Rotation Diet 101 for Food Allergies and Intolerances

facts_rotation diet

Allergists sometimes advise individuals with multiple food allergies to use a rotation diet to help manage their food allergies.

There are many variants of rotation eating. This article provides a general overview of a rotation diet used for managing food allergies.

Regardless of the exact plan followed, the primary goals of a rotation diet are to:

1. Identify “hidden” food allergies or sensitivities.

2. Prevent additional allergies from developing.

3. Develop a tolerance to a greater variety of foods and increase the nutritional profile of the overall diet.

What is a rotation diet?

A rotation diet is a structured way of eating biologically related foods one day, then waiting several days (usually 4) before eating those foods again.

For the purpose of a rotation diet, one day equals 24 hours; therefore, the 4-day wait is a full 96 hours (four 24-hour days).

For example, let’s say oats are one of your rotation foods.

You eat oats on Sunday for breakfast at 9AM.  Depending on the exact version of rotation diet you follow, you may eat oats only that single time or you may eat them again during the 24-hour period (in this example, 9AM Sunday through 9AM Monday).

After the 24-hour period, oats would not be eaten again until Thursday at 9AM or later.

In addition to timing, biologically related foods are considered. These are foods from the same food family.

What are Food Families?

A food family is a group of related foods.

For our example, consider almonds, a tree nut.

Almonds belong to the same botanical family (Rosaceae) as apples, pears, peaches, cherries, plums, nectarines, apricots and strawberries.

Because it is possible for foods in the same family to cause similar reactions in the body, the entire food family is avoided.

In this example with almonds, other foods in the Rosaceae family would be avoided, too.

Now that we have a basic overview of what a rotation diet is and how it works, let’s examine the primary goals of a rotation diet and how those may be met with this method of eating.

How does a rotation diet help with food allergies?

Goal 1: Using a rotation diet to identify hidden food allergies or sensitivities:

Not every negative reaction to food is an immediate response. In certain cases, foods cause a delayed or mild response.

Some physicians suggest nearly 60% of all Americans have at least one hidden food allergy or sensitivity.

The allergies or sensitivities to food may go undetected because they manifest in milder ways than a full-blown immediate hypersensitivity to an offending food.

For example, a mild allergic response or sensitivity may cause symptoms like:

  • Dark circles or puffiness under the eyes
  • Fluid retention
  • Headaches
  • Sinus congestion
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Asthma
  • Indigestion
  • Abdominal pain, bloating, gas or general discomfort
  • Fatigue
  • Joint inflammation and pain
  • Impaired cognition (foggy head)
  • Memory problems
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Dermatitis (various skin conditions)

Delayed sensitivities and reactions, or seemingly unrelated symptoms, can mean we fail to make a connection between a bothersome symptom and a particular food.

A rotation diet can help identify hidden food allergies or sensitivities because foods are rotated out of the diet for several days at a time, allowing the body time to recover from eating offending foods.

If rotating a food out of the diet coincides with a dissipation in negative symptoms (like those in the list above, or others you may be experiencing), after several rotations, you may consider speaking to your physician about an elimination diet. (You can read more in my article, “Elimination Diet 101 for Discovering Food Allergy or Intolerance.)

Goal 2: Using a rotation diet to prevent additional allergies from developing:

In the United States, the top food allergens (referred to as the “Big 8”) are egg, soy, cow’s milk, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, fish and shellfish. These foods are singled out because they are responsible for approximately 90% of all food-related allergic reactions.

Research indicates individuals who already have a food allergy are more prone to develop additional food allergies. This is especially true for individuals with multiple food allergies.

In the case of a mild sensitivity to a food, some individuals are able to use a rotation diet to consume a limited amount of that food occasionally. In turn, this may prevent development of a true allergy to that food.

Goal 3: Using a rotation diet to develop a tolerance to a greater variety of foods and increase nutritional profile of the overall diet:

Many individuals eat the same foods day in and day out. At the very least, this leads to a boring diet. At worst, it leads to nutritional deficiencies and possibly to food sensitivities and/or food allergies.

Eating a variety of foods provides:

1. A variety of nutrients.


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