The Real Food Guide

Food sensitivity elimination diet: find your food intolerance triggers

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Food sensitivity elimination dietI’ve written in the past about how food intolerance symptoms show up in the body in more ways than most people are aware. While it’s great information to have, it inevitably leads to the question: “What do I do about it?”

Ideally, it’s a good idea to see a naturopathic doctor or a functional medical doctor who looks at the body as a whole, as opposed to just any medical doctor or allergist. It’s not unusual to find an allergist who doesn’t believe in food intolerance testing, that is, they don’t believe the validity of the immunoglobin-G (IgG) antibody tests, since typically, allergists will only do IgE antibody tests, which are the ‘classic’ allergic reactions. (True story: I went to see an allergist recently who told me there is no cure for eczema and that he didn’t care about my IgG test results, despite the fact that by cutting out certain food triggers, I lessened the frequency and severity of my eczema flares). If you can afford to see a naturopathic doctor and have IgG food intolerance testing, then it’s great because you can save some time in figuring out what your food triggers are. You can also try doing your own food intolerance testing, using the LNT Coca Pulse method. It was not very accurate when I tried doing it for myself, but it isn’t a bad place to start.

The ‘gold standard’ in determining food allergy or sensitivity comes down to doing an elimination diet. It is inexpensive to do, but it does require a lengthy commitment to changing your eating habits – both during the course of the elimination diet, and then afterwards, if you find out you do have a sensitivity.

Steps for a food sensitivity elimination diet:

1. Rule out any digestive issues that aren’t related to food sensitivity

Before starting a food allergy elimination diet, you’ll want to rule out any digestive issues that aren’t related to food intolerances and sensitivity by optimizing digestion. Start by first implementing these 5 things you can do to improve your digestion.

If you find you’re still getting digestive issues beyond this, you may want to avoid certain combinations of foods which are harder to digest when eaten together.

Don’t eat:

  • high protein & high starches together (e.g. meat and potatoes)
  • high protein & fruit together (e.g. ham and pineapples)
  • high starch & fruit (e.g. apple pie).

Do eat:

  • high starch & non-starch (e.g. mixed vegetables with sweet potatoes)
  • high protein & non-starchy vegetables (e.g. meat and a green salad)
  • healthy oils and all types of vegetables (e.g. salad or squashes, sweet potatoes dressed with olive oil)

The reason is that these different types of foods get digested at different rates, so if they have to compete with each other, then overall digestion slows down. You may also find it helpful to take a digestive enzyme supplement if you are still experiencing symptoms like bloating, gas, bad breath and undigested food in your stool.

2. Eliminate possible environmental causes for your symptoms

This is especially important if you’re suffering from respiratory or skin-related issues. You’ll want to make sure to reduce suspect allergens in your home (and work, if possible). Consider using natural household cleaners and personal care products that are free of added fragrances and have as few chemicals as possible.

(My family uses this laundry detergent, this hand soap and this dish detergent. You can always look up ways to make your own cleaners as well – this is a great place to start. For shampoo, you can try the ‘no poo’ method, or opt for a natural organic shampoo like this.)

3. Keep a food diary

By keeping a food diary (PDF), you’ll be more aware of what you’re eating and how you’re feeling. Not sure what sort of symptoms you’re looking for? Have a look at this list of food intolerance symptoms – even things that you think are pretty mundane or day-to-day could be food-related. From personal experience, I know that some things I thought were just part of every day life (excessive gas, occasional constipation) or being a woman (bloating, menstrual cramps) ended up disappearing after making dietary changes.

4. Make a list of foods you suspect are causing your symptoms

Identifying the culprits can be difficult, but unfortunately, there’s a good chance it’s something that you eat regularly. It could even be a food that you may have been told is rarely allergenic or even hypoallergenic – I am one of those people who get a reaction if I eat plain, white rice.

If you’re not sure where to start, these foods are some of the most common causes of food sensitivity:

  • Processed foods containing artificial colors, additives and preservatives like benzoates, MSG, soy
  • Dairy (all forms – including milk, cheese and yogurt)
  • Gluten (e.g. wheat, wheat flours, barley, rye, spelt)
  • Grains (especially gluten-containing grains but also others such as corn, rice, oats, amaranth, quinoa)
  • Eggs (yolks and whites may cause differing sensitivities, so re-introduce separately)
  • Nightshades (e.g. tomato, potato, eggplant, peppers)
  • Nuts and/or seeds
  • Yeast-containing foods (bread, beer, wine)
  • Soy (soy lechithin and soybean oil are in many processed foods)
  • Caffeine (e.g. coffee, tea, chocolate)
  • Sugar (especially white sugar)
  • Citrus fruits (e.g. oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes etc.)

5. What you can eat during an elimination diet

It’s one thing to say, “Don’t eat those foods”, but it’s another to live it. For the first 7-10 days of a food sensitivity elimination diet, you’ll be eating a diet that is hopefully not going to trigger any symptoms. Depending on how you normally eat, you may find this to be an impossibly restrictive diet and, while it’s not easy, it is certainly do-able. I recommend that you stack the deck in your favor though, and schedule your elimination diet at a time when it will be convenient for you to prepare all your own food (i.e. not going out to eat), and when there are no major holidays (i.e. no big parties or temptations).

Foods you can eat on a food sensitivity elimination diet:

  • Vegetables, well-washed (preferably organic), eliminate nightshade vegetables if you suspect they are a problem
  • Fruits, well-washed (preferably organic), eliminate citrus if you think they may be a problem
  • Meat and fish (preferably organic and pasture-raised meats and wild-caught fish)
  • Fats and seasonings – Extra-virgin coconut oil for cooking, and extra-virgin olive oil for dressings and other low-temperature applications, sea salt, herbs
  • Drink: only water (filtered if possible)
  • Take your usual medications and supplements, and consider taking: a good quality multivitamin/multi-mineral, and a probiotic supplement,

Symptoms to look for:

You’ll certainly want to be keeping track of your symptoms in your food diary for the course of the elimination diet.  Keep in mind that it’s possible that during this elimination period of 7-10 days, you may have symptoms that get worse in the first few days – especially if you’re addicted to sugar and caffeine. Don’t worry – this will pass!

If you find at the end of the 7-10 days, your symptoms have improved, then it’s a good sign that your food trigger was eliminated.

6. Re-introducing foods after the elimination diet

Don't eat all the thingsAfter the elimination period of 7-10 days, you can start adding back in some foods – but before you go all crazy and EAT ALL THE THINGS! … You’ve got to be systematic about it. Remember that list of food suspects you had? Now is the time to bring them back in:

  • Re-introduce only one food at a time for only one day, with 48 hours between each food. So on the first day after the elimination period, you can re-introduce a food you’ve missed the most, for one day, and then take 48 hours until you try another food that you had eliminated. You only want to be testing your reaction to one food at a time, so if you tested dairy on day 1, you won’t eat it again during your re-introduction period.
  • Eat the re-introduced food for that one day at all three meals
  • Make sure to track any symptoms you notice – even if they’re very subtle. Again, refer to the food intolerance symptoms and see if any of those apply.
  • Keep in mind that some symptoms may only show up 3 days after exposure.
  • If you do get any symptoms, wait until they subside before you try re-introducing any other foods
  • Once you’ve re-introduced all your eliminated foods, you can go back to eating the foods that didn’t trigger any reactions

Chances are, after you’ve followed an elimination diet, you’ll get some answers about what your food sensitivity triggers are. You’ll be best off avoiding these trigger foods for at least 10 weeks to give your gut a chance to heal. At that point, you can try to re-introduce them again to see if there are any symptoms.

If you went through the elimination diet, but didn’t see any improvements in your symptoms, there is a very good chance that your digestion needs a tune-up, and for that, I highly recommend seeing a holistic nutritionist, naturopathic doctor or integrative or functional medical doctor.

Do you have a food allergy, sensitivity or intolerance? Have you tried an elimination diet or food intolerance testing? Share with us in the comments if there’s something that’s worked well for your symptoms.

Keep in mind that many food sensitivities are the result of a leaky gut, and taking steps to improve your digestion can often help less serious food intolerances. If you’re looking to improve your digestion, check out this comprehensive Heal Your Gut eCourse that consists of 10 self-guided modules of 45 lessons. You’ll even get access to a private Facebook group in which you’ll be able to ask questions and get additional guidance from a qualified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. And, if nothing else, go sign up for the Scoop on Poop book ;)

 

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This post is linked to Party Wave Wednesday on Holistic Squid.com


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Vivian is the founder of the Real Food Guide and a Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN) who believes that each individual needs to go on their own Real Food Journey to find what works. While she herself eats a diet of real food (aka a paleo diet), some people may find that they can flourish on a vegetarian diet instead. However, universal to optimal health and well-being is good quality, nutrient-dense, Real Food.

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November 20 |

8 thoughts on “Food sensitivity elimination diet: find your food intolerance triggers

  1. Deb says:

    Quinoa is not a grain, it’s a seed.

    • Yes, technically quinoa is a seed, but rather than split hairs, and call it a ‘pseudo-grain’ in the context of the post, I grouped it with grains. It’s often called an ‘Ancient Grain’ or classified as a ‘whole grain’ because it’s cooked in the same ways as grains.

      The important thing to note is that some people will have a sensitivity to ‘gluten-free’ grains (including seeds like quinoa).

  2. Teresa says:

    Hi, I just started (yesterday) a trial of the autoimmune paleo diet after more than a year of trying to figure out my food intolerances. (I’m a registered dietitian and even with my knowledge base I haven’t been able to figure this out!) I’ve been gluten intolerant for years, but a year and a half ago I started reacting to many other foods including dairy and soy. I even started reacting to rice – probably because I was eating it all day long once I went off gluten. The reactions weren’t consistent – I’d react one day to a particular food, but then another day I could eat it with no problems. My reactions are pretty immediate and seem to be histamine related – coughing, congestion, difficulty breathing, itching, etc. as well as multiple GI issues. I also started reacting to smells – I had to switch to unscented laundry detergent, shampoo, etc. I’m still trying to find a toothpaste that doesn’t make me start coughing. IGE tests showed no allergies so I tried an elimination diet – when I started reacting to even those foods I got so discouraged I basically gave up and started eating whatever I wanted and medicated the reactions – which of course didn’t help matters at all. I went to a naturopath hoping for answers and she basically told me it was due to stress (the reactions started happening right after some major changes in my family life) and until I got my head in the right place I would probably keep reacting to foods no matter how much I eliminated. Next I tried a functional medicine doctor and she ran IGG tests that showed an allergy to eggs, yeast, and pecans (all foods I had been eating, thinking there was no problem with them) and also cortisol tests that diagnosed me with adrenal fatigue. So now I’m trying to reduce my stress level and doing the autoimmune protocol in hopes that I’ll finally get my health back. Sorry to ramble on so long, I actually found your site while looking for a paleo brownie recipe – we’re having friends over for dinner this weekend and they love brownies so I was hoping to find something I could eat, but they would enjoy as well. Can’t wait to try these – thanks for posting!

    • That’s quite the journey Teresa! The brownies are awesome and I actually made some last night ;)

      If you’re looking for toothpaste, I recommend trying Wellness Mama’s recipe for making your own. I’ve been making this for the past year and it works really well. The only downside is that being coconut oil based, it does get a bit hard when it’s cold in the house!

      As for stress – your stress hormones do affect so much of your health that I can see how they could exacerbate food intolerances. I wish you well in your journey! Since I follow the AIP protocol myself, I do try and make things that I can eat, so keep an eye out for more recipes :)

  3. Teresa says:

    Thanks for the toothpaste recipe! Xylitol is one of the things I seem to react to, but I see she says it can be made without it so I’ll definitely be giving this a try. I was also excited to find your mini pumpkin pie recipe – I’ll be making that tomorrow!

    • Kayla says:

      Theresa,
      I have the exact same issues. I started AIP a couple days ago. Really curious how you’re doing now- have you been able to reintroduce any foods?

  4. Crystal Owings says:

    Why organic?

    While I know why, readers that don’t have access to organic food may be questioning this. The term “organic” is still misunderstood by many, I think it would strengthen your suggestions if you were to explain the health reasons (human and environmental) why one should try to purchase more organic produce.

    Thank you for this article!

    • Thanks for the feedback Crystal – and thanks for pointing out my oversight.
      So why organic? Choose organic produce because they are not genetically modified and they are grown without pesticides or herbicides – which can build up in the body, and cause problems, including food intolerance symptoms and potential long-term problems (i.e. carcinogens).

      While buying organic produce is often more expensive, it is good to at least buy produce that is on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen Plus” list as organic, as these vegetables and fruit have high exposures to pesticides and other chemicals when not grown organically.

      It might be a good subject for which to write a longer post later!

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