Allergies in children are tough to diagnose. If they’re very young, they can’t tell you which foods bother their little tummies or make their skin itch. So you have to rely on trial and error to diagnose and eliminate the cause of your child’s allergies. Testing the eight most common allergens with a 30-day elimination diet and giving the Paleo diet a whirl is a great place to start. If your child has recurring symptoms, try this checklist to determine whether or not to start an elimination diet.
When Do I Choose an Elimination Diet?
1. Start a food diary. If you see a pattern to your child’s symptom’s, you may want to consider elimination. When my daughter was exhibiting allergy symptoms, I kept a food diary and a poop diary (her primary symptom is diarrhea). Connecting the cause and effect made it easy for us to remove dairy from her diet. But we also saw nightshades causing milder, yet similar symptoms.
2. Try eliminating the most likely culprits first. If you suspect a dairy allergy, or if nightshade allergies run in your family, eliminate the top possibility for a week or two. If you see improvement, but not complete cessation of symptoms, then it may make sense to move on to an elimination diet, removing the top eight allergen foods. Paleo diets eliminate most of the top allergens (all but fish and shellfish), so that could be a great fit for your child since materials on the popular diet are readily available.
3. Expect symptoms to worsen initially. If your gut is involved, removing gluten or sugars from your child’s diet could result in something called “die off.” The good bacteria in her stomach need a chance to thrive, but while the bad bacteria are dying off and exiting her body, she may have increasing stomach ailment symptoms. This is actually a good sign. The same goes with topical treatments for skin allergies. Coconut oil is antimicrobial, so treatment of eczema may cause it to worsen initially. The die off is a good thing, but it can be alarming. It’s normal for natural treatments to cause symptoms to get worse before they get better. But remember, the alternative is dangerous medications and antibiotics that can weaken your child’s immune system. If you have a good naturopath, consult with your doctor to discuss your child’s symptoms if they become severe.
1. Eliminate the eight common allergens: wheat, tree nuts, peanuts, dairy, eggs, soy, fish and shellfish. You should also eliminate any other suspects. For us, that meant nightshades and celery due to family history of these allergies.
2. Stick with the elimination diet for at least 30 days. While elimination or Paleo diets may seem difficult at first, they are really quite simple. For Paleo, you can eat meat, non-starchy vegetables, eggs and fruits in moderation. For a full elimination diet, just drop fish, shellfish, and eggs in addition to grains and dairy.
3. Start reintroducing foods. Once you’ve determined that your child is symptom-free without the suspect allergens, you can start trying reintroduction. Begin with the least likely allergens. If you suspect dairy’s the true trigger, start with fish or shellfish. Wait at least three days after each reintroduction before trying another. If any of the allergens triggers symptoms, stop feeding it to your child. It’s possible that she may eventually be able to eat it again once her system heals. But for now, triggers should be avoided.
4. Document your child’s allergy. You may want to consider having your doctor write a letter concerning your child’s allergies. This not only helps with daycare, school or even play dates, but also can help your wallet! Avoiding allergens is recognized by the IRS as a necessary expense. For instance: if your child is gluten intolerant, you’re allowed to write off the extra costs of gluten-free products. So, the difference between regular and gluten-free bread, or the cost of gluten-free ingredients like xanthan gum are tax deductible. Having the letter from your child’s doctor will be necessary if you’re audited.
5. Be thankful! Good job Mom and Dad, you’ve helped your child through a difficult time. Instead of lamenting the dietary changes, be thankful you’ve pinpointed what’s causing your child pain. Consider switching the entire family to the child’s diet. Allergies run in families and the allergens may be bothering other members of your family to a lesser extent. Also, the solidarity will make young children feel better about their new diet.
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Photo Credit: dbrekke