Testing for food allergies is controversial. Conventional and integrative physicians line up on opposite sides of blood testing, skin testing, and the ultimate issue of whether food allergies are a serious problem or not. However, any physician who has spent much time listening to patients knows that food allergies are real and that food allergy tests are not always reliable.
If you suspect food allergies from your medical history or because you have a condition that indicates you have high levels of inflammation in your body, it may be worth the investment of time and effort to investigate your food allergies on your own. Here’s how:
Phase One: Eliminate food allergens
Do you suspect any particular foods are causing your allergies? If so, go off all of those foods that you suspect in any way are responsible for your symptoms. Do this for 2 weeks very strictly, or longer as needed to get to the point where you feel better. Remember symptoms can be emotional or physical. The goal is to eliminate foods until you feel relief from your symptoms and you are definitely better.
If you have no particular suspicions, start with gluten. Gluten sensitivity is much more widespread than we previously thought, and gluten has the ability to provoke zonulin, which increases intestinal permeability and can cause sensitivity to other foods that now seep through a permeable intestinal lining. Give a gluten-free life a 30 day trial, eliminating all wheat, rye, barley and any oats that don't say "gluten-free." If you don't notice significant improvement, look to the other most likely culprits. Eliminate all foods that are at all possible allergens for you. Here are the most common foods associated with allergic reactions:
- Milk and dairy products
- Peanuts and other legumes
- Tree nuts (such as almonds, cashews, walnuts)
- Fish (such as bass, cod, flounder)
- Shellfish (such as crab, lobster, shrimp)
Other frequent allergens are corn, citrus, strawberries, chocolate, yeast and nightshades (potatoes, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes). Some people are allergic to certain meats, and the most likely ones are the most consumed ones: beef and chicken.
I know it’s not easy, but your task is to completely eliminate all foods you suspect may be causing your allergies. Read labels and consider your efforts a noble and possibly valuable medical experiment.
In some cases, after going on an elimination diet you may feel a little worse before you feel better. Two weeks is usually sufficient, but often in only 4 to 5 days you may notice a clear reprieve from your allergy symptoms.
If eliminating a wide variety of suspect foods still provides no relief, your problem is probably not food allergies.
Phase Two: Identify specific allergens
Once you are feeling better after having eliminated several or a few foods, reintroduce them, one food at a time:
Start with the food you miss the most, and add a small amount (half a piece of bread, for example, or half a hard boiled egg) with each meal.
- Any negative response to that food is suggestive but not confirmatory. Eliminate that food again for 3 days, then try it again. If you react negatively, you are allergic to that food.
- No response is suggestive of safety but also not confirmatory. Wait 3 to 4 days and note if there is a delayed reaction. Again, you may want to repeat the test if you react adversely, just to be sure.
- If you have either an immediate or a delayed reaction, avoid that food for 6 months before trying a gentle re-introduction. It is not uncommon for strongly craved foods to act as allergens, and it is best to clear them off your plate from the very beginning.
Repeat the cycle for each individual food on your list.
Dairy foods require a little more discussion. Some people can tolerate raw but not pasteurized dairy, while others can take cultured (yogurt, cheese) dairy but not milk.
Isolated intolerance of pasteurized milk is more likely to be a lactose intolerance than a milk allergy. Substitute raw or cultured milk and you should be fine
It is most common for people to be allergic to only 1 or 2 foods rather than 10 or 20.
If it seems that you are really reacting to 10 or 20 foods, there are other possible intestinal problems that might confuse the issue, such as “leaky gut,” dysbiosis, or irritable bowel. Consulting a professional integrative medicine specialist might be required if your general health is suffering because of this.
You will probably wish to add nutritious foods (raw dairy products and pasture raised eggs) back into your diet to round it out as soon as possible. However you may never again need the bread and pasta and soy, and may find yourself happier without them.
Good luck on this elimination diet test for helping you resolve food allergies!