[Emily's note: If you suffer from food allergies, you may feel like it's a life sentence of restriction and misery. In this post, my fellow blogger, Mindy Wood, shares her experiences and discoveries as she attempts to reverse her food allergies…]
I didn’t know I had food allergies until I had kids. When my first daughter started spitting up after every feeding, a La Leche League leader told me that she might be allergic to dairy crossing into my breastmilk. I cut out dairy and – whaddaya know – no more spit up.
The funny thing is, when I stopped eating dairy I started seeing health improvements, even though I didn’t think I was unhealthy before. It wasn’t until I stopped having a chronic runny nose, lost that extra ten pounds I'd always carried, and started feeling more normal that I realized – I had been sick my whole life.
Yep. I'm allergic to dairy (and, I later found out, gluten, too).
Many people believe that a food allergy is a life sentence, but I didn't want to believe it. What I found out is, it's not easy…but you really can heal and reverse food allergies.
I haven't healed my food allergies completely, but I have seen huge improvements over the last few years. I can now eat a little bit of dairy once in a while, as long as I'm being careful to eat it with other foods that are easily digested and avoid gut wrecking processed foods.
Most of the people I know who are healing food allergies have been able to reintroduce allergenic foods after about a year of healing.
Why food allergies and leaky gut go hand in hand
A food allergy is an abnormal immune response to a certain food that is actually a symptom of a larger digestive problem: leaky gut.
Your intestines act as a gatekeeper, filtering nutrients to the bloodstream and keeping waste (undigested food, bacteria, etc) away from the blood stream.
Leaky gut occurs when the lining of your intestine has become damaged (due to antibiotics, stress, toxins, processed food, or infection), and loses some of its ability to filter waste. It starts to allow waste to cross into the bloodstream (and stops absorbing nutrients as readily, too). Your body begins to fight the invaders, causing inflammation.
This means you can't heal and reverse food allergies unless you heal your gut. And if you don't heal your gut now, you could be in for more food allergies down the road.
Signs of leaky gut (besides food allergies) are digestive issues, autoimmune diseases, mood disorders (like depression, ADD, and anxiety), chronic fatigue, joint pain, hormonal imbalances, and skin issues like eczema and acne.
How to reverse food allergies
To reverse food allergies, it is essential that you heal your digestive system, and this can seem like a huge undertaking.
If you’re familiar with healing diet protocols, you already know they can be very restrictive. The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to do a full healing protocol to heal your gut.
#1 – Stop eating allergenic foods
At least for a while, you need to cut out the foods that are causing the problem – regardless of how much you love them.
Continuing to eat allergenic foods irritates an already inflamed gut. It also encourages your body to stay on high alert, because foreign invaders are continually entering the bloodstream. A cycle of chronic inflammation results.
#2 – Eliminate overgrowth of bad bacteria and yeast
The gut normally contains good bacteria (probiotics), bad bacteria and yeast. When unhealthy organisms start to grow out of control (due to poor diet, antibiotics use, etc), your gut is no longer balanced and you become ill. You need to re-balance your gut flora to regain your health.
- Take a high quality probiotic (Like this one).
- Eat a low sugar diet and avoid processed sugar all together.
- Eat prebiotics if you can handle them. Prebiotics don't digest in the stomach, so they travel to the intestines where probiotics attach and feed on them. They can be found in unripe bananas and plantains and properly prepared parboiled rice, legumes, and potatoes. Find out more about prebiotics here.
#3 – Improve overall digestion
I've found I can tolerate dairy more if I'm taking extra care to support my digestion.
- Digestion starts in the mouth, so chew thoroughly and eat slowly
- Limit raw foods and hard to digest foods like beans and grains
- Take a digestive enzyme with meals to aid in digestion (I like this one)
- Eat plenty of healthy fat like pastured butter, lard, and tallow, and high quality coconut oil (I buy this coconut oil in bulk)
#4 – Eat gut healing foods
Including these foods in your diet will help improve digestion, balance gut flora, and rebuild the intestinal lining.
Fermented foods and drinks – Fermented foods and beverages are a great way to recolonize your gut with good bacteria inexpensively. Including them with each meal is also a good way to help your other food digest more easily.
If you're concerned that you have yeast overgrowth, you may want to stick with probiotic supplements for a while until the yeast is under control. Fermented food is full of beneficial bacteria but also contains yeast. Introducing more yeast might make things worse, so probiotic supplements may be the right choice for you.
Grass fed gelatin – Grass fed gelatin is essential to seal your gut and stop the waste from permeating into your bloodstream. You can find gelatin in homemade bone broth and gravy (the best source when trying to heal your gut), or you can purchase collagen hydrolysate for smoothies or regular gelatin for making gummies. (source)
My favorite way to eat gelatin is as bone broth in a soup. It's so filling, easy to make, and relatively inexpensive. I even enjoy it in the summer; I just eat it lukewarm instead of hot. Learn how to make bone broth here, or make your life easier and click here to have it delivered to your door.
Healthy fats – Fat is good. Your body needs lots of healthy fat to function properly. Stay away from processed vegetable oils like corn, soy, and canola, but eat plenty of butter from grassfed cows, pure olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, and nuts if you can tolerate them. Tallow (beef fat) and lard are actually wonderful for your health when they are sourced from healthy, pasture-raised animals.
I eat coconut oil every day, whether it's in my scrambled eggs, melted on toast, as a replacement for butter in a recipe, or raw in a dessert.
Omega-3 rich foods – Omega-3’s prevent and actively reduce inflammation. Our modern diets, heavy in conventional meat and grains, leave us highly deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. Balancing omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is essential for keeping inflammation in check and healing your gut.
I take omega-3 supplements (this one is a quality source) and I try to eat more grass fed beef than chicken. I want to like fish since it's such a great omega-3 source, but I haven't gotten a taste for it… yet.
Specific diets that heal and reverse food allergies
If you have severe allergies or just want to take a more serious approach to gut healing, you may want to consider a specialized diet. The following options can be very helpful in taking healing to the next level…
Paleo – Paleo isn’t exactly a healing protocol, but this diet helps many people heal their food allergies and other health issues.
The elimination of grains, dairy, and legumes plus a nutrient dense diet with very few (if any) processed foods seems to help heal the gut.
Not sure if paleo is for you? Read: 10 Great Reasons to Go Paleo.
A paleo diet is a good segue between a real food diet and the more restrictive diets below. I have seen some improvement in my eczema from eliminating most grains (though I haven't gone full paleo yet). Check out this Paleo Book to learn how to use the Paleo diet to heal, and be sure to check out Real Plans, Holistic Squid's meal planner that makes planning for paleo (or any diet type) a snap.
AIP – The autoimmune protocol or autoimmune paleo (AIP) diet starts paleo, but also restricts nuts, seeds, chocolate, eggs, nightshades and some culinary herbs. This diet is particularly good for anyone struggling with autoimmune diseases.
As Clinical Nutritionist Jessica Flanagan ofsays:
The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet works to reduce inflammation in the intestines. Many elimination diets are not complete enough and often do not remove immune triggers that promote inflammation in the gut. AIP works to calm inflammation in the gut and also calm inflammation in the body. And while autoimmune disease can never be cured, it can be put into remission.
For more on this healing diet, check out this AIP Paleo cookbook packed with lots of yummy recipes and gorgeous photos.
GAPS – The Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet starts very restrictive with meat and bone broth as the main staples and then slowly adds in other foods. I've heard many people say that GAPS is actually pretty easy to follow (you know what you're having for dinner each night), but can get boring.
GAPS is high in fermented foods and probiotics to heal the gut, but also focuses specifically on detoxification. GAPS is especially useful for children dealing with autism, ADHD/ADD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, learning, behavior, and social problems. It's also great for adults dealing with depression, obsessive/compulsive disorder, manic-depression, and schizophrenia. (source)
Check out this book – Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride who developed the GAPS diet.
Read one gal's experience with GAPS in this post: Do You Have the Guts to Do the GAPS diet?
Food allergies don't have to be a life sentence, and reversing them doesn't have to leave you feeling deprived. I still enjoy tasty whole foods every day and rarely feel like I'm missing a thing.
Because I have two small children at home, I'm taking the healing journey at a slower pace. But I'm confident that I can heal my gut and eventually add allergenic foods back into my diet.
Have you been able to reverse food allergies? Tell us what worked in the comments!
After getting caught up in the go, go, go, and buy, buy, buy, of modern living, I found myself unhappy and exhausted. I soon embraced a slower life and now write about simple living at PurposefullySimple.com.