The Ideal Diet for You – Part 4 How Does That Work?

The point of this whole series is simple. What is your ideal diet? That means what you should eat and what not. Why? Because some of the stuff we might eat can make us sick in some minor or major way. People are prone to ignore what we consider minor. Minor can turn into major with significant consequences.

In order to decide your diet, there are things you need to know. This series intends to prepare you for a decision.

The spectrum of immune response to food extends from sensitivity to a food through allergic to a food to autoimmune conditions. These words are just labels intended to describe conditions at a high level. In earlier posts they were described in more detail. While the descriptions are accurate, they don’t answer the question “how does that work?’ This is what you need to know so you can figure our your personal situation.

Enzymes vs Food Proteins

Symptomatic reactions to food are generally due to either the absence of enzymes to digest the food OR an allergic reaction to a protein which is a major part of the food. Note: I said a part, not the whole food.

By the way, the name of an enzyme always end in —ase.

In some cases the enzymes for a food are included in the food, particularly true of starchy vegetables like legumes. Otherwise enzymes in the body are made primarily in the pancreas. So anyone with chronic pancreatic issues will have a shortfall of enzymes, creating massive digestive issues.

There are approximately 1300 known enzymes (not all of which digest food) so you can imagine it would be tough if not impossible to even find the exact right enzyme supplement for what you are eating. I have a friend with chronic pancreatitis who suffers with this problem.

Just for the record, protein is the basic structure of all animal and plant cells. There may be up to 400,000 different proteins in the body although not all at the same time. The body makes the vast majority of those proteins all by itself but ten are considered “essential” and must be eaten in food. Protein names don’t all end in anything.

Milk as an Example

A simple comparative example of enzymes versus food proteins is milk.

Many Americans lose or have a diminished amount of the enzyme lactase when they become adults. Lactase breaks down (digests) the sugar lactose in milk. On the other hand a milk “allergy” generally results from the immune system’s response to the protein casein.

US dairy cows are mostly Holstein, the winner in the milk production contest. Both A1ß and A2ß casein are in their milk.

European dairy cows are usually Guernsey, producing milk with A2ß casein. If you look hard in some grocery stores you may find A2 milk, identified by big letters on the label. I saw some at Kroger just last week.

Goat’s milk is also A2ß.

I have a friend who absolutely loves ice cream but the typical store bought ice cream gives him a digestive fit. He figured out it wasn’t the lactose. Fortunately he raises goats and goats have A2ß casein. So he makes his own ice cream with goat’s milk and has no problem. It’s a celebration!

Common Food Allergens

The milk situation described above is only one example but the concept applies to all..

The top eight food or food groups account for 90% of all food allergy reactions. They are milk, peanuts, wheat, crustacean shellfish (e.g., crab, lobster, shrimp), soybeans, eggs, finned fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod), and tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans). The most common are in bold print. Take note that peanuts are listed separately because they aren’t actually nuts.

There are certainly many proteins in other foods that any one individual might be sensitive or allergic to.


I’ve listed symptoms before time and again. The problem is that the symptoms for many things can be similar. This explains why you usually can’t just Google a symptom or a disease and make a good diagnosis on your own. Doctors just hate it when that happens.

However, severe allergic reactions to milk, peanuts, wheat, and crustacean shellfish(along with bee stings) cause easily identifiable symptoms.

Your body goes into shock, blood pressure drops, throat closes blocking breathing. If this has ever happened to you or your child, I’m betting you are carrying around an epinephrine (epi) pen.

However, not all allergic reactions are immediately severe for everyone. For example, many years ago my husband and I decided to celebrate New Year’s Eve with lobster, crab, and shrimp. That is all we ate. The next day I awoke with hives all over my body. This has never happened again because I am now much more thoughtful about the frequency and volume of shellfish I eat.

When the Damage Starts

Intestinal damage from food always has symptoms. Symptoms should not be ignored because they carry a message – something I ate did not agree with me. Why is this a big deal? Because the immune reaction can eventually evolve from sensitivity to allergy.

The symptoms of a food sensitivity are gastrointestinal, in the stomach and the gut, reflecting an immune response. Damage to the gut is determined by the volume and frequency of the reaction.

When the damage is persistent, the gut lining leaks, allowing poorly digested food particles to escape the gut into the blood stream. The body knows that those particles don’t belong and begins another immune response – the same kind of response you get with a virus or bacteria. Only in this case it’s called an allergic reaction.

Anyone with an allergy knows they aren’t desirable. Some allergens are environmental, entering your body through your lungs or skin. However, 80% of your immune system is in your gut, doing its best to keep non-digested food stuff from escaping into your blood. That means 80% of your personal opportunity for an allergic response is in your gut.

A cut on your finger engages your immune system which, in turn, damages the cells as a part of preventing infection. Your body creates new cells to replace the damage. This is called healing.

Likewise, occasional damage to the gut heals because the intestinal cells turn over every couple of days – unless you keep doing the damage every day.

Perpetual damage (volume and frequency) thwarts healing, allowing allergens to escape into your blood stream and. requiring the other 20% of your immune system to deal with additional damage to internal cells.

Symptoms tell you that all this is going on. Next week we will look at The Tricky Part.

Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All about the Food,” a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Proceeds from her book benefit the Montgomery County Food Pantry. Her website is She can be contacted at, 870-490-1836. Her Facebook page is