Food sensitivity elimination diet: find your food intolerance triggers8
I’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.
- 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).
- 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
After 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 ;)
This post is linked to Party Wave Wednesday on Holistic Squid.com
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