In my household we have one vegan, one vegetarian and one meat-eater who is sensitive to salicylates, dairy and soy. It can be difficult when a family member is first diagnosed with eczema and food sensitivities, especially at Christmas.
While my daughter no longer has eczema (more on that shortly), I know what it’s like to give up some of the foods you love because they are hurting you.
Cooking is more of a chore than normal … until you get the hang of it. However, as a result of making dietary changes, my family and I no longer suffer from skin disorders and my children are calmer (much calmer!) and happier.
I've worked with hundreds of eczema patients at the Eczema Life Clinic (in Sydney) so I often hear about their eczema flare ups which occur after special events such as Christmas. So this is a Christmas version of The Itchy Dozen Worst Foods for Eczema which I spoke about on 7 News (you might recall the story "breakthrough diet for eczema", aired June 2016 in Australia). See the video link at the end of the article.
Allergy foods and eczema - this is not the whole story
If you have eczema you have probably done a range of allergy testing to work out your trigger foods. Common allergy foods for people with eczema include egg, dairy, nuts, sesame and wheat.
However, did you know some of the worst foods for eczema are ones that are rich in preservatives and natural chemicals? And if you have a food chemical intolerance it will not show up on your allergy tests.
This means you could be consuming a range of foods that trigger your eczema and not know about it ... but one thing is for sure, after Christmas day your skin is likely to be worse!
So these tips are designed to help you not only enjoy Christmas, but recover faster if you want to say to heck with it, and eat whatever you like.
- About 90% of eczema sufferers are sensitive to a range of chemicals, both natural and artificial, and experience a worsening of symptoms as a result.
The Itchy Dozen Worst Foods for Eczema
People are often surprised to find the Itchy Dozen includes some of the so-called 'good foods' for eczema. I know the Itchy Dozen contradicts some popular beliefs published in online blogs. I hear this over and over again but if the regular health advice has not eliminated your eczema this research may be the answer you have been looking for.
According to Australian research conducted over the past thirty years, these foods could be the reason your skin is dry, flaky and incredibly itchy.
Not counting allergy foods (as these vary), here are the surprising foods and beverages most likely to give you itchy eczema ...
Itchy Dozen #1: Dairy products
Before you pour custard onto your Christmas pudding be aware that Dairy products are the second most common allergy food seen in eczema sufferers (after egg). This includes cow’s milk, yoghurt, butter and cheese.
But allergy testing can give you a false sense of "being okay with dairy" that keeps eczema sufferers on dairy (and very itchy as a result).
Dairy products are also pro-inflammatory and can damage the lining of the gastrointestinal tract in sensitive people. This causes tiny holes which allow larger food particles to enter the body and allergic reactions and sensitivities can result. Naturopaths often refer to this as 'leaky gut' and the medical term doctors use is 'increased intestinal permeability'.
Eczema-friendly alternatives to custard include: real maple syrup and this Carob Syrup recipe, which is acid-alkaline balanced and good for you thanks to the calcium. As I am sensitive to sweeteners, I always add fine calcium powder to neutralise the acids.
Tip: If you are avoiding dairy you also need extra calcium.
My son (the fussy one) raided the fridge and ate a small bowl full of this home-made Carob Syrup so it has Mr. Fussy's approval:
- 1 cup filtered water, boiling hot
- ½ cup carob powder, sifted
- 2-3 tablespoons real maple syrup (or to taste)
- 1 teaspoon arrowroot flour (to thicken)
- 1 tablespoon filtered water (additional)
- 2 scoops super fine calcium powder (such as Calcium Matrix PM, optional for alkalising - don't use powder that is grainy)
Mix the hot water and the carob powder over low heat then add the syrup and mix. In a separate cup, mix the arrowroot flour and fine calcium powder with cool water until lump-free, then mix it into the syrup until it thickens.
Itchy Dozen #2: Grapes
Fruit platters are popular on Christmas day but did you know some fruits could keep you itchy till all hours!
If you have eczema or asthma, avoid grapes and grape-products such as wines, sultanas, raisins and juices. Grapes are a “triple threat” as they are a very rich source of three itch-promoting chemicals called salicylates, amines and monosodium glutamate (MSG) which are known to worsen eczema (Loblay and Swain 2006).
- Salicylates are a natural pesticide made by many fruits and vegetables, and it's also found in aspirin, perfumes and baby teething gel.
- Salicylate sensitivity is the most common chemical sensitivity, and salicylates trigger eczema in more than 52% people with eczema (Loblay and Swain 2006).
Grapes are also a highly acidic fruit, promoting acid in the body which increases the itch of eczema.
For Christmas day, avoid the high salicylate fruits and switch to medium salicylate fruits such as mango or low salicylate peeled pears. If you live in Australia you were probably going to buy mangoes anyway!
Itchy Dozen #3: Orange juice (and other juices)
Orange juice and other juices include grape juice, apple and berry juice, cranberry juice and more are strongly acidifying and rich sources of two itchy chemicals: salicylates and amines.
- 36% of eczema sufferers experience a worsening of eczema symptoms when they eat amine-rich foods. (Loblay and Swain 2006)
Swap those store bought juices for mineral water (plain, not flavoured) and a tiny squeeze of lime. Yes, lime does contain salicylates but it's alkalising and hey, it's Christmas so splash out!
Itchy Dozen #4: Kiwi fruit
Now this fruit is infamous for causing itchy skin, especially around your mouth ... Kiwi fruit is another strongly acidifying fruit, high in salicylates and amines, which commonly trigger eczema.
- Did you know food intolerances can take days to appear? After you have eaten an irritating food such as kiwi fruit, reactions can either be immediate or occur up to three days later. No wonder people are confused about food intolerances.
Instead of kiwi fruit, make Caramelised Bananas: simply heat a little real maple syrup or rice malt syrup in a non stick pan, halve a banana lengthways and fry it until it's golden. Yum! (thanks Charlie Rioux for this suggestion).
Itchy Dozen #5: Sauces
I have to be honest with you - those store bought sauces are rich in so many itch promoting chemicals you could take days to recover. Here are some top villains:
- Soy sauce is very rich in amines and MSG (both natural or artificial), so they can trigger eczema and other types of skin inflammation.
- Tomato sauce and BBQ sauce contain very high levels of itch promoting salicylates, amines and natural (hidden) MSG.
- Cranberry sauce is very rich in sugar and itch-promoting salicylates.
If you do want to indulge in sauces for the special day, try this Caramelised Leek Sauce recipe here. It's low chemical (contains no salicylates) and tastes delicious.
Itchy Dozen #6: Tomato
Tomato and products containing tomato including tomato ketchup and spaghetti Bolognese, are another triple threat as they are very rich sources of salicylates, amines and natural MSG. The three worst chemicals for triggering eczema!
So if you are making a salad, skip the tomato and use carrots or red cabbage instead.
Itchy Dozen #7: Avocado
While avocado is a healthy addition to your diet when you don't have eczema, avocado is one of the richest sources of amines and itch-promoting salicylates so it can worsen eczema symptoms.
This quote sums it up: "One man's medicine is another man's sleepless night itching."
However, there is good news: if you treat your salicylate sensitivity with specific detoxification nutrients that are salicylate-free (my daughter uses Skin Friend), you should be able to eat avocado after a few months of avoiding it.
Itchy Dozen #8: Chocolate
Chocolate and other caffeine-rich foods can worsen eczema as chocolate is very rich in sugar, dairy and amines, which is a compound that can induce a histamine response in some people. Cacao (especially the vegan kind) can be worse as it's less refined and richer in amines and tannins which can worsen the itch.
From personal experience I find eating chocolate and especially vegan cacao dries out my skin like nothing else! The day after consuming them, my skin is tighter and dry and almost painful. Then when I stop consuming them, my skin hydration normalises like magic.
The skin-friendly alternative is vegan carob, like my Carob Syrup recipe, above, which can be used to make Carob Tea.
Itchy Dozen #9. Dried fruits
Hold on before you tuck into the Christmas Pudding.. Dried fruits contain a range of problematic chemicals - you could say they are a quadruple threat. All types of dried fruits including dried apricots, dates, prunes and sultanas, contain high levels of itch-promoting salicylates and amines, and some contain the preservative sulphur dioxide and natural MSG which is why they are flavoursome.
So skip the dried fruits in pudding and make Pear Crumble instead.
- More than 50 percent of people with eczema react to preservatives which are common in dried fruits, and their eczema symptoms worsen as a result (Ref: Loblay and Swain 2006)
Itchy Dozen #10: The Christmas Ham
Deli meats including sausages, ham, bacon and flavoured meats, to name a few, are high in nitrates, flavour enhancers and saturated fats, which are all enemies of eczema.
- Nitrates triggers eczema symptoms in 43 per cent of eczema sufferers (Loblay and Swain 2006).
It's not just the nitrates, pork is a highly acidifying food, once digested and this contributes to the daily itch.
What is the good news?
There are plenty of other quality meats such as home-made turkey, skinless chicken, lean lamb and beef to eat, (organic is best, as antibiotics are not used).
And if you are not sensitive to seafood, fresh fish is a healthy option which supplies omega-3.
Itchy Dozen #11: Egg Nog
More than 70% of eczema sufferers are allergic to eggs according to 'skin prick' testing.
But the big reason to tip your Egg Nog into Aunty Meryl's pot plant (while she is not looking) is to avoid the risk of 'egg white injury' (yes, that is the medical term).
Egg Nog contains raw eggs and if eaten on a frequent basis raw eggs can cause a biotin deficiency that can trigger eczema (this is 'egg white injury'). While not everyone's eczema is caused by raw eggs, this information from The Eczema Diet is interesting food for thought:
Egg white injury in man - the forgotten research paper
In 1942 a diet experiment was conducted on healthy adults. They ate white rice, white flour products, sugar, fats, beef and raw eggs. Within three weeks all the volunteers had itchy, scaly rashes that were diagnosed as eczematous dermatitis (now known as eczema). At seven weeks they had dull, greyish coloured skin, indicating poor blood supply to the outer parts of the body.
Their eczema was not labelled 'genetic' or treated with topical steroids. They were given a biotin supplement and their symptoms completely reversed in a week. While most cases of eczema are not so easily cured, biotin is a vitamin all eczema sufferers should take on a daily basis.
More than 60 years ago scientists established that egg white injury caused biotin deficiency and dermatitis. However, foods containing raw egg whites are still present in many supermarket products. Note cooked eggs do not have the same anti-nutrient effect.
So if you don't want to ditch the Egg Nog take a dose of biotin afterwards but don't forget to take it with other low dose B vitamins as taking a single B vitamin leads to deficiencies in the other B vitamins (more on my favourite vitamins shortly).
Itchy Dozen #12: Soft drinks (and alcohol)
New Zealand researchers discovered children who eat junk food and soft drinks three or more times a week are significantly more likely than other children to develop severe eczema. The researchers from Auckland University used international data compiled from almost two million children and found they were not only more prone to eczema, they were more likely to develop asthma.
Foods and drinks rich in refined sugar, artificial chemicals and saturated fats that can trigger fatty liver and increase the risk of eczema. In fact, non-alcoholic fatty liver is common in children with eczema according to Japanese researcher Dr. Kimata.
- 34% of young children with eczema had fatty liver (compared with the comparison group where only 12.5% had fatty liver)
This is surprising because fatty liver was once thought to be an "alcoholic's disease". However, today we know fatty liver can rapidly occur by eating hidden sugars in our daily diet. It can also occur with frequent alcohol consumption, so despite the "research" claiming alcohol is good for you, your liver would disagree.
The good news is, fatty liver can be reversed when you change your diet and cut down on alcohol and sugary drinks. If you or your eczema-prone child loves sugar and processed foods, don't worry there are supplements that can speed up the healing process.
The solution to your eczema is a holistic approach. There are two main ways to clear up eczema and these involve reducing your chemical intake (through diet) and strengthening the health of your liver and digestive system (via a healthy diet and supplements).
Your liver is the chemical processing plant in your body. If you have fatty liver and undiagnosed nutritional deficiencies, then toxins can end up recirculating in your blood. These chemicals end up being excreted through your skin so it's not surprising that eczema appears.
Ok so it's Christmas and you are unlike to do dietary changes now (that is understandable) ... speak to me in January re diet for eczema. In the meantime, there is the supplement approach:
There are a range of nutrients and when combined they work to reduce and prevent chemical sensitivity and they can also repair eczema-prone skin. My personal favourites are these:
- In order for your liver to process, deactivate and safely remove chemicals and salicylates, it requires magnesium, vitamin B6 and a range of amino acids.
- Your liver also needs adequate supplies of molybdenum in order to process sulphites and amines.
- Histamines are a natural chemical produced during the inflammation process and it worsens eczema. The antidote is natural antihistamine vitamins including vitamin C and vitamin B6.
- Magnesium and zinc promote histamine breakdown so they can help to decrease allergic responses.
Also avoid mega-doses of zinc and avoid zinc piccolinate as excess absorption of zinc can cause copper deficiency. Why is this important? Well, copper deficiency can cause histamine intolerance (an allergic response to harmless food, such as chocolate and cacao) which can trigger eczema.
So if you have a range of allergies then check for copper deficiency. The can be done via blood testing and hair mineral analysis.
This is what I suggest (just my opinion but whatever works for you!).
Skin Friend AM is the product I used to prevent my daughter's eczema fourteen years ago and I started prescribing it to my patients about five years ago.
Skin Friend works by six mechanisms:
- Skin Friend is free of irritants including salicylates, amines, glutamates, soy, dairy, lactose, gluten, nuts and eggs - so they are suitable for people with sensitive skin.
- Skin Friend contains the nutrients required by the liver to detoxify salicylates and other chemicals. This, over time, reduces sensitivities to chemicals so you can eat a wider variety of foods and remain rash-free.
- Skin Friend contains the vitamins and minerals required to switch on the FADS1 gene which promotes anti-inflammatory substances (PGE1), including biotin, zinc, and vitamin B6.
- Skin Friend offers important nutritional support for people with skin inflammation. Both products prevent the common nutritional deficiencies associated with eczema - these include biotin, vitamin B1, vitamin B6, zinc and calcium.
- Skin Friend contains the nutrients your liver requires to detoxify sulfites, which is a preservative that can trigger eczema.
- Skin Friend does not contain retinol types of vitamin A which dries out the skin and can worsen eczema.
- It's also free of fruit extracts and herbal extracts which are naturally rich in itch promoting salicylates.
While everyone's eczema is different (and you need to take your own personal health issue into account), good nutrition can speed up skin healing and repair. Your skin is literally made from the nutrients supplied in the foods and drinks you consume. So it makes sense ... feed your skin new ingredients in order to change your skin.
Fischer, K., 2013, The Eczema Diet, First Edition, Exisle Publishing, Wollombi, Australia.
Rudzeviciene, O., et al., 2004, ‘Lactose malabsorption in young Lithuanian children with atopic dermatitis’, Acta Paediatrica, vol. 93, no. 4, pp. 482–6.
Loblay, R.H. and Swain, A.R., 2006, ‘Food Intolerance’, Recent Advances in Clinical Nutrition, retrieved 1 April 2011 from Australian Government website www.nsw.gov.au.
Uenishi, T., et.al, 2003, ‘Role of foods in irregular aggravation of atopic dermatitis’, Journal of Dermatology, vol. 30, pp. 91–7.
Nakanishi, Y., et al, 2008, ‘Monosodium glutamate (MSG): a villain and promoter of liver in ammation and dysplasia’, Journal of Autoimmunity, vol. 30, no. 1–2, pp. 42–50.
Kimata, H., 2005. Prevalence of fatty liver in non-obese Japanese children with atopic dermatitis. Indian pediatrics, 42(6).
Article may not be reproduced without written consent from the author.