Ask a Health Coach: Intolerances, Electrolytes, and Epigenetics
Hi everyone, this week we’re excited to have board-certified Health & Wellness Coach, Chloé Maleski here to answer your questions. She’ll be talking about the validity of food intolerances, how to make the first few weeks of keto more manageable, and why genetics don’t have to dictate your health. Got a question for our coaches? Drop it in the comments below or over in the Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook group.
“I think I might have an almond/nut allergy or intolerance. When I unknowingly eat products that might have almond flour, 24-48 hours later I experience what feels like a head cold (runny nose, cottonmouth, drowsy, fatigue) for a few days along with some bad gas. Does this even exist? Is it common?”
From a Primal point-of-view, nuts can be a great addition to most diets. Nuts are satisfying, satiating, and have healthy fats, decent protein, and nominal carbs. If you can get past the phytic acid issue (I know I can), they’re a near-perfect food — except for folks with a nut allergy or intolerance. Which sounds like what you might be dealing with. According to this research, 1.1% of the general population (that’s about 3 million Americans) have a tree nut or peanut allergy. And yes, peanuts are more accurately a legume, but that’s not the point.
The point is this, most people have been taught to completely disregard any and all physical, mental, and emotional symptoms they’re experiencing. They’re so busy operating on autopilot (and likely having some of the symptoms below), trying to do what’s “right” versus noticing what’s right for them.
Common food intolerance symptoms include:
- Stomach pain
- Brain fog
- Runny nose
Common food allergy symptoms include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Itchy or tingly mouth
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Anaphylaxis (which is potentially life-threatening)
Instead of tuning into these symptoms, most people flat out ignore what’s going on, or chalk them up to something else. Let this be your friendly health coach reminder that no one knows your body better than you do. Not your primary care doc. Not your spouse. Not even the most seasoned health coaches. Also, and I know this one can be tough to hear, not all dietary approaches are right for all people.
This is a huge block for people who are following their diet du jour, faithfully keeping tabs on which foods are “good” and which are “bad” and having no clue why they still feel awful.
You have a unique metabolic expression. Meaning, what works for someone else might not work for you. And vice versa. If I were you, I would eliminate almonds, almond flour, and anything made from them for 2-3 weeks, including almond milk, protein bars, and paleo cakes and cookies. (Just FYI, if you have an actual nut allergy, I would eliminate those foods for good.)
After 2 or 3 weeks are up, reintroduce your favorite almond-based products. And not just a bite or two of the leftover almond milk ice cream that’s waiting for you in the freezer. For the first few days, load up on almonds – and foods made with almonds. If your symptoms return, take them out again (or take them out forever). If they don’t, consider yourself free to eat ‘em.
“What data should I be collecting about my body/health if I’m at risk for developing diabetes? What tests should I do? I’m pretty sure there’s a genetic component for me.”
It’s smart to be concerned about diabetes, especially since it sounds like it runs in your family. But just because you have the genetic coding for it, doesn’t mean you’ll get it. If you’ve ever read up on epigenetics, you know what I’m talking about. Epigenetics is the idea that you can reprogram your genes through dietary, behavioral, and environmental changes.
And there’s been tons of research to back this up. One of the most interesting being a study that looked at the genetic variance of desert nomads, mountain agrarians, and urban residents in North Africa.1 They had similar genetic patterns (basically they were all from the same genetic stock), but had very different habits and living conditions. Researchers analyzed the white blood cells of the groups to study the impact of traditional lifestyles versus modern ones. Turns out, the group living in an urban environment had upregulated respiratory and immune genes, while the genes in their more traditional-living counterparts stayed dormant.
In all the groups, the genes stayed the same, but the expression of those genes changed depending on how the residents lived. That’s epigenetics.
As controversial as it might be, there’s also evidence that epigenetics explains why COVID-19 affects some people mildly and is completely devastating for others.2
So, how do you reprogram your genes? When it comes to blood sugar balance (i.e. avoiding a diabetes diagnosis), here are five things you can do today:
- Go for a walk after meals3
- Eat more protein and fat
- Eat less refined carbs
- Practice deep breathing exercises
- Get a good night’s sleep tonight
That being said, there are certain tests you can do to monitor your blood sugar — from glycated hemoglobin (A1C) tests that measure the degree of glycation in your red blood cells’ hemoglobin to a wearable glucose monitor that measures your blood sugar throughout the day and night.
And if you need help, I highly recommend working one-on-one with a coach in the new myPrimalCoach app. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you can do so here.
“I had 24g carbs yesterday and felt okay. I ate dinner at 6pm, went to bed at 9:30pm, and when I got up at 5:30am, I felt a little off, weak, and light-headed. I’ve tried keto before, keeping carbs to 20 grams and it was really hard on my body. I felt sick the whole time. Is it possible to have a body that just can’t do keto?”
Like I said earlier, not every “diet” works for every person. We are all physically and metabolically different and just because some people have success with keto, doesn’t mean you will. But (and stay with me here) it doesn’t mean you won’t.
I’m not a big fan of measuring, counting, and tracking in general. However, you might consider that the 20-ish grams of carbs aren’t necessarily the culprit of your malaise. There are so many other factors to think about. For instance:
- How is your sleep?
- Are you eating enough fat and protein (and calories)?
- Do you need more carbs? Up to 50 grams per day is keto-approved (or higher if you’re active)
- Are you exercising too much?
- Are you adding electrolytes to your water?
That last one, in my experience, is most likely to blame. When you first go keto, you deplete your glycogen stores, which is totally normal. Unfortunately, the result of this depletion is water loss. Every time you lose a gram of glycogen, you lose four grams of water and a whole lot of sodium, magnesium, and potassium. And because going keto lowers insulin too, you also naturally reduce sodium retention, which can off-set the delicate balance of your electrolytes. Hence, needing to supplement with a brand like Ultima or LMNT.
There are lots of ways to be healthy and/or reach a specific health goal. And keto is just one of them. So, play around with a few variables and see what happens. You might be surprised at the outcome.
Do you agree? Disagree? Tell me what you think in the comments.
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