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Foods and headaches: eating for, and proactively against, the headache pain

Start managing that nagging, or sometimes debilitating, pain now by combining your knowledge about foods and headaches. What better time to be more mindful than during the holidays – when you are more likely to sleep less, drink more alcohol and coffee and less water and eat less healthy – together a recipe for headaches or worse?

The worst foods – the ones that welcome headaches

foods and headaches1 Not surprising, alcohol is one of the biggest headache-causing culprit. Alcohol dehydrates our bodies and inhibits our reactions. But it also contains various headache triggers:

  • Wine contains sulfites, tannins and histamines.
  • Beer contains grains and sulfites.
  • Spirits contain grains.

Many alcoholic beverages may also contain preservatives or added artificial colors, which could be a trigger for you. Stick to beverages and quantities that do not induce symptoms for you.

2 The artificial sweeteners in diet sodas, particularly aspartame, are known to trigger migraines, too.

3 Monosodium glutamate (MSG) can cause headaches. MSG lurks in many food places – chips, dressings, sauces and other proceeds foods, including cured deli meats.

4 The nitrates found in deli meats, bacon, ham and sausage can cause headaches.

5 Foods with an amine called tyramine can trigger headaches. You may be tyramine-intolerant if bananas, avocados, fermented foods, aged cheeses or cured or smoked meats trigger headaches.

Foods and headaches combined – pain relief naturally

Once a headache starts to take over, enlist foods, instead of medicines, for pain relief because many prescription and over-the-counter medicines can damage your body over the long term.

You won’t always know what’s triggering your headache, but if you look for patterns and experiment with these foods, you may find a common thread leading to your culprit – as well as its counterpart.


For headaches from lack of: try eating:
hydration spinach*, lettuce, watermelon, cucumber
tryptophan turkey, almonds*
B2 (riboflavin) spinach*, mushrooms, broccoli, eggs
B3 (niacin) beef liver, beets, salmon, sunflower seeds
magnesium Swiss chard, sunflower seeds, sweet potatoes, quinoa, bananas*, almonds*
omega-3s salmon, olive oils, avocado*
gut stability (you have nausea) fresh ginger
endurance (time of day pattern) cherries, beetroot

*Only eat these foods if you are not sensitive to them as they can be headache triggers, too, due to the amines.

If your headaches seem hormone-related, incorporating enough magnesium in your diet may help prevent headaches.

Headaches present another great reason to make leafy greens a major part of your diet. Greens help hydrate while providing magnesium and other minerals and vitamins that are essential to your health. So, during the holidays, when temptations are, well, tempting you, add healthy, headache-preventing foods to help balance out your spontaneous, not-so-healthy eating.

For a deeper look at foods and headaches, read “Migraine detail – how to manage those unbearable headaches and find true migraine relief”.


*This blog is intended for use as a source of information and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. 

healthier eaters blog

Food coloring matters: should you forego the foods with food dyes?

food dyes in cerealAre synthetic food dyes damaging your health and livelihood? Could they be a factor in your lack of focus? Your kid’s inability to sit still? The cancer of your dear friend?

Yes. Synthetic food dyes could be contributing to those issues and more.

What’s the connection between food dyes and behavior or cancer?

Recent studies are proving that synthetic food dyes may be linked to both our physical and mental health. Some of the health problems connected with the consumption of food dyes include:

  • hyperactivity
  • lack of concentration
  • aggressive behavior
  • tumors

The behavior issues quickly become a triple play when you’re the batting team. So not good! First you’re dealing with the distraction. Then the delay or lack of finishing the task at hand. Plus, if you’re taking a prescription medication for the issue, you’re dealing with whatever that drug may be doing to your body over the long-term, which I’m willing to bet is not good.

Granted, sometimes medication is absolutely necessary. But what if it’s the food dyes that pushed your kiddo over the edge and into that diagnosis and prescription? What if those symptoms would go away once he stopped eating and drinking the food dyes?

Now when a tumor is involved, patients are often advised to stop eating potentially carcinogenic foods. Food dyes are one of them. Why give your body even more to battle?

Then why do we have synthetic food dyes?

food dyes st pats cookiesFood dyes were created to add color to foods – so we would be more drawn to buy them and eat them. Think about it. Which cereals do kids point at first – the tan Os or rainbow of colors? The light purple popsicle made from organic grape juice or the velvet purple one shaped like a rocket? The ice cream treat with sprinkles or without?

In parts of Europe, manufacturers must put warnings about the effects of food dyes on product labels. But in the U.S., manufacturers still only have to list the food dyes in the ingredients. Common man-made food dyes may be listed as:

  • Blue #1 (Brilliant Blue, FD&C Blue No. 1)
  • Blue #2 (Indigo Carmine, FD&C Blue No. 2)
  • Citrus Red #2
  • Green 3 (Fast Green, FD&C Green No. 3)
  • Orange B
  • Red #3 (Erythrosine)
  • Red 40 (Allura Red, FD&C Red No.40)
  • Yellow 5 (Tartrazine)
  • Yellow 6 (Sunset Yellow)
  • annatto
  • caramel coloring
  • FD&C Lakes
  • artificial color

You may find these food dyes in beverages, baked goods, cereals, gelatin desserts, dessert powers, candy, gum, ice cream, maraschino cherries, pepperoncini and other jarred foods, sausage casings, pet food and personal care products such as medicines and shampoo. Note this is not a complete list. And you may be surprised at how even some brown or white foods contain food dyes as well.

What if these food dyes were never created in the first place? If only.

How do we avoid food dyes?

The good news is that you can change your shopping habits and your kids’ desires.

  1. Say goodbye to the foods with food dyes. Tell your kids the truth about the dyes  and that you only want what’s good for them and yourself (literally and figuratively). Make it a team mission to toss them out together.
  2. Shop mostly the outside aisles of the grocery store, focusing on whole foods – those foods that will rot in a few days. If you buy a few packaged goods, look for those without bright colors or at least ones with organic or non-GMO labels. (Some organic products may contain color from natural sources such as beets, beta-carotene or turmeric.)
  3. When out, opt for treats without the dyes. Think funnel cake (though the mix may have some food dye) instead of sno-cone and popcorn instead of candy.
  4. Celebrate your healthier lifestyle by finding recipes for treats without the food dyes. For St. Patrick’s Day, try these healthier recipes for green pancakes, Shamrock smoothies or green ice cream!

Ideally, foods with food dyes would be boycotted until banned, especially for kids and in schools. The food dyes only entice us to put harmful stuff into our bodies, possibly adding to our struggles while sucking away our livelihood. So be your own kind of bright and avoid the fake colors!

Read about other foods and the symptoms they cause in my blog post “Are food allergies and behaviors linked?”.


*This blog is intended for use as a source of information and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. 

healthier eaters blog

What are the best and worst foods for spring allergies?

Are you starting to sneeze, wheeze or fight off watery eyes? St. Louis pollens haven’t popped quite yet, but some of the tree pollens are blowing up from the south and doing their thing. Do you know you can help minimize symptoms by choosing foods for the season? Read on to get familiar with the best and worst foods for spring allergies.

How are foods related to spring allergies?

Foods can impact spring allergies in 2 ways.

First, some foods are high in histamines. Histamines occur naturally in your body and trigger it to defend itself. But if you have allergies, your body is over reacting, trying to defend itself against pollens, dust, pet dander or other environworst foods for spring allergiesmental elements. So when you eat foods high in histamines on top of that, you are literally adding fuel to a fire. And this is no sing-around-the-fire-eating-s’mores campfire.

Second, some of the proteins in certain fruits and vegetables are related to those found in pollens. And if the pollens bother you, the related fruits and vegetables (especially raw) may too. When you experience “Oral Allergy Syndrome”, you typically feel itchiness in or around your mouth or throat, immediately up to a half hour later. Instincts are to avoid that food in the future, but you may need to address an allergy to the pollen it’s associated with instead.

In fact, according to this article on Mother Nature Network, up to 70% of people with pollen allergies have reactions after eating certain foods. This may include Oral Allergy Syndrome symptoms, or less obvious ones such as congestion, constipation, mood swings and more. (For a more complete list, see the “Common reaction-causing foods and symptoms” chart in my book.)

So what are the worst foods for spring allergies?

If you start sneezing, get water eyes, feel more congested or even feel more depressed this time of year as it warms up, try limiting or avoiding the worst foods for spring allergies due to high histamine content.

  • bleu cheese or other aged cheeses
  • smoked meats
  • walnuts, cashews
  • hot peppers
  • pickled or fermented foods such as sauerkraut
  • wine (because of fermented grapes and sulfites) and alcohol

Really, you should lay off these foods whenever your allergies flare up.

Plus, this may surprise you because these are otherwise healthy foods. But limit or avoid these cross-reactors to tree pollens, that is, the foods related to the proteins in tree pollens.

  • parsley
  • almonds
  • celery
  • carrots
  • tomatoes
  • apples
  • pears
  • cherries

At the very least, be mindful of these foods as we head into spring. Ideally, use a food journal to track your responses and hopefully determine whether the food or pollen is to blame for your havoc.

Then stock up on the best foods for spring allergies

Put these foods to work to help tame your allergy symptoms:

  • fresh, wild-caught fish
  • onions
  • pineapple

You may want to eat local honey early in the season as another defense strategy. This produces a similar effect to getting allergy shots. You expose your body to the coming pollens in small doses daily, trying to build a healthy immune response to them. However, if you are super reactive to tree pollens, check with your doctor first.

Also, add ginger, turmeric or cinnamon to your tea or food for their anti-inflammatory effects.

Later as summer and fall approach, check back for foods that cross-react with grass and ragweed. You may want to push that chamomile tea to the back of your cabinet!

With a better understanding of how foods can cross-react with pollens and add histamine to your system, you can embrace the best foods and avoid the worst foods for spring allergies.


*This blog is intended for use as a source of information and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice.