One in every 25 Americans has a food allergy. Food allergies affect 5% of children under 5 and 4% of teens and adults. These numbers are on the rise.
Food allergy is an immune based disease and is quickly becoming a serious health concern in the US. More than 170 foods in the US have been reported to cause reactions, including eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, shell fish, and fish.
Symptoms and conditions that have failed to respond to conventional medical therapy may resolve when following the Elimination Diet. Several health conditions have been known to occur from eating specific foods or eating the same foods frequently. These include:
- Digestive problems
- Chronic sinus drainage
- Low energy
- Mood swings
- Skin irritations
- Joint aches
- Weight gain
People may experience these symptoms for long periods of time without realizing they can be connected to the foods they are eating. Often it isn’t until a food is removed that the connection between symptoms and foods can be made. The Elimination Diet removes common foods that may be causing symptoms and, with reintroduction, helps patients identify the foods which trigger their symptoms.
In fact, the Elimination Diet is the gold standard for identifying food allergies.[5,6] The Elimination Diet is designed to clear the body of foods and/or chemicals that the patient may be sensitive or allergic to. The Elimination Diet improves the body’s ability to handle and dispose of its triggers, while supporting the microbiome, reducing inflammation, and increasing phytonutrients.
The Elimination Diet Explained
The Elimination Diet is a short, 3-week program where individuals remove certain foods including wheat and other gluten-containing grains, dairy, refined and artificial sweeteners, corn, beef, pork, eggs, and soy. Wheat, corn, and soy are added to many processed foods; if your diet contains processed foods, chances are you’re eating more wheat, corn and soy than you think. In fact, most people aren’t aware of just how much of these they consume.
After completing the 3-week Elimination Diet, patients undergo a food reintroduction process. The goal is to increase the variety of healthy foods the individual can eat daily. During reintroduction, the patient adds back one food at a time and observes whether that food causes negative symptoms. After reintroduction patients can identify foods that trigger their symptoms. [Notably: If you have a known anaphylactic food allergy and you are considering reintroduction of certain foods, please only reintroduce those foods in the presence of a trained healthcare professional.]
How the Elimination Diet Helps
1. Resolves food reactions
Food reactions are common when the same foods are eaten day after day. This results in a greater sensitization to those foods. If the person keeps eating the foods they are sensitive to, digestion and absorption may become weakened.
A person can have food allergies, sensitivities, or intolerances.
- Food allergies cause severe symptoms immediately after a food is consumed.
- Food sensitivities are delayed by hours or even days.
- Food intolerances can be the result of reactions to certain chemicals in foods, e.g. MSG or histamine, OR when the person lacks an enzyme necessary to digest the food, e.g. lactase is needed to digest milk products.
2. Reduces inflammation
Food reactions can trigger low-grade inflammatory reactions which make the intestinal wall porous, thus allowing large, undigested food particles to migrate into the blood. This condition is commonly referred to as “leaky gut.”
The breakdown of the intestinal barrier allows things like bacteria, chemicals, and yeast to leak into the bloodstream. This stimulates the immune system and causes more inflammation. A leaky gut greatly increases the likelihood of food sensitivities. Removing these foods decreases inflammation and helps calm the immune response.
3. Supports a health microbiome
More than 70% of the immune system is found in the digestive tract. The digestive tract includes the mouth, throat, stomach, intestines, and anus. If you think about it, your gut is constantly exposed to what you breath, drink, and eat. The normal flora found in the gut helps regulate the immune response.
When the gut becomes inflamed, the balance of beneficial and non-beneficial bacteria is thrown off. When this happens, the gut cannot work as it should. This in turn causes inflammation and can result in adverse symptoms. Eliminating trigger foods decreases inflammation and allows the gut and the immune system to heal.
A healthy gut microbiome requires healthy, whole foods, especially those high in protein, phytonutrients, probiotics, and prebiotics. These healthy, whole foods are the core of the Elimination Diet.
Healing the gut and being able to successfully reintroduce foods is important. Eating the same few foods day after day fails to provide the full range of phytonutrients necessary for overall health. A diet containing a large variety of foods helps ensure you get the nutrients you need. This is especially important for those with digestive issues.
“Allergies be gone!”
Emerging research continues to show symptoms and conditions that failed to respond to the present ‘standard of care’ may resolve when a patient follows an Elimination Diet. After the initial period of eliminating foods, many chronic symptoms have been found to improve or disappear.
The goal of the Elimination Diet is to heal the system, get rid of allergies and sensitivities, and return the patient to a wide and varied diet which provides adequate nutrition. Most individuals following the Elimination Diet report increased energy, mental alertness, decreased muscle and/or joint pain, and a general sense of improved well-being.
For a real-life case study in which I implemented the Elimination Diet to help a patient overcome food sensitivities and heal their gut, click here.
1. Acker WW, Plasek JM, Blumenthal KG, et al. Prevalence of food allergies and intolerances documented in electronic health records. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2017;140(6):1587-1591. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2017.04.006.
2. Branum, A.M. and Luckacs, S.L. Food allergy among children in the United States. Pediatrics. 2009 Dec; 124; 1549-1555.
3. NIAID-Sponsored Expert Panel. Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of food allergy in the United States: report of the NIAID-sponsored expert panel. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2010;126(6 Suppl):S1-S58. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2010.10.007.
4. The Institute for Functional Medicine. The Elimination Diet Comprehensive Guide, Version 6. Copyright 2016 The Institute for Functional Medicine.
5. Wood RA. Diagnostic elimination diets and oral food provocation. Chem Immunol Allergy. 2015;101:87-95. doi:10.1159/000371680.
6. Werfel T, Erdmann S, Fuchs T, et al. Approach to suspected food allergy in atopic dermatitis. Guideline of the Task Force on Food Allergy of the German Society of Allergology and Clinical Immunology (DGAKI) and the Medical Association of German Allergologists (ADA) and the German Society of Pediatric Allergology (GPA). J Dtsch Dermatol Ges. 2009;7(3):265-271. doi:10.1111/j.1610-0387.2008.06901.x