Elimination Diet- A diagnostic tool
What is an elimination diet?
It is a diet where you remove potential trigger foods for 3 weeks then reintroduce them one by one while monitoring for any adverse symptoms. The premise behind it is that food sensitivities or intolerance may be causing some unwanted symptoms that could not be explained or remediated by conventional medical therapy. Once the trigger foods are discovered and eliminated, the symptoms are cured.
Who might benefit from an elimination diet?
Individuals who experience the following
Symptoms: digestive problems, bloating, flatulence, headaches, chronic sinus drainage, low energy, depression, mood swings, brain fog, eczema, skin irritations, joint aches, asthma, weight gain, joint pain
Conditions: fibromyalgia (muscle pain), ADHD, dementia, Alzheimer, auto-immune disease, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, Hashimoto (underactive thyroid), Graves disease (overactive thyroid)
Some useful definitions:
Food allergies: immediate adverse symptoms as a reaction to a trigger food
Food sensitivity: delayed adverse symptoms as a reaction to a trigger food
Food intolerance: adverse symptoms to certain chemicals in food (MSG, histamine) or due to missing a digestive enzyme (like the enzyme to digest lactose in milk)
Why follow an elimination diet?
To diagnose a food sensitivity or intolerance (blood tests are not reliable)
To stop inflammation of the gut (which makes the intestinal walls porous allowing undigested food particles, bacteria, chemicals and yeast to leak into the bloodstream)
To rebalance the microbiome (more beneficial bacteria vs non-beneficial bacteria)
To reduce the burden on the immune system
To develop body awareness to food
To heal the body from adverse symptoms
Which foods to eliminate for 3 weeks?
Gluten (wheat, barely, rye) (crackers, bread, pastas, cereals, cakes, hidden gluten in sauces, dressings and processed foods)
Dairy (milk, cheese, cream, yogurt, Kefir)
Soy (edamame, tofu, soy milk, soya sauce, tempeh)
Caffeine (Coffee, soft drinks, teas, chocolate)
Sugars, sugar substitutes and hidden sugar
Nightshades (aubergines, tomatoes, peppers, white potato)
Which foods to keep?
Dairy alternatives (watch out for high carb content)
lean grass-fed, pasture-raised and free-range poultry and red meat
Wild caught fish and fish low in mercury (halibut, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, tuna)
Gluten-free whole grains (rice, quinoa, buckwheat) —unless on a low carb diet
Legumes —unless known sensitivity manifested as bloating and flatulence
Healthy fats (refined, cold-press, organic like coconut oil, Ghee, butter, olive oil, Avocado oil, walnut oil, almond oil, flaxseed oil, hemp seed oil…)
Nuts and nuts butter
Seeds (preferably ground to facilitate absorption of nutrients)
Non-starchy vegetables covering all colours (10-12 servings- 1 serving= ½ cup of vegetables or 1 cup of raw leafy greens)
Fruits (in moderation)
Honey, maple syrup occasionally and in very small quantities if absolutely desired (remember sugar increases inflammation)
Sugar free mustard
How to reduce inflammation in your body?
Consider following these 20 ways to reduce your toxic load
How to heal your gut?
Eat enough proteins from animal sources. Proteins are essential for healing and rebuilding the gut membrane
Eat unlimited rainbow non-starchy vegetables & moderate amounts of fruits (they contain phytonutrients and antioxidants). Non-starchy vegetables improve bowel movement and feed beneficial bacteria in your gut
Eat fermented foods (high in probiotics like olives, pickles, sauerkraut) to repopulate your microbiome with beneficial bacteria
Ensure you have a bowel movement every day (take 400-600 mg/day of magnesium citrate if needed) to eliminate toxins from your gut
Drink bone broth or use it in stews (it contains collagen which is essential for healing your gut membrane)
A few bonus tips to prepare for the elimination diet:
Make healthy food options available at home
Plan your meals in advance
Make sure you feel satiated by eating enough proteins and non-starchy vegetables
Be psychologically prepared for withdrawal symptoms for the first few days
Avoid eating out (restaurant foods may contain hidden trigger foods)
Avoid traveling while on the elimination diet
How to reintroduce the eliminated foods?
Stay on the elimination diet for three weeks to allow your body to heal from any previous adverse reactions
Reintroduce the eliminated foods, one at a time, in their purest form (eg, bread made of wheat, salt and water only. It should not include any of the other eliminated foods)
Eat 2-3 portions on day 1, 2 and 3
Observe your symptoms for those three days
If no symptoms - keep that food in your diet and move to the next eliminated food
If symptoms occur- eliminate the food again (you may try reintroducing it again after 3-6 months). Wait until all symptoms have disappeared then reintroduce another food
What adverse reactions to look out for after each reintroduction?
Muscle or joint pain
What to do after the elimination diet?
Keep on eating healthy- you made it so far!
Bring back all the foods that you did not react to
Keep out any foods that you reacted to - you may retest them after 3 or 6 months once your gut had a longer period to heal
Consult with a functional medicine doctor if you are still experiencing adverse symptoms
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About the author
Abir Ballan has a Masters in Public Health, a graduate degree in special needs education and a BA in psychology. She is a children’s author with 27 books.