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Eczema, aka atopic dermatitis, is an itchy and often painful rash categorized by red, cracked patches of skin. About 10 to 20 percent of babies and children are affected, and about 1–3 percent of adults.

Eczema usually appears on the face, in body creases, and on the neck. Adults with eczema may experience the rash anywhere on the body, but it’s commonly found between skin folds, and on the hands, feet, and scalp.

Frequent eczema triggers include periods of high stress, physical inactivity, obesity, dry skin, and dry climates (especially in the winter).

Beyond having a family history of eczema, the causes are unknown. Researchers have, however, found multiple links related to diet.

Diet as a preventative during pregnancy

Everything mommy eats, baby eats. Some research indicates breastfeeding mothers with a family history of atopic dermatitis are found to have lower prevalence of atopic dermatitis when consumption of cow’s milk is eliminated.

Babies who are exclusively breastfed for the first three months are also less likely to develop eczema.

Food allergies and eczema

Having both eczema and food allergies is common. However, different foods trigger eczema for different people, making the offending food difficult to pinpoint. If you suspect some foods to trigger or exacerbate your eczema, you should consult your doctor.

The most common foods linked to eczema include

  • eggs
  • dairy (particularly cow’s milk)
  • shellfish
  • tree nuts
  • peanuts
  • gluten

While it’s important to know which foods to avoid, it’s just as important to know what foods to incorporate into your daily diet.

These anti-inflammatory foods may help ease your symptoms and ward off future flares.

Fatty fish

Omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce inflammation in the body. They’re commonly found in seafood and plants. Humans do not produce omega-3 fatty acid naturally.

Fish and certain seafood naturally rich with omega-3s include:

  • mackerel
  • salmon
  • albacore tuna
  • cod-liver oil
  • herring
  • oysters
  • sardines
  • anchovies
  • caviar

Though it’s important to note that pregnant women and young children should limit consumption of some of the above due to heavy metal contamination. It’s always best to consult with your doctor.

If seafood isn’t your thing, you can try these plant-based omega-3 sources:

  • flaxseeds
  • chia seeds
  • walnuts
  • soybeans
  • spinach
  • brussels sprouts

You can also chat with your doctor about adding an omega-3 supplement to your daily routine. Fish oil is popular, but there are vegan alternatives as well.

Foods containing quercetin

Without making this sound like high school chemistry class, quercetin is a flavonoid found in plants. Its powerful antioxidant and antihistamine properties flight inflammation and histamine in the body, helping to preventing eczema flare-ups.

Some options include:

  • leafy vegetables
  • red onions
  • apples
  • peppers
  • broccoli
  • black and green tea
  • blueberries
  • red wine (yay!)
  • nectarines

Along with incorporating these foods into your diet, you may want to talk to your doctor about taking a quercetin supplement.

Probiotics

Probiotics are living microorganisms that provide numerous health benefits. These beloved digestive aids not only keep your gut health in check, but they may help curb eczema flare-ups.

Here are some staples to include in your diet:

  • yogurt
  • tempeh
  • miso soup
  • kefir
  • kombucha
  • sauerkraut
  • pickled vegetables
  • kimchi

If fermented food isn’t your thing, try adding probiotics in capsule form.

Have a known food allergy but continue to eat it anyway? That may be triggering your eczema. Or maybe you have an unknown food intolerance. Common allergies include:

  • dairy
  • eggs
  • gluten
  • wheat
  • tomatoes
  • tree nuts
  • peanuts
  • citrus fruits
  • soy

Artificial ingredients and processed foods may also exacerbate eczema. These include:

  • artificial colorant
  • MSG
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • trans fats
  • artificial sweeteners

These additives can upset your digestive and immune systems, triggering inflammation, and you guessed it — eczema. Sugar is also no bueno if you have eczema.

Sugar causes insulin and blood sugar levels to spike, which can result in inflammation. Especially refined sugar like in most pastries and snacks.

High-fat diets like keto and its older brother Atkin’s can lead to chronic inflammation, and are best avoided if you have eczema.

If you’re experiencing a rash while on the keto diet, you may be experiencing the “keto rash.” Symptoms include:

  • an irritating, red rash on the chest, abdomen, and upper back
  • brown marks on the skin once the rash disappears

It’s best to talk to your doctor if you’re suffering from a rash while on keto. It might just be the “keto rash,” but this fatty diet may also be unearthing a predisposition to eczema.

Remember, there’s more than one way to lose weight, so it’s best to choose a diet that gives your body the nutrients it needs. Your doctor — or, even better, a nutritionist — will be happy to help you create an anti-inflammatory diet that works for you.

The dyshidrotic diet is geared toward those with dyshidrotic eczema, which usually affects the hands and feet, while an elimination diet is for those who are still figuring out what foods are triggering symptoms.

What is the dyshidrotic diet?

Dyshidrotic eczema is often triggered by foods with higher levels of nickel and cobalt. Eating metal sounds scary, but nickel and cobalt are actually often found in soil, so residual traces are commonly found in food.

While generally harmless, you may want to avoid:

  • black tea
  • lentils
  • chocolate
  • beans
  • peas
  • soybeans
  • shellfish
  • seeds
  • canned meats

Vitamin C is a natural combatant of dyshidrotic eczema, as it helps to prevent metal absorption. Foods high in vitamin C include:

  • oranges / orange juice
  • broccoli
  • papaya
  • green, red, and yellow peppers
  • sweet potatoes
  • strawberries
  • tomatoes
  • kale
  • kiwi
  • cauliflower

Elimination diet

Eczema flare-ups usually occur 6 to 24 hours after a trigger food is consumed. If you aren’t sure what’s causing your flare-ups, your doctor may want to put you on an elimination diet.

Simply put, you stop consuming the food(s) commonly linked to eczema. After a time, you slowly reintroduce each food, in order to test your body’s reaction, so you can decide whether to banish it for good.

For best results, try eliminating one food at a time.

Eczema is commonly experienced by those with celiac disease and other gluten intolerances. Some common symptoms of celiac disease include:

  • bloating
  • fatigue
  • weight loss
  • iron-deficiency anemia
  • constipation
  • depression
  • diarrhea
  • rash

Literally no one wants to break up with bread for good. But the good news is, there are countless gluten-free bread alternatives made with oatmeal, quinoa, rice, or corn.

As a friendly reminder, many pre-packaged gluten-free products are higher in saturated fats, which may also trigger your eczema.

There are many potential triggers for eczema, and food is one of them. Identifying food triggers takes patience and dedication, but it’s worth it to get that itch under control.

It’s a good idea to consult your doctor before making any big dietary changes. Focus on a healthy diet of whole foods like fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and moderate amounts of healthy fats.