The Elimination Diet
The Elimination Diet is an important diagnostic tool for finding food allergies. In many cases today, allergic symptoms such as postnasal drip, sinus problems, eczema, frequent ear infections, and allergic rhinitis may be the result of a person’s allergic response to foods. These allergic reactions can be just as pronounced as reactions to environmental allergens, such as pollen, dust, animal dander, and ragweed.
An allergy-free diet has two important components: 1) It attempts to identify the specific food allergen(s), and 2) It attempts to monitor and maintain minimal allergic symptoms on a day-by-day basis. To begin the Elimination Diet, it is best to follow these short steps while eliminating one food at a time (usually start with dairy products, the most common food allergen by far).
- Before starting the Elimination Diet, it’s wise to be physically and psychologically prepared. It may not be very easy to completely give up a certain food for two weeks—the shortest time necessary to determine food allergies or sensitivities.
- Follow the diet for at least two to three weeks to become symptom-free. Why? Because the food we ate for breakfast this morning or dinner last evening may still be in our system one week from now, but not necessarily two weeks. Two weeks seems to be a sufficient time to eliminate the possible allergic food from the body. Allergies are very non-specific, and you can never be totally sure if a small amount, a moderate amount, or a large amount of a certain food produces allergic symptoms. Getting a specific food totally out of the body is the best first step in determining a food allergen.
- Don’t Cheat! It is extremely important to remember that ingesting a small amount of the possible allergic food during those two weeks may induce symptoms. If the person has an attitude like “a little taste won’t hurt,” or “a little milk in my coffee will be okay,” or “a small piece of chocolate only has a little dairy,” it may be deleterious to the success of the two-week elimination program. If, however, you are fasting well through most of the two weeks and mistakenly forget and ingest a small amount of the proposed allergic food, then continue with the fasting diet until completed.
- After the two to three weeks are completed—feel the body’s natural response and evaluate the results. Mothers can observe changes that may occur in their babies or young children. Changes that are most likely to occur include open nostrils in the morning, better bowel movements, easier breathing, less wheezing, less phlegm, more energy, slight weight loss, a decrease in skin rashes or eczema, or just a general improved healthy feeling.
- After identifying the offending food, try eliminating it from your diet. If you cannot eliminate a food completely because it is impractical (like dairy), then begin to introduce the allergic food slowly back into the diet (a little bit at a time). Perhaps a small amount of the allergic food (in the dairy family), such as yogurt, butter, skim or low-fat milk, or cottage cheese may be well tolerated. However, if you start consuming large amounts of the allergen food (in the dairy family), such as 2-3 glasses of milk a day, excessive cheese products, pizza, ice cream, and milkshakes, there is little doubt that you will once again produce the same symptoms that occurred before the test was initiated.
- If there is no difference in how you feel, or no alleviation of any of the common allergic symptoms (listed in Step 4) after the Elimination Diet has been successfully completed, then the conclusion is clear—it is not that particular food. In that case, go to the next most common food on the food allergy list (wheat gluten), and redo Steps 1-5. If there is another food that you suspect may be causing an allergic response in your body, then do the two-week elimination of that particular food.
- Create a food diary. During a 2-6 week period, attempt to write down all foods that you have eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and in-between snacks. Also, use the food diary to record the appearance of any and all symptoms and the times they first appeared. The diary can be an excellent tool to identify allergic-type symptoms that may appear during or even 24-48 hours after consuming certain foods. In almost all cases, no one remembers what they had for dinner a week ago; thus a food diary is a valuable tool to identify potential offending foods.
In conclusion, your body will talk to you! The body will respond with negative symptoms (bloating, gas, stomach upset, rashes, burping, headache, constipation, diarrhea, poor digestion) to an allergic-type food, and react positively (good energy, sounder sleep, better bowel movements, abatement of old symptoms) to the elimination of these problematic foods.
Listen to your body and control your dietary habits for a healthier, happier, and more symptom-free life. If you do it is quite likely that you will have less need for oral and/or inhalant medications to relieve allergic symptoms. There may also be less need to take antihistamines, decongestants, and even natural supplements to relieve allergic symptoms. This is an admirable goal! Always see your physician before reducing or eliminating prescription drugs on your own.
THE MOST COMMON FOOD ALLERGENS IN ORDER OF FREQUENCY AND COMMONALITY INCLUDE:
- Cow’s milk and dairy products (including milk, ice cream, sour cream, butter, yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese)
- Wheat and wheat gluten (including breads, crackers, pretzels, cereals, wheat pasta, and pastries)
- Eggs (mainly egg yolks, not egg whites)
- Nuts (mainly peanuts, but can include cashews, sunflower seeds, walnuts, mixed nuts)
- Sugar (both sugarcane and beet sugar)
- Sulfites (in many processed and prepared foods)
- Shellfish and other seafood
- Citrus fruits (especially grapefruits, oranges, and strawberries)
- Coloring agents (in soft drinks and cola, mayonnaise, candies, and puddings)
- Tomatoes (rarely lentils and peas)
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