For people with eczema, the condition is more than a painful, red, or inflamed skin condition. It’s a recurring disease that is linked to an overactive immune system and can be It can be triggered by stress, allergic reactions, foods or other unknown factors. Sufferers not only live with uncomfortable, unsightly, and unwanted red or scaly skin patches, but the knowledge that if can return anytime, disrupting sleep and sidetracking plans.

More than 31 million Americans have some form of eczema — research estimates about 20 percent of children and 5 percent of adults. It can range in severity, from very mild to severe. For some people with eczema, food can trigger inflammation, but it can also be a way to avoid it and the resulting symptoms. Following an “eczema diet” of foods to avoid and foods to include is a well-known way to help keep inflammation at bay.

What is Eczema?

“Eczema is an umbrella term that includes a number of inflammatory skin conditions,” says Amy Kimberlain, RDN, Academy Media Spokesperson. “Eczema produces very dry, itchy skin and can even lead to rashes, scaly patches, blisters, and skin infections on different parts of the body,” Kimberlain explains. There are seven different types of eczema, the most common is atopic dermatitis “Flare-up” is the term commonly used to describe a case of worsened symptoms. When they improve or clear up, it may be referred to as a period of “remission.”

Eczema is not contagious, so there’s no danger of catching it from someone else. The cause is not known because, like most health conditions, it’s quite complex. Some research suggests genetics may play a role, but the root of the condition is the body’s inflammatory response to what is known as a trigger, which is an irritant or allergen that may come from outside the body or internally. The body’s response to the trigger shows itself as a flare-up.

“Triggers can be anything like the soap or shampoo you use, to laundry detergent or perfume, any environmental factors like pollen, dust mites, and even changes in the weather, as well as stress, and what some think to be part of their issues – food,” says Kimberlain. For some people, eczema flare-ups are triggered by allergens in certain foods, which cause the body’s immune system to react and cause inflammation.

According to research, between 20 percent and 80 percent of people with eczema also have some sort of food allergy, so it’s important to be checked for any food allergies, either by blood test or skin test, says Kimberlain.
Foods to Avoid

When a person with eczema eats food they’re allergic to, it prompts an immune response that causes inflammation that may trigger or worsen a flare-up. “It’s important to work on identifying foods that are causing allergic reactions,” says Libby Mills, MS, RD, LDN, FAND, National Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

This means reading food ingredient labels. Some food allergens are called out as such, Mills explains, but many go by different names, so you’ve got to do your research so you know what to look for. Don’t forget to ask about ingredients and how foods are prepared when you’re eating out, says Mills. Some of the most common foods and food allergens associated with eczema flare-ups include:

Foods to Avoid If You Have Eczema

  • Dairy products
  • Peanuts
  • Eggs
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Seafood
  • Shellfish
  • Gluten
  • Alcohol
  • Sugar
  • Tomatoes
  • Citrus
  • Eggs

Any food that causes inflammation should be avoided. This doesn’t have to be due to an allergy or even a sensitivity, though it can be. Inflammatory foods include those made with refined grains, refined carbs, and added sugars—more than likely ultra-processed packaged foods.

These foods have been shown to increase the likelihood of elevated blood sugar, which spikes inflammation. These foods may prompt inflammation, which is linked to chronic disease, in one person, but not in another, Mills explains. So it makes sense to avoid, or at least limit, how much you eat.

Foods to Fight Eczema

Eating foods that fight inflammation can help avoid eczema flare-ups or improve symptoms. A plant-based eating pattern of whole or minimally processed foods makes it simple. Kimberlain suggests a few foods shown to have anti-inflammatory properties that can help:

  • Eat a ton of fruits and vegetables. The different colors have different antioxidants that can help. Aim to include more fruits and vegetables, but also aim to get a variety of colors — cherries, blackberries, strawberries, spinach, kale, and broccoli, for example.
  • Eat whole grains, like brown rice, quinoa, and oats.
  • Include different spices when you cook, like ginger, garlic, onions, and turmeric.

When looking to fight and manage eczema, it’s essential that we look at skin health, says Mills. Our skin is, after all, our largest organ, made up of hundreds of millions of cells. “Skin cells create a barrier between the inside and the outside world,” she says.

Along with good hydration (Mills recommends about 9 cups of water for women and 12.5 for men, allowing for the 2 cups or so that come from food.), Mills suggests foods that help protect that barrier, such as those rich in:

  • Vitamin C: citrus, bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli
  • Vitamin E: nuts, seeds whole grains, vegetable oils
  • Colorful Carotenoids (red, orange, yellow, leafy greens): tomatoes, carrots, kale, spinach, mango
  • Protein: legumes, beans, split peas, soy, nuts and seeds

“Aim for about 1.5 cups of fruit and 2 cups of vegetables a day, though it will vary per person, this is a good start,” she says. Protein plays an important role in wound healing, and is essential in the return from cracked, broken, and blistered skin to healthy skin.

Many people think they’re getting enough protein yet they’re not. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36 for the recommended daily grams of protein per day.

Bottom Line: People with eczema should choose inflammation-fighting foods.

They should also focus on avoiding those that trigger it to help relieve eczema symptoms. Dietitians Kimberlain and Mills agree that it really is a simple approach that goes back to the basics: aim to eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, including whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes and beans, and cook with herbs and spices.

For more expert advice, visit The Beet's Health & Nutrition category. 

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