Testing for Food Sensitivities in a Culturally Diverse World
September 2, 2020 at 12:45 PM / by Dr. Chris Meletis, ND
As the world becomes increasingly connected through the internet, travel, and immigration, traditional cuisines from across the globe have become more and more available to us all.
Being a child of two immigrant parents, I can fully appreciate and embrace the gastronomic influence my parents had on my diet, yet at first glance, no one would be able to guess. In my youth, there is no question I consumed more oregano and lamb than dozens of my classmates combined, to name a few of my unique food options.
The beauty of interconnectivity between countries around the globe is the diversity of foods that are often available just around the corner in nearby neighborhoods and communities. Thus, when exploring our patients' food consumption and potential sensitivities that may present from either genetic susceptibility, frequent consumption of a given food or herb, or the impact of cross-reactivity of environmental inhalants and ingested foods it is vitally essential to cast the net of testing broadly.
My clinical practice is located within a mile of the international Nike campus, a couple of miles from Intel, and countless other high-tech companies. The breadth of dietary choices for lunch encompasses every inhabited continent of our magnificent planet. As functional medicine providers, we all embrace and appreciate that each patient’s journey is varied and riddled with unique susceptibilities.
I assume nothing about my patients' diets. Often, as we discuss food predilections, even my patients gain a greater appreciation of how readily available global cuisine has broadened their proclivities to be adventuresome when it comes to food.
Cultural Diet and Vegetarian Food Panels
There are dozens of variants on health-promoting diets a patient may follow, and many are individualized based on their preferences and lifestyle, as well as cultural traditions. US BioTek embraces a diverse diet that includes ingredients from around the world, and offers specialized food sensitivity panels that may be more representative of your patients’ diets. Selecting the appropriate panel can better uncover sensitivities and accelerate your patients’ paths to better health.
96 Food Hispanic Diet Panel
Compared to our 96 General Food Panel, the 96 Food Hispanic Diet Panel includes a number of foods and spices that are found in Central and South America. Octopus, red snapper, sardines, and tilapia are all additions to the fish and shellfish that are tested, as well as tropical fruits and vegetables including artichoke. Duck and goose round out the list of meats, and cashew nut, pine nut, and quinoa are just some of the nuts and grains that are specific to this panel.
96 Food Asian Diet Panel
The 96 Food Asian Diet Panel includes a variety of foods and spices that are more common in a traditional Asian diet than a traditional North American diet. This includes an expanded list of fish and shellfish, tropical fruits like mango, kiwi, and guava, and spices such as basil, curry powder, and black tea.
96 Food Japanese Diet Panel
While the 96 Food Japanese Diet Panel is similar to the 96 Food Asian Diet Panel, it does have some important differences. Although the list of fish and shellfish is slightly shorter, it includes mackerel, a staple fish in Japanese dishes. This panel also includes ingredients used in beer like hops and malt and different fruits such as blueberry, fig, and plum.
96 Food Vegetarian Diet Panel
The 96 Food Vegetarian Diet Panel is exactly what it sounds like. We’ve dropped all fish, shellfish, meat, and poultry from the panel and expanded the fruits, vegetables, and grains list. Fruits on the panel include tropical selections like kiwi and papaya as well as those found in colder regions like cherry, blueberry, and raspberry. The vegetable list covers everything from asparagus to pumpkin, and vegetarian staples like lentils and soybean are also included.
Expanded Panels for Expanded Diets
Some patients include such a wide variety of cultural dishes in their diet that they officially check the box for more than one of these panels. In this case, I will suggest they perform the 208-food panel that incorporates the breadth of food and herbs/spices that they are consuming. Therapeutic and culinary herbs—not captured on typical 96 food panels—can sometimes be the "missing link" that makes the difference for patients that aren’t fully optimized by avoiding common foods alone.
The 208-food panel has become my go-to panel for those that embrace international eating. That said, the smaller cultural diet panels listed above are great places to start with more limited eating patterns.
Patient Case Study: 74-Year-Old Male
It is a true privilege to get to meet patients where they are, and often they offer me a broader view of the world through their lens. A specific patient comes to mind that I have treated for over a decade.
If we were to join him for dinner, it would be a treat indeed as he is an avid cook. The menu for any given week could easily include octopus, squid, buffalo, sheep cheese as an appetizer, teff bread (as he is gluten free), shitake mushroom, coriander, tarragon, and turmeric along with a litany of other spices and a bean dish of either adzuki and mung bean. On another day, it could merely be a nicely marinated piece of grilled chicken on a simple salad.
If I were to be invited to eat at his home on any given day, the 208 food panel would give me some much-needed food insights as friend or foe.
My takeaway living in the Pacific Northwest with so many food options is testing—not guessing—to empower my patients as they eat their way through the buffet of life.