What is the Hypoallergenic diet?
Most of us are familiar with allergies whether it’s hay fever, seasonal allergies to pollen, dust mites or the more acute peanut allergy. All of these allergies illicit inflammatory immune responses which produce the unwanted runny nose or itchy watery eyes in order to rid the body of unwanted foreign proteins. What some may not realise is that these inflammatory responses can also arise due to food proteins. Certain foods are more allergenic than others such as gluten, dairy and eggs and can cause systematic inflammation. Thus, the hypoallergenic diet is focused on eliminating such allergenic foods and reducing inflammatory responses in the body to cleanse and restore optimal health.
You might be wondering, ‘how can the immune system come into contact with food proteins’? Our fast pace high stress lifestyles have limited our consumption of whole unprocessed foods and shortened meal times. As a result, we eat on the run and prefer cheaper premade meals which contain many toxins that our bodies have to work hard at excreting. This leads to insufficient digestion of foods which irritates and inflames the gut lining. Once the digestive tract is compromised it is termed ‘leaky’ as it lets food proteins pass into the blood stream where they encounter our immune cells and lead to systematic inflammation. Food allergies and intolerances can produce symptoms such as:
recurrent ear infections in children
reduced mental clarity and difficulty focusing
There exist numerous books and websites with meal plans to help follow a hypoallergenic diet. It is divided into two phases. The first phase lasts 3-6 weeks and high allergic foods are avoided as it takes at least 21 days for the digestive system to restore itself. Once symptoms have subsided the second phase is to initiate reintroduction of individual foods such as dairy, then eggs, then nightshade vegetables and so on until a trigger is identified. The introduction of each food lasts 3 days as it can take up to 72 hours for symptoms to occur. This is referred to as an IgG food response. Meanwhile, if no symptoms are observed the food can continue to be part of the diet and the next food reintroduced.
The hypoallergenic diet can be a bit time consuming at first but if proper meal preparations are taken at the beginning of the 3 week elimination phase, it can be quite enjoyable as you get to try many new foods you may not have tried otherwise. It’s important to focus on the long list of allowed foods instead of obsessing over the list of foods to cut out as this will make for a more pleasant experience. Nevertheless, once both phases have been completed successfully this is does not mean all caution may be thrown to the wind with food selection. Our digestives systems may always be somewhat ‘leaky’ and therefore a rotation diet is ideal in preventing the development of addition food allergies. In fact, some studies have identified possible inflammatory responses from repeat exposure to gluten free foods such as rice, corn, and millet. This highlights the importance of a varied diet. Once specific food allergens have been identified and cut out they may even be able to be re introduced (except gluten for those with celiac disease) once the digestive system has healed.
On the whole, it’s the art of alternating food sources to help prevent over exposure and the development of immune reactions to food proteins. This will also ensure a wide range of sources for vitamins and minerals to maintain optimal health. In the words of Julie Child, “Moderation. Small helpings. Sample a little bit of everything. These are the secrets of happiness and good health.”