Hypoallergenic Food

Listen, you’ve heard the term hypoallergenic as it relates to your jewelry, your skin care products, and your laundry detergent, but have you ever thought about the food you eat? Have you ever thought about if what you eat is hypoallergenic? No, no. NOT sterile. Hypoallergenic doesn’t mean sterile!

You don’t blink an eye when a friend says, “Oh, I can’t wear cheap earrings. My ears get sore.” You get that! We can all relate to people needing hypoallergenic jewelry or skin products. But have you ever thought about the food you eat and whether or not it’s hypoallergenic to your system?

Yes, indeed! Just like these external substances can lead to immune reactions, so can the food you eat! However, the food you eat leads to a chain reaction of internal immune system activation that doesn’t just sit right there at the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

You have immune cells lining the intestines which sample the foods you eat and decide whether or not they like it. Whether you like the food doesn’t matter. Whether the food you eat is healthy or not doesn’t matter. If the immune cells sample it and don’t like it, they are going to send out signals (histamines, prostaglandins, interleukins, interferons, and other cytokine signals) in the blood stream which can affect any organ system in your body: you stomach, your brain, your skin, your reproductive system, your lungs, your connective tissue (joints, as an example), your thyroid.

My Oligoantigenic (What!?!?) Diet

When I first started down this fascinating nutrition avenue a little over four years ago (from a classic diet of cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and pizza or pasta for supper), one of the first things I learned about and tried was an “oligoantigenic diet.” I had read that some people with the same gastrointestinal malady that I suffered from had been treated in a medical research study with an oligoantigenic diet!

What in tarnation is an oligoantigenic diet? I’d never heard of that! Basically, it is a strict, hypoallergenic diet that allows only foods which are accepted to be very mild on the body’s immune system. Once I figured out that I could think of an oligoantigenic diet as a type of “hypoallergenic” diet, I got it! Choose foods which cause the least known reactions! For those of you familiar with a strict elimination diet, you know what I’m talking about here too.

So I started on a (miserable) diet consisting of three foods which don’t seem to rile up people’s immune systems too much: lamb (I didn’t even like lamb), plain sweet potato (I had only ever eaten those as fries), and white rice (which I had never eaten plain). Did I mention it tasted miserable? But persistence led me on a food journey of a lifetime (for a lifetime).  And as I’ve heard it said, “I didn’t know I was feeling so bad till I started feeling so good!”

An oligoantigenic diet (or hypoallergenic diet) is NOT meant to be a long-term diet. A person starts with a small group of 3-5 foods and builds from there, learning to observe signs and symptoms that tell him or her that a particular food category raises immune reactions (by observing for headaches, GI changes, spikes in fatigue, skin rashes, and other clues).

The Pesky Foods

Never once going through pharmacy school, medical school, residency, and hundreds of hours of continuing education did I ever hear about a hypoallergenic, oligoantigenic diet or even an anti-inflammatory diet. (I was served plenty of donuts, bagels with cream cheese, and pizza, though.) It took me going after my own health to learn about nutrition.

Since my oligoantigenic diet, I’ve done a lot more reading. What I’ve found is that the same foods that doctors KNOW are immune provoking because they cause true, life- threatening food allergies, are the same foods that can be removed to lighten the load of a body stressed by health problems. By removing known immune-provoking, inflammmatory-producing foods, the body gets a rest from the prostaglandins, histamine, interleukins, interferons, and other cytokines that it makes in response to something it thinks is harmful.

Although any food can cause allergic and sensitivity issues, there are eight foods that are medically known to cause the majority of the reactions. Why? These foods have what I call “pesky proteins.” They have proteins in them that have very, very strong bonds, making them difficult for our digestive tracts to break down. The better food is broken down into its smallest parts in our intestinal tracts, the less inflammatory it is to us.

The pesky eight foods are:

Tree nuts
Milk products

These are the common drop-dead if you eat them allergenic foods. But I’m not talking about drop-dead allergies here. I’m talking about you and me and Mr. Smith walking around with headaches, bloating, fussy guts, allergies, asthma, psoriasis, eczema, depression, fatigue, puffy eyelids, puffy faces, coronary artery disease, increasing forgetfulness, dry and itchy eyes, chronic sinus problems, joint pain–do I HAVE to keep going? I sure can. Sometimes by simply eliminating the above food categories (with NO cheating), a person can gauge how much food is affecting their health.

Enter Anti-Inflammatory Diets

Since trying my three ingredient, hypoallergenic diet, I’ve discovered a whole world of anti-inflammatory type diets, which aren’t as strict as an oligoantigenic (hypoallergenic) diet. I find it fascinating that these diets often eliminate the Pesky Eight foods, capitalizing on what we know about the immune system and health! However, anti-inflammatory type diets incorporate and expand further on the idea of the immune system and inflammation in the role of health problems.

Each named anti-inflammatory diet (sometimes called autoimmune diets) has its own unique quirks. In general, though, these diets do three things.

  1. Eliminate most of the Pesky Eight foods (although seafood is usually encouraged if a person knows they are not truly allergic) and a few other problematic foods which don’t make the top eight. (Things like corn, any gluten grains, beef, chocolate, citrus, tomato, and beans)
  2. Eliminate processed foods, refined foods, including sugars.
  3. Include abundant vegetables and fruits.

Anti-inflammatory diets (autoimmune diets) seek to eliminate the most common food problem causers and also try to bring in food problem solvers.


Diets in general can be overwhelming, and when they talk about restricting food groups, diets can be downright terror-provoking. As I’ve journeyed away from an oligoantigenic elimination diet, my own diet landed very similarly to many of these anti-inflammatory type diets. It wasn’t by choice and planning. That’s just how it fell. I can’t eat many of the Pesky Eight foods and feel good doing so. My body likes hypoallergenic food best.

I hear a lot of people say that no good diet restricts food groups. I really, really understand what they’re saying. However, LOOK AT THE PESKY EIGHT! They are good, healthy foods!!!!! But if the GI tract immune system triggers a cascade that sets the rest of the body on edge, you’re not going to feel good.

So please, when someone says they can’t eat dairy or wheat, give them a break. When they say they can’t eat eggs or beef, give them a nod. It’s just as frustrating for them as it is you. And if you have any nagging health problems, talk with your doctor about a dietary referral to see if an oligoantigenic food trial helps you gain control of any of your issues.

Don’t use anything on my site as medical guidance or instruction. I hope it sparks curiosity to help you want to learn more. And, oh yes, I like to think that for most people, autoimmune type diets can be expanded with a whole health approach.

Be well. Be curious.


20 thoughts on “Hypoallergenic Food

  1. mommytrainingwheels

    This is interesting: “I didn’t know I was feeling so bad till I started feeling so good”. It’s food for thought. One thing that I’ve read on your blog and have been trying to put into practice is to follow an “honest diet”. Most days, things go pretty smoothly, but some days the kid with no inhibition in my head screams so loudly I choose not to ignore her and I indulge in food that I know full well will make me feel like crap.

    I’m curious, when you started your hypoallergenic diet, how long did it take before you noticed a real change?

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Hello! And Happy Friday! Inner child? Inner child? Who has an inner child? Ha! And whose inner child throws fits? Mine pouts a lot. 🙂

      I felt improvements in certain areas in about 3-5 days in select symptoms–if I remember correctly this would be things like chronic daily stuffy nose/runny nose, brain fogginess, dry eyes. Other things took longer. Some things took a long, long time (my gut is much, much better but has taken years). A daughter has eczema that flares up really bad sometimes. When it does, she buckles down to a strict food regimen by her choice (and she makes me eat it with her–what a mom I am!!! Ha!), and it starts clearing up by about 48 hours.

      A lot of people maintain many kinds of symptoms by eating strictly autoimmune. I’d like to think that there might be a way to transition off of that by fixing “leaky gut” (for anyone reading who doubts leaky gut, just Google Scholar “increased gastrointestinal permeability” for plenty of research) via multiple other lifestyle interventions. Some people have success with that. I haven’t yet found my ticket for that pleasant ride. 🙂 But I hope to. Ideally, I would like to feel myself by eating a real, whole “honest” diet, not fretting about eggs and dairy and such. Maybe that’ll happen when the kids are older and more self-sufficient. (That does happen, right!?!?)

      Have a great, great weekend. Glad to read your comment. Thank you.

      1. mommytrainingwheels

        3-5 days is quick (I know it wasn’t for everything, but still). I never thought that a change in diet could take care of my 365 day stuffy/runny nose. Eczema yes, headaches yes, constipation yes, but not the nose. Have a good weekend!

      2. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

        I will have a good weekend! Yay!

        The lining of the gut turns itself over every 3-5 days. So starting from right now, in 5 days, you’ll have a whole new gut lining, which may help defend you against certain reactions from your food. Plus, after about 3-5 days, the cells spilling out all the inflammatory factors are starting to cool off their jets after being so hot and bothered, allowing you to feel better.

        Just had Emily Maine comment that her stuffy nose went away on her elimination diet and that when her own nose is stuffy, the baby’s colic is bad. I STILL get some fall and spring seasonal allergies(about a week each fall and spring), don’t get me wrong, but I do NOT have daily stuffiness or runny nose (two prescriptions gone for that, thank you very much!). Dairy is my worst offender for that. I’ll wake up with a stuffy nose at 3 am, wondering what’s up—-then remember that we had cheese in something.

  2. j

    Have you heard about IgG and migraine? Maybe this is something that gets close. There are many studies about that migraine might just be an late allergic reaction to food.

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Hi there! I’ll link to a couple of articles for anyone interested in this topic:


      I think that some migraines are a reaction to food. I can tell you which foods will give me a headache and I can tell you about how long it will take before it comes. Eggs happen the same day and wheat can take up to 72 hours.

      I’ve lately been interested in mast cells in the brain. Mast cells are cells that are activated in an allergic reaction. Often IgE triggers that. But in the brain there are mast cells, and they send out their allergic-type chemicals in response to other things besides IgE. That’s a little off topic, sorry. But in case you want to Google mast cells in the brain and migraines. It’s interesting too. Reinforces to me the role of all of our environment and all of our lifestyle on how our bodies feel and function.

      Anyhow, all so fascinating. Thanks for pointing that out with IgG and migraine and late food reactions. IgG is just so tricky because there can be so many false positives and false negatives. If a person can do an elimination diet, it is ideal. But they are very hard to do. Sometimes using IgG along with what elimination they can do helps.

  3. myhomeschooledkid

    When my son had colic as a baby, I read about just eating those three foods, only they said that turkey was acceptable as well.. within a day or two, no more colic! I couldn’t believe how fast he improved. Great post, thank you.

    1. EmilyMaine

      After my experiences with the current baby it wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of babies suffering from colic are actually reacting to food. I’m not sure why it isn’t given more attention by doctors. Obviously we can’t all go on strict elimination diets, some people would just struggle with that. But they could cut some of the main contenders and see what happens. It has made all the difference here. When I stuff up my colicky baby returns so O have no diet that if I wasn’t doing the diet that I’d have a baby who screams all the time!!

      1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

        I believe some colic is related to mom’s food. I’ve read some medical papers on this, and they admit that perhaps it is, but they feel the challenge of changing diet is too much for people. They always say that, whether it’s diabetes, psoriasis, constipation, whatever. “Due to the difficulty of such significant diet changes…” Hmph. Let the mom decide and have that option. Give her one hour with a nutritionist who can at least explain the Pesky Eight, how processed foods should be avoided during the trial as much as possible due to use of the proteins from the Pesky Eight. Screaming babies are no fun. (LOL, neither are screaming toddlers, from present day experience)

        I’m tired of the defeatist diet attitude. People at least deserve a chance to try. I feel like our mainstream medicine is so misinformed and under informed. I had a paragraph in the original draft of the article about this, but I had to hack words to keep it at the 1000 mark.

        Stuffy is a symptom I get with my problem foods too.

        SO glad Beautiful Baby is here. What a journey!

  4. EmilyMaine

    It’s funny isn’t it. It seems medical school focuses on treating people once they are sick, rather than teaching them how to help people prevent illness. All these things go together! Obviously I am able to relate to this post with all going on in our house at the moment although sweet potato is a no for us. I got nuts and coconut back this week. I feel like a whole new world of food has opened up to me. Interestingly I haven’t felt great on this diet. I’ve had a run of illness (mastitis, cough, headcold) and felt extremely flat. I was trying hard to eat enough days and protein and keep the calories up with breastfeeding but I just could t shake the feeling that I was missing some vital nutritional element. I was starting to feel quite depressed. That’s how I came to bringing the nuts etc back and mentally I really do feel much better for it. I still have my cough and the head cold is almost done but I don’t feel so flat and really, that was the worst part. Oh and some of my skin dried out and became almost like early eczema! I wonder what this all means for me and my system? I find it quite fascinating. Thanks for the post.

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      It is fascinating! Sorry you had to go through that though. To me, your experience is reinforces to me that these elimination diets and anti-inflammatory diets are best used as stepping stones to a broader diet that the person enjoys, keeps symptoms at bay, and provides necessary nutrients. It is also a reminder that each person on Earth (or planet Proxima b, probably either) can’t have the same darn diet. I have a “safe” diet that I run back to when my symptoms flare up. But when symptoms aren’t flared up, I like to enjoy what I feed my family for the most part.

      Nuts helped? Selenium getting low? Nah. Shouldn’t be that. You were eating lamb. Hmm…the red meat issue that Tim describes above. Ah, shucks…who knows. But it’s fun for me to think about. Glad you don’t feel so flat anymore. I hate feeling flat. Hate it.

      You’re welcome for the post. 🙂

  5. Tim Steele

    I give nearly the same advice to people that cannot figure out the root of their digestive problems. Your “pesky 8” are definitely problematic for lots of people, I also add “red meat” to the list of things to eliminate when looking for relief.

    Many people have a very real reaction to nonhuman sialic acid N-glycolylneuraminic acid (“Neu5Gc”). Paul Jaminet wrote about Neu5Gc thoroughly here: http://perfecthealthdiet.com/2015/01/neu5gc-red-meat-human-disease-part/

    Bottom line: some people have a red meat allergy and would do better eating only fish and fowl.

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      That was a great explanation as to where the inflammatory reaction would come from in red meat. Glad to read that link to have some theoretical type scientific explanations. I also, after reading it, see why most cancer diets eliminate red meat (cancer cells incorporate more of the Neu5Gc sialic acid which probably comes from red meat). Good stuff to read. I always enjoy reading The Jaminets’ stuff.

      It took me quite a while to figure out that chicken was problematic for me. I do just fine with beef and pork and seafood, but not chicken. I mean, WHO doesn’t do well with CHICKEN!?!? From this I decided that a good elimination diet is invaluable.

  6. Jo tB

    I NEVER have headaches, so that is not a symptom for me. But all the research I have done over the years, have told me that I do have intolerance problems. As you know, for me it is constipation. On my last holiday, it was full on again. You shovel food in at the top, but it is not coming out the other end. Very frustrating. I wanted to take in more butter, but lugging that around on holidays, is not feasable. I found an alternative in buying a bottle of linseed oil.

    And a runny nose. The funny thing is, I only have a runny nose during cold weather. My nose is very dry during the summer, I’m forever picking my nose trying to get rid of scabs (dried up mucus?). I do notice that I have a stuffy nose when I am in bed lying on my side, and it turned out that it was caused by dairy. So yes the symptoms are different for each person, but the outcome is the same: your gut bacteria doesn’t like some foods, and in my case, it will tell me with lots of gas, bloating, stuffy nose and a lack of enthusiasm to do things. I have recently found out that I was low in protein consumption, and now that I have increased my intake to 75 gram I feel a lot more energetic, have got more get up and go. I tried eating meat/fish 3 times a day, but that stuffed me up even more than dairy did, so I turned to vegetable proteins for half my protein intake. Quite by chance I found a goat whey protein powder (they say goat milk is better tolerated) and so am using that to top up my protein needs if I run short.

    It is still a work in progress.


    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Hi, Jo tB. Good to hear from you. I resonate with a lot of what you said in your comment.

      Yes. It is so person dependent what a person will thrive on or fail on. Yet some patterns are apparent across the spectrum, like how dairy causes quite a few people some problems. Not all, but enough that it’s worth taking out if someone is struggling with something. One of the first places to start.

      Linseed oil. I’ve not read up on that much.

      Eggs make my mucous membranes like you describe, dry and “bleeding” and stuffy. Eggs also affect my enthusiasm. 🙂 I know when I can eat eggs again it’ll mean I’m all fixed up inside. 🙂 I had to do an elimination diet for a long time, I could have saved a lot of hassle be just trying some autoimmune diet first. BUT, I had to learn it on my own. Guess it’ll stick that way.

      Glad the protein ingestion is helping energy, but dang it, wish the GI transit would follow too. I find I feel much better with higher meat intake (not eggs, not chicken). Wish that wasn’t so, but it is.

      I’ve been playing around with Paul Jaminet’s anti-oxidant prescription for constipation. I read it 2-3 years ago and never tried it with the supplements. I’ve tried getting these things through diet, but I decided to break down this month and experiment with them as supplements just to cross this potential treatment off my list of things to try for slow GI. Starting off slow, though, as I had a little insomnia. Have you read this post of his? http://perfecthealthdiet.com/2011/04/causes-and-cures-for-constipation/

      Anyhow, I’d better go. But lastly, we are sensitive to cow dairy in our family (husband especially so and me averagely so), but we have had fair success with chevre cheese and Manchego cheese.

      Take care.

  7. rantsrulesandrecipes

    LOVE THIS! And the metaphor with cheap jewelry and cheap (ahem, processed foods).
    I’ve had clients and patients try an elimination diet with Wheat, Dairy, Eggs and citrus, but had not heard of the pesky eight! (obviously aware of anaphylactic fish and nuts)

    Interesting about lamb and white rice (watch out for arsenic!?! organic white white) and sweet potatoes as the un-inflammatory foods. who knew! and How did you?!

    Thanks for you extensive, reliable posts!

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      With your comments, I’m glowing tonight! 🙂 You’re making me verrrr-y happy! 🙂

      Anyhow. I made up the term Pesky Eight (to kind of jive with the “Dirty Dozen” kind of theme) for the allergenic foods which repeatedly seem to cause problems in autoimmune disorders.

      I first read about the oligoantigenic diet from this research study on severe, refractory constipation. It was an article that pushed me on in this crazy journey. This is only the abstract. I couldn’t find the full article, even though I read it on-line a few years ago or so. There were four women who were placed on the sweet potato, lamb and white rice diet. They eventually figured out several foods they didn’t tolerate which helped their slow guts. Citrus, as you mentioned was on there, in addition to some of the others. I think these women were left over after a dairy elimination. I can’t remember.


      I think about that (arsenic) with the rice. We do eat our fair share of rice as all of us do well with it (eczema, guts, headaches, all that jazz does fine—does better with white than brown, although brown is okay). I haven’t decided what I think about that yet. Do you just tell patients to abstain or just moderate?



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