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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Allergy Elimination Diet

It's almost fall, and I've just started an allergy elimination diet. In the last couple of weeks, the light has shifted. Darker shadows, shorter days, and the air has a new bite. The change of season is a good time to refocus on health. Chinese medicine teaches that fall is time to consolidate our energy, let go of the things we no longer need and to attend to the health of our lungs and large intestine. It makes sense to try to bolster our immunity (with real food, not flu shots) and fend off those pesky fall allergies. The couple of weeks before and after the equinox are a wise time to choose a cleansing diet in preparation for the cooler weather.

For me, the crazy wonderful overindulgence of the International Food Blogger's Conference (held in the Theo chocolate factory, with giant trays of chocolate at hand at all times), with its endless, dizzying array small plates, wine at lunch and dinner and my general feeling I had to try to consume it all capped off a summer of, well, moderate overindulgence, and left me feeling bloated, craving a daily dose of coffee, chocolate and red wine, and ready for a cleanse.

The basic principle of dietary cleansing is to eliminate foods that you may be allergic or sensitive to and focus on simple whole foods, allowing the body's detoxification machinery to get to work on its backlog of stored toxins, such as heavy metals, PCB's, BPA, food additives, and the like. You eat this low-allergy, health-supporting diet for two to three weeks, and then gradually reintroduce foods, observing for any sensitivities or reactions. If you've been wondering if wheat, gluten or dairy are really a problem for you, this is a great way to find out. There are many versions of the elimination diet, and various ways to emphasize the cleansing aspect (or not). This is the one I'm following: EAT: all fresh fruit except oranges, gluten-free grains such as rice, millet, quinoa, buckwheat, teff, amaranth, animal protein (wild and low-mercury fish, organic/pastured poultry, grassfed lamb and beef) and/or beans, all vegetables and herbs, only cold pressed olive oil, pastured lard and ghee. AVOID: all dairy, gluten grains like wheat, barley, oats and rye, pork and cured meats, shellfish, soy, corn, other fats and oils, refined sugar and other sweeteners, refined and processed foods, alcohol, caffeine and other drugs. Keep it seasonal by choosing local produce, and favoring more warm, cooked not raw foods and soups when the weather is cool.

I tried a version of this that eliminated all grains in May, and while I felt great, it was not miraculous as some folks in the nutrition world (like, say, Mark Sisson of http://www.marksdailyapple.com/) would have you believe it might be. Again, I think it all comes down to biochemical individuality. Some do well on grains, some don't. Some do well on dairy, meat, wheat, some don't. The interesting thing about a process like the Allergy Elimination Diet is that it is a way to explore what works for you, not the latest nutrition guru. Often, if you do identify a food that seems to cause a reaction (migraine headaches, PMS, bloating, whatever it is..), you can often avoid it for 6 month or so and then reintroduce it to find you don't react any more. Where do these sensitivities come from, anyway? I'd say some are genetic, some created by an imbalance in gut flora, some by changes in the food supply such as GMO's (GMO corn is linked to an increase in allergies, and wheat has been bred to contain even more gluten). I'm using this as a good chance to try out some recipes from the Gluten-Free Girl, who I met at the blog conference, check out her great writing here: http://glutenfreegirl.blogspot.com/.

Day one, I'm feeling good. Titrated down on coffee (I had maxed out in coffee heaven, Seattle, where the ambient coffee quality is even higher than in the Bay Area), switched to green, then white tea. Decided not to eliminate chocolate, if only because it's in my cod-liver oil, for goodness sake (a rightfully discontinued flavor), but I'll fight those afternoon cravings which have been hitting hard every day since I returned from the chocolate factory. I'll keep you updated on how it's going, meanwhile, dear reader, consider what your body and diet might benefit from letting go of, temporarily or permanently?

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