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It might have been a rash, or a stomach problem, or even a respiratory ailment, but whatever it was, they couldn't figure out what caused it. Well, it might have been something you ate. Without knowing it, you might suffer from a hidden food reaction. Nearly one percent of adults and seven percent of children under five have at least one food allergy-an abnormal immune system response triggered by exposure to "foreign" proteins. Sometimes the reaction can be severe, other times not.

Most common foods that cause allergies:
a.. fish (including shellfish)
b.. cow's milk
c.. eggs
d.. wheat (including bread and pasta)
e.. peanuts
f.. tomatoes
g.. spinach
h.. strawberries
i.. raspberries
j.. oranges
k.. mangoes
There is another condition that produces similar reactions to allergies, but does not involve the immune system. This is known as food intolerance and affects anywhere from 5% to 50% of adults. The lack of one or more digestive enzymes is what causes many cases of food intolerance, which impairs the bodies ability to break down certain proteins.

Most common foods that cause intolerance:
a.. lactose
b.. sulfites
c.. artificial colors
d.. food additives (such as monosodium glutamate)
e.. histamines (compounds in fermented foods like cheese, sauerkraut, alcoholic beverages, vinegar)
f.. tyramine (an amino acid in aged cheeses, yeast extract, wine, beer, raspberries, bananas)
g.. food preservatives (such as benzoic acid and sodium benzoate)
Obviously, all food allergies and intolerance don't affect everyone the same. A rash might appear on one person while a stomach ailment might plague another all from the same food item. This is why it is often difficult to diagnose these conditions, and indeed, why many misdiagnoses are made.

If you feel that this might be your problem, there is a surefire method that an allergy specialist can use to isolate your reactions to foods. It is known as the "elimination and challenge diet." It consists of a four-week "elimination" phase where all suspect foods are omitted from your diet. During this cycle, symptoms generally disappear.

The "challenge" phase follows and can last up to a few months. During this time, suspect foods are tried one at a time to determine which cause the reactions.

It's painless (unless one of the suspect foods is your absolute favorite) and it works. Then, just like the old saying "if it hurts, don't do it," if you get a reaction from it, don't eat it.