A low allergen diet eliminates foods and food additives that may trigger an allergic reaction. By removing the triggers, symptoms associated with the food allergy may be relieved. A low allergen diet is typically used as a diagnostic tool, rather than a cure, in individuals with suspected food allergies.
Common symptoms of allergic reactions may include itchy, watery eyes; sneezing; headache; fatigue; postnasal drip; runny, stuffy, or itchy nose; sore throat; dark circles under the eyes; an itchy feeling in the mouth or throat; abdominal pain; diarrhea; and the appearance of an itchy, red skin rash. Life-threatening allergic reactions may include trouble breathing and difficulty swallowing.
It is important to note that food intolerance or sensitivity is not the same as a food allergy. Allergic reactions are responses triggered by the immune system to a particular food, inhalant (airborne substance), or chemical. The terms "allergies" and "sensitivities" are often used interchangeably even though many sensitivities are not true allergies. "Sensitivity" is a general term and may include true allergies, reactions that do not affect the immune system, and reactions where the cause has not been established yet.
Detecting allergies and other sensitivities and then eliminating or reducing exposure to the sources may be a time-consuming process and the support of an expert is often necessary. Other methods of identifying food reactions include the scratch test, AST/MAST/PRIST/ELISA (tests that measure immunoglobulins), cytotoxic testing, and clinical ecology (provocation-neutralization; end-point titration).
Available high-quality studies evaluating the allergen free diet as an effective diagnostic tool are lacking. There has been some study of the low allergen diet as a possible treatment for asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome, and environmental hypersensitivity. One human study found that adopting a low allergen diet might be helpful in lactating mothers of colicky infants. More high-quality trials are necessary before any firm recommendations can be made.
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This diet eliminates foods and food additives considered to be common allergens and usually continues until a reaction to allergenic food or foods has been detected or eliminated. However, the length of time a low allergen diet is used varies from person to person, and may last from 5 days to 3 weeks. Many experts believe that a 2-week trial is normally sufficient enough for the purpose of diagnosing food reactions. Once the food reactions have been identified, only those foods that are causing a reaction are avoided. All the other foods that had previously been eaten are added to the diet again.
Once identified, food allergies are often treated by avoiding the food responsible for a set period of time, followed by a "rotation" diet, in which problem foods are only eaten every 3 to 4 days, instead of on a daily basis. In theory, a child who is allergic to a particular food or class of foods may not show a reaction if those foods are spaced out over a 3-day period.
Most common allergens (The Big 7): Corn, eggs, milk (dairy), soy, sugar, wheat, yeast. With the exception of milk (dairy), sugars and starches (grains) appear to be the most common allergic foods.
Frequent allergens: Alcohol, apple, bacon, bean (dried), beef, berry, buckwheat, carrot, cheese, chocolate, cinnamon, coconut, coffee, fish, grape, mustard, nuts, onion, orange (citrus), peanut, pea, pork, potato, raisin, rye, shrimp, tomato.
Occasional allergens: Alfalfa, amaranth, banana, barley (malt), celery, cherry, chicken, chile, clove, cottonseed, garlic, lettuce, lobster, melon, mushroom, oat, oyster, pear, pepper, pineapple, plum/prune, quinoa, rice, sesame seed, spices, spinach, strawberry, sunflower, turkey, vinegar.
Rare allergens: Apricot, beet, cranberry, honey, lamb, peach, rabbit, salmon, salt, squash, sweet potato, tapioca, taro root, tea, vanilla.