As the author of a gluten-free, dairy- free, egg-free, peanut-free, and tree nut-free cookbook, it is easy to imagine that I talk and write about food all the time. My three children, ages 7, 10, and 12, have given me more experience and challenges in the food area than anyone would ever want. I did, for a brief moment, think that I was going to lose my mind while trying to figure out what foods my second child, Noah, could eat without an allergic reaction. There are many things worth knowing when it comes to food and being healthy including how food affects health and human behavior, emotional states, and cognition and learning; how changes in your diet can help repair the immune system; the distinction between malnutrition and malabsorption; and how rotation diets can be used to prevent the development of new food allergies or sensitivities and health issues.
The things that I learned from feeding Noah would easily fill a book, and, to be perfectly frank, comprise the information that saved my daughter’s life. Noah was diagnosed with acid reflux as a newborn – probably only 2 weeks old. The diagnosis from the pediatrician was based solely on the fact that I asked why Noah would cry after breastfeeding when I ate certain foods and why he would have a small amount of curdled spit up shortly after I ate those meals (the ones that caused Noah to cry). With just that much information, I was told that Noah absolutely had acid reflux, and I should give him an over-the-counter antacid, elevate his crib at one end, keep him upright after feedings, and so on. The antacid made no difference whatsoever. The next solution was Zantac® syrup, which also made no difference. Finally, the doctor suggested a stronger prescription – a drug called Propulsid®. One of my best friends happens to be a registered pharmacist, soI called her to ask about Propulsid®. Her hesitation and silence were telling, and she firmly advised me not to do anything until she sent me information by express mail.
The manufacturer’s information that my friend sent stated quite clearly that Propulsid® (in 1999) was known to be causing heart attacks in adults and that there were no studies available on the use of Propulsid® in children or infants. I took a copy of the report into my pediatrician and the look of shock on his face to this day is memorable. He sunk his face down into the report only briefly looking up to ask how I managed to get the information.
I declined to accept a prescription, instead opting for medical testing that would evaluate Noah’s stomach-emptying time and acid reflux. When the test results came back, it was conclusive according to the pediatrician. Noah’s stomach emptying time was within the normal range and there were zero signs of acid reflux. Propulsid®, for the record, was later withdrawn by the FDA for causing death in infants, children, and adults. This was a pivotal moment for me as a mother and as a consumer of health care services. How was it that I could get more accurate information from a pharmacist friend than from my pediatrician? This rocked my world. I went about researching food allergies as an alternative to the acid reflux. I will never forget comparing the symptoms for acid reflux and food allergies (non-IgE mediated).
I realized by the time Noah was just 6 months old that he did not tolerate wheat, oats, barley, or rye (the gluten family), milk of any kind in any amount, tree nuts, soy, eggs, and a few other minor foods. Before Noah was 1 year old, I realized that I could radically change his behavior and his disposition just by changing his diet. It was shocking to me. Just a little bit of dairy or gluten and he went from a sweet, loving, and docile 1–year-old, to a crying, whining, upset basket case. It was surreal to me since I had never heard of foods being able to cause such dramatic changes in emotional states or behavior.
Because I was not in the autism world or any other community at the time, I actually thought that I had invented the concept that ADD and ADHD could be resolved by diet. I hope that you are letting the laughter rip about now. It was a member of the local celiac support group that I eventually became involved with who told me about the Feingold® Association and set me straight that moms had been using diet for ADD, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorders for decades. I can appreciate and have compassion for anyone who is skeptical. I would be skeptical myself had I not seen with my own eyes the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde behavior of my own child. I can honestly say that I would have two boys who would have ADD and ADHD if they were not on a gluten-free, dairy-free, and dye-free diet.
What there is available for anyone who is interested is a wide body of scientific knowledge and research about how food, food additives, preservatives, and dyes can affect not just children’s health, but their ability to think, learn, behave, and function in life. You can find a wealth of information on the Feingold® Association Web site at www.Feingold.org. A parent resource that I often recommend to read more on this subject is a book called Is This Your Child? by Doris Rapp, MD. Rapp is a physician who is board certified in three fields of medicine: allergy, pediatrics, and environmental medicine. She has been a physician for more than 50 years. You can watch videos and download information from her Web site at www.DrRapp.com.
In America, physicians routinely use the ketogenic diet for children who fail on the wide array of seizure medications on the market. The ketogenic diet is a highly controlled special diet where the ratios of fats and carbohydrates are measured and monitored. It is not an easy diet by any means, but mainstream medicine recognizes that this diet is effective in many cases for controlling or eliminating seizures in children who fail on medications. Physicians have used diet for more than 2,000 years to help improve health and relieve unpleasant health symptoms.
One of the most widely recognized instances where diet can cause ill health, cancer, and even death is that of celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which eating gluten, an amino acid sequence found in wheat, barley, rye, some common oats, and other grains, causes the villi in the small intestine to become flattened, damaged, or destroyed. The treatment for celiac disease is to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet. Celiac disease is very common in the United States, affecting about 1 percent of the population or nearly 3 million Americans.
The issue with celiac disease in our country is that it is not being diagnosed. Ninety-seven percent of the people who have celiac in the United States do not yet know that they have it, according to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Program. Undiagnosed celiac disease can cause a host of serious health issues, and it carries with it more than 300 symptoms. The more common symptoms include acid reflux, abdominal pain or bloating, anemia, anxiety, depression, arthritis, behavior disorders, cancers, chronic constipation or chronic diarrhea, chronic fatigue, headache, migraine, infertility, insomnia, malnutrition, irritable bowel, osteoporosis or osteopenia, heart disease, and unexplained weight gain or weight loss.
Testing for celiac disease is a simple celiac panel blood test often followed by a small bowel biopsy. An estimated 18 to 20 million are negatively affected by gluten, yet do not actually have celiac disease. Rather, they have what is known as gluten intolerance. If you have experienced ongoing health issues, it would be advantageous to rule out celiac disease as an underlying cause because undiagnosed celiac disease increases the risk of cancer by 200 to 300 percent.
Eating foods that are not agreeable with your body can damage your body’s ability to absorb vital vitamins and nutrients and can lead to malnutrition and malabsorption. You don’t have to have a distended belly or be emaciated to have clinical malnutrition. I have been dealing with malnutrition and malabsorption issues with my daughter, Anne, for several years now. Malnutrition simply indicates that you are lacking the right amount of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients necessary for the body to function. You simply cannot tell if someone is malnourished or has malnutrition by looking at them. You would have to do blood testing to determine if someone has malnutrition.
A malabsorption problem is defined as defective or inadequate absorption of nutrients from the intestinal tract. Malabsorption is characterized by deficiencies of carbohydrates, fats, minerals, proteins, and vitamins and sometimes by excess fat in the stool. If a person is diagnosed with deficiencies in vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, or other essential nutrients, the typical protocol is to add supplements to the person’s diet to correct for the deficiencies. Nutritional deficiencies are not corrected overnight. It can take months or even longer to correct some deficiencies. If a person does not respond to nutritional supplements in an appropriate amount of time, then a diagnosis of malabsorption would be fitting.
My daughter Anne was diagnosed with malnutrition at age 2 after I finally caved and spent the $700 for the nutritional testing not covered by our HMO. The results were unbelievable. Anne was missing, across the board, most of the nutrients her body required to function. Had her nutritional levels been any worse, I was told that she would be having heart problems. I followed the physician’s recommendations and gave Anne supplements for one calendar year, which included making two vitamin shakes a day and giving her other supplements to boot. We then repeated the testing only to discover that Anne’s nutritional status had not improved at all. This is the classic case of malabsorption. We then began intravenous nutrition therapy to bypass the absorption problem, which we have been doing once a week for three years. Still, Anne’s nutritional levels are poor. Anne’s overall health has improved dramatically since the nutritional IV therapy started, yet her blood testing leaves a lot to be desired. We just had her blood sent to Europe where much more sophisticated testing is available as we look to solve the underlying issues relative to the malabsorption. Individuals with chronic health conditions or issues would benefit greatly from nutritional blood testing. If you are missing critical nutrients, it is likely that you will have a health problem eventually because the body is designed to require certain vitamins, minerals, and other nutritional components.
Rotation diets are a tool that you can use to help the body heal and to prevent new food allergies from developing. Before we had mass transportation in the United States, everyone living here was on a form of a rotation diet known as a seasonal rotation diet. People ate the foods that were available to them in the season they were grown. They used root cellars for storing the root plants, beets, potatoes, squash, turnips, rutabagas, and carrots that carried them through the winter months. They ate fresh produce during the spring and summer, canning some fruits and vegetables for the winter. In those early days, food would spoil before it could reach a destination that was across the country. Pioneers were not eating fresh strawberries and watermelon during the winter in the northeastern part of the country because those foods were not grown locally.
A rotation diet is, simply put, a structure for ensuring that you do not eat the same foods every day. More often than not, rotation diets are set up around a four- day schedule. Foods that are tolerated are divided up by food families and then scheduled into one of the four days. Noah became allergic to rice after 18 months on the gluten-free diet. I did not know at the time that this was even possible. It was an excruciatingly difficult time to have a child who was gluten free, dairy free, egg free, nut free, and not able to eat rice. He developed the same symptoms from eating any amount of rice that he had exhibited from eating gluten. I had to remove rice completely from his diet for more than two years and go to work on boosting his immune system.
We have used a rotation diet for approximately six years with great success while on the gluten-free, dairy-free, egg- free and other allergen-free (and dye-, preservative- and additive-free) diet. It has prevented Anne from developing additional food allergies to onion, garlic, cane sugar, and other flavorings, and has kept Noah able to tolerate rice once every four days. Hippocrates, the Greek physician who is considered to be the father of medicine, hinted at a rotation diet when he wrote that some people could eat a food every fourth day, but if they ate it more often, it would leave them feeling sick. While a rotation diet has been successful in reducing the development of additional food sensitivities, one is cautioned not to eat too much of any food on a given day as this will negate the effect of the rotation diet.
To set up a rotation diet, you will want a list of foods by food family and by food to make life easier. I have provided these two lists as free downloadable documents on my Web site: www.TheSuperAllergyCookbook.com. On this page please see the three-step process I recommend people use to create their own rotation diet, reprinted from my cookbook with permission.
STEP 2: Using the first chart that you completed, take any foods that belong to the same food family and mark those foods with a symbol like a star, triangle, square, or number (1s, 2s, 3s). For example spinach, beets, amaranth, and quinoa are all from the goosefoot or beet family, so these would all go together. You could also use a colored marker on the chart to group foods into the same families. I personally find the colored marker technique to be an easy way to distinguish what foods go together.
STEP 3: The last step is to sort out the foods that you can eat into different days. I have provided the following chart (see next page) to help you accomplish this task. You should know up front that you will probably have to do this more than one time, and you may want to do it in pencil. I suggest you make a copy of this chart as this may change for you over time. I have also provided you with a sample of a complete four-day rotation diet using very limited foods (see page 121). To complete your own rotation diet, you will take your first chart with the marked foods and put all of the foods that go together on one day. You will have some foods that are not in the same food family as any other. You can save them and use them to fill in as needed.
You will also have several foods from one family. For example, there are many, many grasses or grains in the grass/grain family. You can list them all on one day and then divide them up using them on days one and three or days two and four. Foods from the same family are best separated by a full day. It takes some time to do the groundwork to set up a rotation diet. For people who are already on restricted diets or people who already have multiple food allergies or sensitivities, this is a proactive strategy to prevent new issues from developing. I do not believe or advocate that everyone needs to be on a rotation diet. I do advocate that people should not eat the same foods every day – or a huge amount of the same food, as this is known medically as the sure path to developing a life-threatening or IgE-mediated food allergy.
There is a wealth of medical literature on the power of food and special diets to improve or resolve a wide variety of health issues and symptoms. A great deal of that information is available free for the taking on different Web sites or from library books that you can borrow. Food is the fuel that runs the human body and you can use food and nutrition to heal damaged immune systems, malnutrition, and, over time, even a more serious issue like chronic malabsorption.
Four years ago, Anne was a modern-day bubble child unable to go to the grocery store without having asthma symptoms; a child whose immune system was so damaged that the common cold was life threatening and required a prescription steroid. Today, using food and nutrition and natural medical technology, Anne is a thriving, typical 7-year-old who can go places (even the grocery store) without having a physical reaction that requires medication. The body has an incredible ability to heal given the right food, the right nutrition, proper sleep, and the right environment.
Sample Four-Day Rotation Diet
This is our four-day rotation diet (next page). We do not use all of the foods listed in any given day. These four days, however, provide us with the guidance for which foods to select from. While you will see soy and corn listed on different days, we use as little as possible of these two foods.
Lisa Lundy is the mother of three children and the author of The Super Allergy Girl Allergy & Celiac Cookbook - From A Mother Who Knows. This cookbook provides essential information for a gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, peanut-free, tree-nut free, and other allergen-free diet. Lisa’s third child, Anne, was a modern-day “bubble child” three years ago with a stark prognosis. As a result of the interventions that Lisa and her husband used, Anne is doing remarkably well and has avoided seizures, brain damage, and other heartbreaking outcomes that were predicted and predictable. Lisa Lundy’s passion is to empower others with information so that they can control, direct, restore, and maintain their own health.