Guide To Eating For Food Allergies

Photo credit:  Marta Branco

Photo credit: Marta Branco

Food allergy, food sensitivity, and food intolerance

Food allergy is an IgE immune response, and it can cause hives, itching, rashes and rash flares, gut symptoms, vomiting, trouble breathing, and swelling, and can be life-threatening.

IgE food allergies are different from IgG food sensitivities. An IgG immune response can cause gut symptoms, skin rashes and rash flares, brain fog, joint aches and pains (and more), and points to gut dysfunction and leaky gut. Reactions are not life-threatening.

IgE food allergies are also different from food intolerance. Food intolerance can cause symptoms like an IgG reaction and also isn’t life-threatening. It results from an inability of your body to appropriately metabolize a food or foods, and it won’t show up on IgE or IgG testing, in fact there really isn’t direct testing for food intolerance, other than to see if you feel better after removing the suspected foods from your diet. This means you can have food intolerances and be negative based on testing, so even if your IgE and IgG testing is clean, you still may not be free and clear.

Food allergy, those IgE reactions, is on the rise. It can affect anyone at any age, however it is more common in young children. Those with food allergies may be predisposed to having an immune system that responds inadequately to food triggers. Because the antigens in foods (the components of foods that trigger reactions) closely resemble each other between different foods, cross reactive allergic reactions happen often. This is most common with peanuts, legumes and tree nuts, and with cow, sheep and goat milk. 

Cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, crustaceans, and cephalopods cause 90% of allergic reactions.

Conventional food allergy treatment

Conventional treatment for IgE food allergies involves removing those foods from the diet, and being prepared with antihistamine medications, and an Epi pen in case of an exposure. There is research to find better treatment options and those being studied include:

  • Anti-IgE therapy to change the way the immune system responds to a food trigger

  • Oral immunotherapy, which exposes the allergic person to small doses of the problematic food, and the dose of that food in gradually increased to build tolerance

  • Early exposure, where in the past it’s been recommended that children avoid allergenic foods, it’s now recommended that children be exposed to these foods earlier in life

While it’s said that children outgrow their allergies, food allergies are generally life-long.

Food allergy, gut health, and the immune system

Interestingly, the gut microbiome of children with food allergies show signs of dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is abnormal gut bacteria, and can refer to overgrowths, imbalances and infections. Dysbiosis is associated with inflammation in the gut, and certain patterns of gut bacteria have been observed in those with food allergies.

This is because 80% of your immune system is located in your gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is important in balancing the activities of Th1 and Th2 cells. These cytokines, or immune system messengers (along with a range of others), are responsible for how the body protects itself against foreign invaders. Gut problems, like dysbiosis, can interfere with the Th1/Th2 balance. A shift in Th1/Th2 balance towards Th2 promotes a predisposition to allergic responses.

Th2 responses play a triggering role in the activation of cells that produce IgE antibodies, mast cells and eosinophils. Mast cells release histamine in allergic reactions resulting in a variety of symptoms, including itchy skin rashes, digestive symptoms, runny nose and watery eyes. High levels of eosinophils are seen in asthma, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and eczema.

Understanding the gut’s involvement in allergic reactions presents an opportunity for intervention beyond current methods. Restoring gut health and addressing gut inflammation may help lessen the severity of allergic reactions by bringing balance to the immune system.

Functional interventions for food allergy

There is testing to measure cytokine levels, and anti-inflammatory nutritional, lifestyle, hormonal, and supplemental recommendations for helping balance your immune messengers.

Nutrition for food allergy

Having to remove multiple foods from the diet long-term can lead to nutrient insufficiency and deficiency. Your body runs on nutrients from foods you eat. When nutrients are missing, imbalances develop and symptoms and health problems follow. 

If you or your little one is allergic to multiple foods, working with a professional that can help make sure the diet is complete is important. This is especially the case for little ones, who are growing and developing, and desperately need those nutrients.

Additionally, there are certain nutrients found to be lower in those with food allergies, compared to those without food allergies.

Incorporate these nutrients into your diet for food allergies

Nutrients important for food allergies (based on elimination of common allergenic foods including milk, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts and tree nuts, fish and shellfish): Protein, calcium, vitamin B2, phosphorus, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B12, iron, biotin, vitamin E, vitamin B1, zinc, vitamin B6, vitamin B3, essential fatty acids (EPA/DHA), magnesium, selenium, vitamin C, lycopene, pycnogenol, flavonoids

Foods containing nutrients for food allergies (avoid foods you are allergic to)

Biotin: Eggs, legumes, meats, oily fish, chicken, liver

Niacin (B3): Tuna, chicken, turkey, salmon, lamb, beef, sardines, brown rice 

Riboflavin (B2): Spinach, tempeh, crimini mushrooms, eggs, asparagus, turkey 

Thiamin (B1): Can be depleted with alcohol. Green peas, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, sunflower seeds, pistachios, herring, crimini mushrooms, ground flaxseed, spinach

B6: Tuna, turkey, beef, chicken, salmon, sweet potato, potato, sunflower seeds, spinach  

B12: B12 is found naturally only in animal products. Sardines, salmon, tuna, cod, lamb, beef, liver, chicken, fish, eggs, rainbow trout, haddock

Vitamin A: Beef liver, cod liver oil, egg, butter, milk, sweet potato, pumpkin, carrot, cantaloupe, mango, spinach, broccoli, kale, collard greens, butternut squash (vitamin A from plant foods needs to be converted to the active form in the body, and this may not happen with gut problems)

Vitamin C: All will be higher in vitamin C if uncooked: Bell peppers, papaya, citrus fruits, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, kiwi 

Vitamin D: Salmon, herring and sardines, cod liver oil, canned light tuna (lower in mercury), oysters, egg yolk, mushrooms

Vitamin E: Sunflower seeds, spinach, Swiss chard, avocados, turnip greens, asparagus, mustard greens   

Calcium: Seeds, canned salmon, sardines, beans (white, red, pinto), lentils, almonds, some leafy greens (collard, spinach, kale), broccoli, amaranth, dried figs, orange, yogurt, cheese, milk

Iron (heme iron is found in animal products and nonheme iron is found in some plant foods, nonheme iron is not as readily absorbed as heme iron): Beef, chicken liver, oysters, clams, tuna, mussels, raisins, prune juice, prunes, potato with skin, quinoa, spinach, Swiss chard, white beans, lentils, tofu, hazelnuts, cashews

Magnesium: Fatty fish (salmon, halibut, mackerel), spinach, chard, oatmeal, potatoes, black-eyed peas, brown rice, lentils, avocados, pinto beans, dark chocolate (70% and higher), nuts and seeds, legumes, tofu, buckwheat, quinoa, bananas, leafy greens

Phosphorus: Salmon, yogurt, milk, halibut, turkey, chicken, beef, lentils, almonds, cheese (mozzarella), peanuts, egg, whole-wheat bread

Selenium: Brazil nuts, tuna (yellowfin), oysters, clams, halibut, shrimp, salmon, crab, pork, beef, chicken, brown rice, sunflower seeds, milk

Zinc: Beef, lamb, pumpkin seeds, lentils, garbanzo beans, quinoa, turkey

Lycopene: Sun dried tomatoes, tomato puree, guava, watermelon, fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes, papaya, pink grapefruit, cooked sweet peppers

Pycnogenol: Grapes, apples, cocoa, tea, nuts, some berries

Flavonoids: Rainbow assortment of colorful fruits and vegetables, green tea, black tea, white tea, nuts, dark chocolate

Animal protein (contains all essential and conditionally essential amino acids making them complete proteins) : Grass fed, pastured, free range, and wild caught organic animal products

Plant protein (not complete proteins, do not contain all essential or conditionally essential amino acids): Tofu, tempe (fermented soy, also prebiotic), lentils, chickpeas, nuts and seeds, quinoa, chia seeds, beans

Essential fatty acids (Omega 3s/DHA and EPA): Flaxseed, eggs, fish and fish oils, marine sources (sea vegetables/seaweeds), avocado, coconut oil

Avoid High Mercury Fish

High mercury fish: Swordfish, shark, king mackerel, tilefish, marlin, orange roughy, ahi tuna, bigeye tuna, yellowfin tuna

Low mercury fish: Anchovies, catfish, flounder, hake, haddock, herring, salmon (farmed may contain PCBs, not good either), mackerel, canned light tuna, trout, whitefish, pollock, sardines, butterfish

General Recommendations

Go organic when possible for fruits and vegetables.

Go organic, pastured, free range, grass fed, wild caught, etc. for animal products.

Drink at least 6-8 glasses of water per day. For little ones, drink one 8 oz glass per year of age, per day.