Using Elimination Diets To Identify Food Intolerances

by | Nov 24, 2013

I recently wrote about my son, who has suffered from food intolerances since an early age. He is almost five now and I finally have a good idea of what has been causing him problems all this time.

Firstly, I would like to clarify the differences between food allergies and intolerances. An allergic reaction is caused when the body reacts negatively to food by making antibodies against it. This immune response is immediate and can be triggered by minute quantities. The effects, if not treated, can be life threatening.

With food intolerance, the onset of symptoms is delayed but can last for longer and the amount of food that can be ingested before symptoms arise varies from individual to individual. Symptoms include bloating, nausea, stomach cramps and diarrhoea. They do not involve an immune response.

There are a number of potential causes of food intolerance. A lack of the enzymes required to digest a particular food stuff is one, for example, the enzyme lactase occurs naturally in the body to digest lactose, which is present in dairy products. Other causes include an inability to tolerate certain chemicals in food, either naturally occurring, like caffeine or man made, such as additives.

Identification of food intolerances is achieved by eliminating one or more foods known to cause problems and re-introducing them at a later period, monitoring the symptoms as you go. These elimination diets, as they are known, can last from 2-6 weeks, depending of the severity of the symptoms. Following the elimination period, the foods are re-introduced one at a time to see if any symptoms return.

During the elimination period it is important that the individual sticks 100%to the diet. It is equally important to replace foods with other foods of similar nutritional content, in order to avoid a diet that is lacking in essential nutrients. A dietician can help with this.

This is what I did for my son:

Initial swap of cows milk for goats milk
Replacement of ordinary dairy with lactose free cows milk products
1 month elimination of all dairy (including lactose free) and wheat
Re-introduction of wheat (no dairy)
Re-introduction of lactose free dairy products (no wheat)

By completely eliminating dairy, my main concern was to ensure that my sons diet was not lacking in calcium. In order to compensate I made sure that I included broccoli and raw spinach with every meal (calcium is found in dark green leafy veg such as kale, but as most parents will sympathise, getting children to eat their greens can be tricky. Most like broccoli, though and this is a good alternative).

I chose almond milk because my son liked the taste, but also because it contains added calcium. I also gave him almond butter on his toast (wheat free of course). In addition our fridge was never short of houmous and a soya based cheese alternative.

I bought wheat free products for the trial, but I found it much more restrictive when catering for our family as a whole. Flour is used as a thickener, so it is present in so many things, such as sauces, stocks and products like sausages. Biscuits, cakes and puddings were all out, plus anything coated in breadcrumbs. The alternatives aren’t great, plus they are expensive.

The results.

Being both wheat and dairy free completely eliminated my son’s symptoms. So now we know, lactose, cows milk and wheat have to be avoided for the long term. This means changes for our family as a whole, because when preparing a meal I will take this into account, rather than making separate meals for us and for my son.

I know this will be a continual challenge, but one that will be worth it for the sake of my sons health. I can imagine that for anyone who sufferes from food intolerances it must be difficult to work out what is causing the problem and to be finally symptom free must be such a relief.

Have you had a similar experience, yourself or do you have a child who suffers from a food intolerance? Let me know. I would love to hear from you.


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