Eczema causes itchy, scaly or blistered skin in more than 15 million Americans, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Your symptoms may come and go episodically, and may worsen in response to skin irritants like wooly fabric, certain soaps and cigarette smoke. Particular foods may also contribute. Although no known cure exists, medications and lifestyle changes, including avoiding your personal triggers, can help minimize your symptoms. Whole grain breads are nutritious, but not suited to all eczema-friendly diets. Before changing your diet, seek guidance from your doctor or dietitian.
In the minority of cases, certain foods aggravate eczema, according to the Eczema Guide -- an on-line eczema resource compiled by dermatologists. Wheat, which is prevalent in whole grain breads, is one of the most common culprits. Although many children with eczema outgrow food sensitivities, they can persist into adulthood. If wheat is problematic for you, consuming whole grain breads may worsen the intensity or endurance of eczema symptom flareups. If you have a wheat allergy that causes adverse immune system reactions, you may develop a skin rash after eating wheat-containing bread. Allergic rashes are not the same as eczema, but one condition may exacerbate the other.
Whole grain breads are valuable sources of antioxidants, which support your skin's ability to heal, and fiber -- an undigestible carbohydrate that promotes appetite control. Appetite control is important, according to "Practical Dietetics," by nutrition specialist and physician Dr. W. Gilman Thompson, because overeating causes your body and skin to work harder to eliminate waste and negatively affects glands in your skin. For this reason, eating an over-sized meal can trigger an eczema flareup. Eating more whole grains and fewer refined grains, like white flour, can help guard against this. Some whole grain breads also provide essential fatty acids, which may help reduce skin inflammation.
If you suspect a link between whole grains and your eczema symptoms, seek guidance from your doctor. If wheat does not negatively affect your symptoms, incorporate 100 percent whole grain breads into healthy, balanced meals. The American Dietetic Association warns against purchasing breads with the label "made with whole grains," because they may contain only negligible amounts of whole grain nutrition. If you do not tolerate wheat or gluten, which is a protein found in barley, rye and wheat, consume gluten-free breads. Wheat-free and gluten-free grain alternatives include corn, rice, oats and quinoa.
For improved eczema symptoms, the UMMC recommends limiting saturated fat, refined foods and sugar, which can increase inflammation. Common sources of saturated fat include red, fried and processed meats, high-fat dairy products and deep-fried foods. In addition to avoiding breads made with refined grains, avoid instant rice, enriched pasta and low-fiber cereals like puffed rice. Particularly sugar-rich items include regular soft drinks, candy, milk chocolate, pancake syrup, jelly, jam and conventional cakes, cookies and pies. Your ideal food choices include fresh vegetables, whole grains and essential fatty-acid sources, such as nuts, seeds and cold-water fish.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Eczema Eczema
- Eczema Guide: Food Triggers to Avoid
- "Practical Dietetics"; W. Gilman Thompson; 1995
- American Dietetic Association: 'Made with Whole Grains'
- University of Chicago: Gluten-Free Diet