An elimination diet is an eating plan that “eliminates” a food or group of foods believed to cause an adverse food reaction, often referred to as a “food intolerance.” By removing these foods for a period of time and then reintroducing them during a “challenge” period, you can deduce which foods are causing symptoms or making them worse. We often think of reactions to food as being a rapid and dramatic allergic reaction, such as when a person has an anaphylactic reaction to eating peanuts or shellfish and their throat swells up. However, there are other ways our bodies can react to foods that may not be so immediate, and may or may not be tied to an immediate immune system response.
Food intolerances may be triggered by various natural compounds found in foods (natural sugars or proteins) or common food additives (such as natural and artificial colors, preservatives, antioxidants, and flavor enhancers) that can cause reactions through various mechanisms in the body.
There is no consensus on the specific mechanisms involved in different reactions to foods, and many tests to identify the suspected culprit(s) can be unreliable. Clinical experience holds that an elimination diet is one of the best tools for identifying such foods and is very safe, as long a variety of foods are still eaten supplying all of the body’s essential nutrients.
The Elimination Diet
Symptoms of food intolerance can vary widely. They can include stomach and bowel irritation, headaches, hives, itching, and even vague feelings of being unwell, such as flu-like aches and pains, unusual tiredness, or concentration problems. Certain foods and food groups also exacerbate symptoms in people with specific conditions such as autoimmune disorders, migraines, IBS, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) and others.
Symptoms and their severity are unique to the individual. They are influenced by specific compounds in the food, a person’s sensitivity level, and how much of certain foods are eaten. If the same food is eaten
repeatedly, or different foods with the same compound are eaten together or often, the body may reach a threshold, or a tipping point where symptoms begin to occur.
2. Food Substances
3. Individual Variation
Because people are unique genetically, and because we each have different eating patterns, elimination diets have to be based on each unique individual. Eliminating the most offending food or multiple foods and substances all at one time is the most reliable way to find out which foods may be contributing to symptoms. A healthcare practitioner may recommend a specific plan to follow based on symptoms, typical dietary choices, and food cravings.
The Modified Elimination Diet
The most common food proteins that can cause intolerance are cow’s milk protein and gluten from wheat. A modified elimination diet removes
dairy and gluten and any other specific foods that may be craved or eaten a lot.
• Eliminate all dairy products, including milk, cream, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, butter, ice cream, and frozen yogurt.
• Eliminate gluten, avoiding any foods that contain wheat, spelt, kamut, oats, rye, barley, or malt.
This is the most important part of the diet. Substitute with brown rice, millet, buckwheat, quinoa, gluten-free flour products, or potatoes, tapioca and arrowroot
Other foods to Eliminate
• Eliminate fatty meats like beef, pork, or veal.
It is OK to eat the following unless you know that you are allergic or sensitive to them: chicken, turkey, lamb, and cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and halibut. Choose organic/free-range sources where available.
• Avoid alcohol and caffeine and all products that may contain these ingredients (including sodas, cold preparations, herbal tinctures).
• Refrain from eating foods containing yeast or foods that promote yeast overgrowth, including processed foods, refined sugars, cheeses, commercially prepared condiments, peanuts, vinegar and alcoholic beverages.
• Avoid simple sugars such as candy, sweets and processed foods.
• Drink at least 2 quarts of water per day.