You know those moments when you realize something awful? Your whole body goes cold as the dread sets in. Your eyes go wide and the panic rises from the pit of your stomach.

Maybe it’s when you remember a moment from last night. Maybe it’s when you discover you just hit reply all. Maybe – if you’re like me – it’s when you realize you are allergic to gluten.

Delicious gluten. The stuff food dreams are made of. To anyone who thinks someone is inventing a gluten intolerance, you have clearly never tried to go a day without the stuff. If you had, you would realize no one could ever be so masochistic.

I was 19 when it dawned on me that gluten was the cause of so many of my young life’s problems. It took another year before I fully accepted it and cut it out for good. To this day, I will occasionally steal bites of croissants and baguettes when I think my friends aren’t looking – as if not being caught will keep the effects at bay. It doesn’t, but sometimes you just don’t care because olive bread is just that good.

If it feels like the whole world is suddenly allergic to gluten and trying to sneakily steal forkfuls of your pasta, don’t worry – you’re not going crazy. The incidence of food allergies – milk, wheat, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, fish, and shellfish – has increased dramatically in western countries in recent decades. Over the past 20 years, it has become a major public health issue, and scientists and health professionals are trying desperately to find out why.

Now, a new Australian study may offer a key to unlocking the mystery of preventing or reversing food allergies: a high-fibre diet together with vitamin A.

Low fibre diets are changing your gut bacteria for the worst

Researchers fed some mice, which were bred to have a peanut allergy, for two weeks on fibre-rich diets, which were high in vitamin A. Other mice were fed a diet depleted of fibre.

The high-fibre diet protected mice against allergic reactions to peanuts.

Researchers found that the protection came from gut bacteria that was altered due to the fibre. Fibre from foods such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes is fermented in the colon by anaerobic bacteria into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These SCFAs are essential for a healthy gut.

Western diets, which are typically high in fat and far below the recommended daily intake of fibre may be associated with detrimental changes in gut bacteria. These changes could allow for the development of food allergies.

In a parallel study, the same researchers then took vitamin A out of the diets of some of the mice for two weeks while maintaining a high-fibre diet with vitamin A for others. The mice who were not fed vitamin A showed exacerbated symptoms of allergies.

By eating a diet high in vegetables, you can ensure that you are getting adequate amounts of both fibre and vitamin A. Orange vegetables and leafy greens are particularly high in vitamin A. Sweet potato, carrots and kale all have high levels of vitamin A.