An elimination diet is one that is designed to identify any hidden food sensitivities by eliminating problematic foods from the diet and adding them back in, one at a time.
An elimination diet can be helpful in diagnosing food intolerances that do not appear on food allergy tests.
Elimination diets may provide relief from a variety of health concerns related to diet, including digestive issues, skin conditions, and autoimmune disorders.
What Are Food Sensitivities?
Food sensitivities, or food intolerances, differ from true food allergies. Food allergies occur in only 4 percent of adults and often result in severe or even fatal reactions such as hives, a rapid pulse, and difficulty breathing. Food intolerances are much more common and are typically marked by a digestive reaction, such as constipation, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting.
People with food sensitivities may also experience symptoms such as asthma, skin conditions, depression, migraines, or autoimmune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and psoriasis.
Foods To Be Avoided During an Elimination Diet
At a minimum, the most common sources of food allergies and sensitivities should be avoided during an elimination diet. These include peanuts, eggs, tomatoes, dairy, wheat, soy products, strawberries, citrus fruits, bell peppers, and shellfish. You should also avoid any foods that you crave or gravitate towards when feeling stressed.
The foods that you typically crave are often those that are the most problematic. You should also avoid sugar, processed foods, red meat, alcohol, and caffeine.
Phases of an Elimination Diet
To determine if a particular food is the cause of an adverse reaction, you must eliminate it completely from the body and then reintroduce it in a controlled manner. For this reason, elimination diets take some time and can be difficult to maintain. The first phase of an elimination diet is the avoidance or elimination phase, where all problematic foods are removed from the diet.
This phase typically lasts for two weeks to give the body enough time to eliminate any toxins that are stored in the tissues. If you are following an elimination diet or have a child on an elimination diet, you must be very careful to monitor all foods eaten and check labels for any hidden ingredients.
If your symptoms improve during the elimination phase, you can begin the reintroduction, or challenging phase. Begin adding foods back into your diet, in small doses, one at a time. You may find it helpful to keep a journal of everything you eat and note any adverse reactions.
How Do I Know If a Food Is Safe To Eat?
It may take three days for your symptoms to reappear after you add a food back into your diet. When reintroducing a food to your diet, try a small amount with breakfast. If no adverse symptoms appear, try a larger portion in the afternoon and evening. Then, remove the food from your diet again and wait two days to see if any symptoms appear.
If no symptoms appear, you may add the food to your lists of safe foods. However, do not add the food back into your diet until you have tested the rest of the foods on your list. If your symptoms return, remove the food from your diet again and wait until your symptoms have cleared up before you test the next food on your list.
Creating Your Long-Term Diet Plan
At the end of your elimination diet, you will have a list of foods that are “safe” and a list of foods that you should continue to avoid. The elimination diet is not a perfect test, and you may have to try several elimination diets before you can identify the foods that are causing problems. Once you have identified foods that you are sensitive to, try to keep them out of your diet as much as possible.
Once your symptoms subside, you may find that you can eat small quantities of these foods from time to time without any severe reactions. You may find it helpful to go through an elimination diet or a detox once or twice a year to clear up any reactions if you are continuing to have symptoms.
Sources and References:
- University of Wisconsin School of Public Health: Elimination Diet
- Precision Nutrition: Food intolerances and sensitivities: How to do an elimination diet
- WebMD: What’s an elimination diet?