The role of food in eczema is a tricky one, but a well-established one, with many people seeing resolution in their eczema woes simply by making dietary adjustments. But how do you know if food is causing a problem for YOU? And how do you figure out WHICH foods are triggering a reaction?
The gold standard for identifying food intolerances and allergies is an elimination diet. I advise people to eliminate potential food triggers for at least ONE MONTH to see if their skin improves. The most common food allergens that could trigger an eczema flare include:
This includes ALL dairy – milk, yoghurt, cheese, whey and even butter. Some people can tolerate A2 cow’s milk, while others can only tolerate goat or sheep milk, and others still can not tolerate any at all. To figure out which group you belong to, it is best to start your journey of discovery by eliminating all of these foods.
Wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt and kamut are all examples of gluten-containing grains. Be sure to read the labels of any packaged foods, as gluten may be hiding in there, however it will be clearly stated if this is the case.
It is mostly the egg white that people find problematic, but there are some who also react to the yolk, so again – best to take the whole egg out for a short period.
Peanuts and tree nuts (think almonds, cashews, walnuts) can be highly allergenic, and inflammatory for eczema sufferers.
You’ll find soy in soy milks, cheeses and yoghurts, as well as tofu, tempeh, edamame, miso and natto. Like gluten, it also hides in many packaged and processed foods. So, again, read the labels just to be sure
Beans, lentils, chickpeas – the musical fruit! While these are not often considered to be an “allergenic food”, they can cause digestive issues, which could have a cascade effect of aggravating eczema.
So what is left to eat? And how will I meet nutritional requirements?
Good question! It is always best to work under the guidance of a health professional when doing an elimination diet, in order to make sure you are meeting all of your nutritional requirements. But don’t dismay! There are still plenty of things you can eat (and it is only for 1 month – not forever):
• Veggies – loads and loads of veggies! Eat the rainbow to make sure you reap the benefits of a wide variety of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Be sure to include starchy veggies (sweet potato, potato, parsnip) too, as these will provide the bulk of your carbohydrate intake
• Fruit – again, vary it up, choosing different colours, and always choose the whole fruit (rather than dried or juiced) so you’re also getting the fibre. Be careful of citrus, though, as some people can find that it makes their eczema worse
• Meat, poultry (except eggs), seafood – eating good quality protein each day is a must. Wild caught salmon and sardines, as well as grass-fed meat, are very high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory and can be very nourishing for the skin
• Organ meats, such as liver – Liver is a true superfood! Just 50g will provide over 50% of ALL of your daily vitamin and mineral requirements. It’s also especially high in vitamin A, which is essential for healthy skin. Be sure to choose organic, and don’t go overboard (as too much vitamin A can be toxic)
• Fats – when you have eczema, fat is going to be your best friend. It is truly nourishing for your whole body, especially your skin, helping with cellular integrity and moisture at the deepest level. Choose unrefined sources of fats, such as avocado, olive oil, coconut products, ghee and macadamia oil. Use them liberally and enjoy the health and taste benefits!
• Fermented foods – sauerkraut, coconut yoghurt, kombucha and beet kvass – these are all loaded with beneficial bacteria, which is going to boost your gut health and have a flow-on effect of healing your skin
• Gluten-free grains – quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth and rice can all be healthy substitutes for someone on an elimination diet, though I will say that, in most cases, I do advise also eliminating these as they can potentially cause digestive issues which can contribute to an eczema flare
So a simple meal might look like this:
• Palm size of animal protein
• Fist size of starchy veggies
• 2-3 fist sizes of non-starchy veggies
• Liberal serve of fat (why not bake the starchy veggies in coconut oil, and drizzle olive oil over the non-starchy veggies?)
• 1 tablespoon of fermented foods
And a snack might look like this:
• Piece of fruit with some coconut butter
• OR a fruit smoothie made on coconut milk or water
• OR ½ an avocado sprinkled with chives and a small drizzle of balsamic vinegar (delicious!)
How to tell if a food is actually triggering an eczema flare
OK, so you have eliminated all of the above potential food triggers for one month, and you’re excited to start adding them back in. HOLD ON – DO NOT RUSH THIS!
You will need to reintroduce just ONE food at a time, and I suggest only focusing on one food each week, as it can take up to 4 days to notice a reaction. So – choose the food you are going to introduce. Enjoy it. Then keep a detailed food journal over the next few days to see if you notice any adverse reactions.
If you notice your eczema flares with any food introduction, remove that food immediately, make a note that this food caused a reaction, and wait until the flare settles before moving on to your next food reintroduction. You can try reintroducing this food again at a later date. If it causes a reaction AGAIN, then it is likely that this food is not your friend, and it’s best to steer clear as much as possible.
If you do not notice a reaction, then HURRAH! You can likely keep this food in your diet!
This method of discovering food triggers can be a bit laborious. It does take time, focus and commitment, but it is well worth it in the long run. Hope this helps! As a fellow long-time eczema sufferer myself, I can truly vouch for the healing (and harming) potential of foods. Good luck! Kate
Kate Callaghan is a Nutritionist blogger for the Holistic nutritionist and a nutrition expert at I Quit Sugar.