5 things I learnt on an elimination diet

Breastfeeding with unknown allergies meant I tried an elimination diet, but unfortunately I couldn’t figure it out.

When I was breastfeeding and trying to get to the bottom of Elise’s food allergies, I had to cut out a number of different food groups with a breastfeeding elimination diet.  Until then, I have been lucky enough not to have to be ‘free’ of anything – so it was a bit of an eye opener and I can definitely better sympathise with my clients who do need to cut out certain food groups.  It was also a real learning experience that I thought I’d share.

The first group I cut out was dairy. Dairy featured pretty heavily in my diet – yoghurt was one of my go to snacks, I’d pop it on my porridge, I’d eat cheese in a sandwich and I’d use milk in my hot drinks and smoothies.  I’d also just drink a glass of milk along with a banana when I was hungry in the middle of the night and up breastfeeding!  So cutting out dairy meant some quite big changes to my diet.  But not as big as when I also cut out a range of other groups until it all just got too hard and I couldn’t figure out what was causing her to react (you can read more about that here).

If you are planning on doing an elimination diet or cutting out food groups, make sure you get some dietary advice from a properly qualified expert as you do run the risk of having an inadequate intake.  Elimination diets are not easy and by being restrictive there is the possibility it could have a negative effect on your relationship with food.

Here’s some things to share from my experience on a breastfeeding elimination diet :

It’s not as simple as swapping A for B

Home made coconut yoghurt

Today there’s lots of dairy alternatives so you might think it’s not that hard to go dairy free.  And while I was quite happy to use almond milk, oat milk, drinking coconut milk and coconut yoghurt, and I even quite enjoyed them, they’re just not the same nutritionally.

Let’s take a look at what I’d have before.

Previously in a day I may have had something like this:

1.5 cups milk
1/2 cup plain yoghurt
2 slices of cheese (30g)

I popped this in some dietary software and here’s the vitamins and minerals I’d get from this

 

 

If I switched this to:

1.5 cups almond milk
100g coconut yoghurt

Here’s what I’d get.

 

As you can see above, by switching dairy for non dairy alternatives, you get a drop in nutrient intake for many of the vitamins and minerals, especially calcium, zinc and the B vitamins.  You do get more vitamin E from almond milk, but overall it just doesn’t compare nutritionally with cows milk.

It pays to read the nutrition label because some brands have more calcium than others.  Also some brands  are also fortified with other vitamins and minerals so they’re more similar to cows milk in nutrition composition.

There are also a range of other milk alternatives including soy (I had also cut out soy so didn’t have that), oat and rice milk.  I ended up cutting out nuts too so oat milk was my go to which I actually quite enjoyed!

To try and make up the difference for calcium, I also included plenty of non dairy sources of calcium. The RDI of calcium for breastfeeding women is 1300mg so without dairy it can be hard to reach the target.

Non dairy sources of calcium:

3 sardines (from tinned) 102mg
80g tinned salmon (with bones) 198mg
30g raw almonds 75mg
2 slices 12 grain toast bread 61mg
1 cup cooked broccoli 59mg
1 medium naval orange 42mg
3 teaspoons hulled tahini 50mg

It’s definitely possible to get enough calcium without dairy,  you just have to plan a bit more.

Check food labels

Dairy free,wheat free, soy free bread – I was so thankful to find this.

It can be quite surprising to see where common allergens are found.  Think dark chocolate is dairy free?  Not all brands are!  Some bread contains dairy, and even between similar products in the same brand line some products have allergens that others don’t.

Product formulations also change, so don’t always presume that if you’ve checked the label once it will be ok.  It pays to always read just in case.

Plan Plan Plan

If you’re going anywhere, always take food and snacks.  I had a few day trips so I made sure I packed a lunch and took snacks which was good as there was nothing I could eat at any of the food places we had available to us.

I always took something with me if we were asked out for dinner too.  In the time I was on the elimination diet, the dinners we went to were all BBQ style dinners where everyone bought food, so it did make it easier.  That way if there was nothing else to eat, I could at least have what I had taken.  I went to a dinner once where everyone knew I was dairy free, but every single salad had a type of cheese in it and they had added butter to the vegetables…. So I was pleased I’d taken a few things that I could eat.

Even at home planning was important.  I couldn’t just grab my regulars.  Once a week I’d cook and freeze individual serve bags of brown rice and quinoa.  I’d try and cook a little extra meat and vegetables at dinner for lunches.  I also made my own mayo using aquafaba instead of eggs, and avocado was my go to to make everything more tasty! Thank goodness they were in season and cheap.

Don’t be afraid to ask

I’m the type of person that hates to make a fuss, so this was kind of hard for me but because I was so paranoid I just did it!    When you go out to eat, whether it’s at a cafe or friends/family – ask what’s in the food.  I found it useful to double check sometimes. Once someone told me something that usually contains butter was dairy free, but I said “So it has no butter?” and they said ‘Oh yes sorry it does’.  Sometimes people just equate dairy with milk or yoghurt but forget about other things!

It’s easy to feel deprived so treat yo’ self

With so many things off the menu, it was easy to feel deprived and a bit bored of food in general. I found dark chocolate and coconut ice cream with berries kept me sane.  Little Bird Organics also make macarons which were free from many of the common allergens and they were nice too for a special treat.   Shortly I’ll share a post on treats which are allergy friendly too, including recipes.

 

Even though the 6 or so weeks I was on an elimination diet was tough, it was certainly a learning experience and I was so grateful to go back to ‘normal’ eating once Elise started on allergenic formula.  Allergies and intolerances can be tricky to navigate, but there’s so much more out there to make your eating experience both balanced and enjoyable.

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2 Responses to 5 things I learnt on an elimination diet

  1. Caro July 12, 2017 at 9:06 pm #

    Hey nic, great post! Keen for your coconut yoghurt recipe if poss?

  2. Katie July 13, 2017 at 1:15 pm #

    Your comment on going out for dinner where everyone knows you are dairy free and yet they put cheese and butter on everything is exactly what I always experience when I eat at my in laws. This same situation happened at Christmas. They know and yet it is just their way to eat lots of diary. For me it is an allergy so even a small amount would make me react. Eliminating food groups is not easy! Why people do it on fad diets is beyond my comprehension

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