Food allergies have received more attention in recent years, and it’s rare to find a food label without allergen information on it. However, people often have food allergies that they are not aware of, and are subsequently unable to defend themselves properly against them.
This can happen because allergies can develop over time, but many times this happens because the reactions are milder and we do not associate such reactions as being necessarily allergic—we think they are indigestion or skin irritation.
One way to identify a potential food allergy to commit to an allergy elimination diet, which limits the kinds of foods you eat to help isolate potential allergies that may be hiding in your food. While not something to be taken lightly, and best supervised by a physician, these elimination diets can be a way of protecting yourself from allergies that may otherwise go unidentified.
There are medical tests that can help determine particular food allergies, but there is no foolproof allergy elimination diet, but when done correctly, they can be a great way of isolating allergenic or intolerable foods.
Elimination diets are called food challenge tests for a reason—they form a process of trial and error which we stand to gain the most from when we are informed and careful about the process.
What the Diet Entails
When talking about allergy elimination diets (also known as food challenge tests), we need to make a distinction between diets in which the aim is to help reduce symptoms related to indoor/outdoor allergies and those diets that are for identifying most of the major food allergies people experience. Here we will be looking at the latter of the two and some general guidelines, or best practices, for people considering an elimination diet.
While there are many claims being made about various specialty allergy elimination diets (such as extended fasting or the “caveman” or raw/rare foods diet), to get the best results for your individual case, it is a good idea to get some professional guidance before starting any diet.
Risks and Considerations
It is important to always consult a physician about an allergy elimination diet, especially because there are some potential risk factors.
For one, there is some evidence to indicate that a prolonged elimination diet can cause more acute allergic reactions in some people. If you know you have certain food allergies and are starting to reintroduce foods back into your diet, you should do so under the supervision of a physician.
A physician can also help you plan around eliminated foods to ensure you are still getting the proper nutrition while on the diet. Sometimes we outgrow our allergies and sometimes we develop new ones as we get older, but with the proper medical guidance and careful attention to our diets, we can identify and manage our specific food allergies and enjoy our food without worry.
Starting the Diet
When starting an elimination diet, you will need to completely remove the food in question for at least two weeks, and sometimes maybe as long as two or three months.
Try to stick to simple dishes and preparations, and be careful with packaging and leftovers. This is particularly important early on in the process to prevent any cross-contamination. As you continue with the diet, pay close attention to any changes in your symptoms—if your symptoms improve, you may have found the allergenic food, but if they persist, than it is likely the eliminated food is not the cause.
If your symptoms improve, you can gradually begin to return the omitted food to your diet, though it is best to start with the simplest form of the food, to avoid other ingredients that may also cause a reaction. If the symptoms get worse, it is a good idea to start the test over again and remove the question food from your diet again in order to check against possible preparation or other conflicts. For example, maybe something fried will not sit as well and cause you not to feel well, and could be mistaken for an allergic reaction.
Keep a Food Journal
One thing that can be helpful in keeping track of the food you eat and any symptoms you may experience is keeping a journal or log of your food challenge test.
Write down everything you eat, trying to be as thorough and accurate about ingredients as you can (it is also a good idea to write down dates and times as well). Then keep track of the symptoms you experience, paying attention to how you feel in relation to what you eat. This information can be even more useful with a time and date.
As you proceed with your diet, say after three to four weeks, you will be able to monitor trends in your symptoms. A food journal is also a great resource for your physician to be able to review when you consult with him or her about your diet.