioxidants, which is particularly important with both corona virus and flu season upon us. Additionally, artichokes have been shown to: reduce both unhealthy (LDL) and total cholesterol, increase good (HDL) cholesterol, lower blood pressure for those with pre-existing elevated levels, and improve digestive issues such as bloating flatulence, and constipation.
How to Eat: Artichokes can be eaten both warm or cold. The heart, which is fully edible, is a culinary delicacy and is known for its smooth and nutlike flavor. The smaller heads, or buds, are usually the most tender and are typically served as a warm vegetable with a sauce or as a cold salad or appetizer. They can be steamed whole, cooked in a microwave, baked, roasted, grilled, or sautéed.
Additional Tips: Artichokes are typically served with butter, cream, or mayo-based sauces. Because these options are high in saturated fat, be mindful of portion sizes. For healthier options, prepare a sauce with: nonfat, plain Greek yogurt, lemon juice, dijon mustard, garlic powder, and a pinch of salt or tahini with lemon, garlic, and salt.

Food Spotlight: Pears

With over 10 varieties to choose from in the U.S. and 3,000 varieties worldwide, pears are a perfect seasonal fruit for this time of year. Their crisp, soft texture and sweet taste make them versatile in many dishes.
History: The common pear is probably of European origin and has been cultivated since ancient times. The pear was introduced into the New World by Europeans as soon as the colonies were established.
Nutrition Profile: Pears are roughly 100 calories each and provide fiber, Vitamins C, K, potassium, copper and tons of antioxidants. One medium-sized pear provides 22% of your daily fiber needs. Pears contain a soluble fiber called pectin, which is a prebiotic that nourishes gut bacteria and improves gut health. Because they have a high water content, they also help keep stools soft while flush toxins from the digestive system. Pears, particularly the skin, contain a variety of polyphenols, which help fight against oxidative or cellular stress inside the body. Vitamins C, K, copper, and copper help reduce inflammation and protect against certain diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Potassium helps regulate blood pressure, assists with muscle contraction, and promotes kidney function.
Additional Tips: Since several health benefits are found in the skin, so be sure to include the skin in your eating and preparation methods.
Healthy Recipe Ideas: They can be eaten on their own, cut up onto a salad, made into a sauce, jam, or spread, baked into a dessert, mixed in with alcoholic drinks, topped onto a crostini, or roasted with vegetables. Popular cooking methods include roasting and poaching. They pair well with chicken, spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, cheeses like Gouda and brie, and ingredients like lemon and chocolate.