What is an Elimination Diet? Why Do It and How?

Published on July 13, 2022 and last updated for accuracy on July 18, 2022
What is Elimination Diet? Why Do It and How?

There are a lot of people who have problems with food allergies and sensitivities. According to the World Health Organization, food intolerance could affect anywhere from 2 to 20 percent of the world’s population. (1)

An elimination diet, which has been used for many centuries, is considered to be the most reliable method for determining food intolerances, sensitivities, and allergies through dietary means. (1)

They eliminate foods from the diet that are known to cause discomfort and then reintroduce them at a later time for the purpose of testing. (1)

Elimination diets have been used by qualified dietitians and those who suffer from food allergies for decades to determine which foods cause people to have adverse reactions. (1)

What is an Elimination Diet?

When you are following an elimination diet, you will refrain from eating any foods that you believe your body will have trouble processing. You will start by reintroducing the meals one at a time and check for any sensitivity symptoms as you do so. (1)

People with food intolerance, food allergy, or a sensitive stomach may benefit from this brief treatment lasting between five and six weeks to identify their symptoms’ cause(s). (1)

By removing certain foods from the diet, an individual may reduce symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, and nausea. (1)

If your body does not react favorably to a particular meal, you may wish to exclude it from your diet to prevent such unfavorable symptoms in the future. The elimination diet can take many different forms, but it always involves restricting or prohibiting the use of certain foods. (1)

You should, however, only attempt an elimination diet under the advice of a medical practitioner if you have a known or suspected food allergy. An elimination diet is unnecessary if you do not have a food allergy. Re-exposing someone to a food allergy might cause a potentially fatal reaction known as anaphylaxis. (1)

Visit your primary care physician first if you are concerned that you may have a food allergy before commencing an elimination diet. Eruptions on the skin that are itchy, puffy, and often painful are typical manifestations of an allergic reaction. (1)

During an elimination diet, a short-term diet, foods your body does not take well are identified and removed from the diet. (1)

What is the Process?

An elimination diet comprises two phases: the first involves excluding certain foods from the diet, and the second involves gradually returning those foods. (2)

The Phase of Elimination

Elimination happens after a brief time, usually between two and three weeks, in which you abstain from consuming any of the things you have reason to believe are the source of your symptoms. (2)

Be sure to exclude foods from your diet that you are unsure whether or not your body can process, in addition to foods that are known to trigger negative symptoms in other people. (2)

People are more likely to have an allergic reaction to certain foods, including peanuts, corn, soy, dairy products, citrus fruits, plants in the nightshade family, wheat, meals containing gluten, pork, eggs, and shellfish. (2)

During this stage, a person may discover that they have a food allergy or intolerance. You should consult your physician if your symptoms continue after two to three weeks, during which you removed the substances that cause them. (2)

The Phase of Reintroduction

During the reintroduction phase, you will gradually add items back into your diet that you had previously cut out due to a food allergy or intolerance. (2)

Introducing each food group one at a time over two to three days while keeping a sharp look out for any signs is the best way to avoid an allergic reaction. You need to keep a sharp lookout for the following:

  • Breathing patterns alteration
  • Bloating
  • Cramping or discomfort in the stomach
  • Fatigue
  • Inflammation of the joints
  • Irregular bowel movements
  • Migraine headaches
  • Skin changes and rashes
  • Sleep problems

If you do not have any symptoms when reintroducing a food group, you do not need to be concerned about moving on to the next food group. (2)

In other words, if you see any of the symptoms stated above, you have found a food trigger, and you should avoid eating whatever caused them. (2)

The process, beginning with the elimination phase and continuing until the end, takes about five to six weeks. (2)

If you are considering eliminating a significant number of food groups, you should discuss this with your primary care physician or a dietitian. You risk being malnourished if you exclude too many food categories from your diet. (2)

An elimination diet is successful because it requires you to refrain from eating foods you have reason to believe are the source of your discomfort. After then, it gradually reintroduces each to check for any signs of an adverse reaction. (2)

What Foods Are Off-Limits When on an Elimination Diet?

The elimination diets that are most successful are the ones that require the most severe dietary sacrifices from their participants. (3)

During this phase of elimination, cutting out a more significant number of foods from your diet will increase the likelihood that you will identify the food or foods responsible for triggering your symptoms. (3)

During the elimination phase of the diet, it is common practice to refrain from consuming the foods listed below:

  • Beverages: Avoid alcohol, coffee, black tea, soda, and other sources of caffeine.
  • Citrus fruits: Avoid citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruits.
  • Dairy products: Eliminate all dairy, including milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream.
  • Fats: Avoid butter, margarine, hydrogenated oils, mayonnaise, and spreads.
  • Legumes: Eliminate all legumes, such as beans, lentils, peas, and soy-based products.
  • Meat and fish: Avoid processed meats, cold cuts, beef, chicken, pork, eggs, and shellfish.
  • Nightshade vegetables: Avoid nightshades, including tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, white potatoes, cayenne pepper, and paprika.
  • Nuts and seeds: Eliminate all nuts and seeds.
  • Spices and condiments: Avoid sauces, relish, and mustard.
  • Starchy foods: Avoid wheat, barley, corn, spelt, rye, oats, and bread. Also, avoid any other gluten-containing foods.
  • Sugar and sweets: Avoid sugar (white and brown), honey, maple syrup, corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, desserts, and chocolate.

If you have any reason to believe that other foods that aren’t on this list are the source of any discomfort you’re experiencing, you should remove those foods from your diet as soon as possible. (3)

A successful elimination diet is quite restrictive since it is designed to identify as many irritating foods as possible. (3)

What You Can Eat on an Elimination Diet

Although this diet is somewhat limited, there is still sufficient variety to allow one to cook nourishing and pleasurable meals. (3)

You can eat a variety of things, including:

  • Beverages: Water and herbal teas.
  • Dairy substitutes: Including coconut milk and unsweetened rice milk.
  • Healthy fats: Including cold-pressed olive oil, flaxseed oil, and coconut oil.
  • Fruits: Most fruits, excluding citrus fruits.
  • Grains: Including rice and buckwheat.
  • Meat and fish: Including turkey, lamb, wild game, and cold-water fish like salmon.
  • Spices, condiments, and others: Including black pepper, fresh herbs and spices (excluding cayenne pepper and paprika), and apple cider vinegar.
  • Vegetables: Most vegetables, excluding nightshades.

During this time of restriction, maintain motivation by making new dishes and experimenting with herbs and spices to enhance the flavor of your food. (3)

Despite the restrictive nature of elimination diets, there is still a broad selection of wholesome and delectable meals. (3)

Other Types of Elimination Diet

Elimination diets come in various forms, including the typical one described above and others. (3)

Among the several types of elimination diets are the following:

  • Diets low in FODMAPs remove short-chain carbohydrates called FODMAPs, which can cause digestive issues in certain people.
  • Foods that you don’t normally consume are part of the elimination diet. Lamb and pears diet is an excellent example of this, famous in the United States, where lamb and pears aren’t as prevalent as elsewhere.
  • The rare foods elimination diet is similar to the few foods diet in that you can only eat things you seldom ever eat since they are less likely to cause your symptoms to flare up. Yams, buckwheat, and starfruit are essential foods in the rare food diet.
  • A fasting elimination diet restricts food intake for up to five days, after which it is reintroduced. A doctor’s approval is required before beginning this diet, as it may be harmful to your health.
  • Another type of elimination diet is lactose-free, followed by sugar-free and gluten-free.

Elimination diets include the low-FODMAPs diet, the few foods diet, the rare foods diet, fasting, and many others. (3)

Advantages

Foods that cause you discomfort can be eliminated from your diet through elimination diets. (3)

Elimination diets, however, provide numerous other advantages, such as these:

1. Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms May Be Lessened

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), which affects roughly 10–15 percent of the world’s population, is a condition experienced by many people. (3)

Many people who suffer from IBS symptoms like bloating, stomach cramps, and excessive gas have found relief through the use of elimination diets. In one set of experiments, participants followed an elimination diet that cut out foods known to bring on uncomfortable symptoms. (3)

In another set of experiments, participants followed a “false elimination diet” that cut out the same number of foods but not those known to bring such symptoms. There were 150 patients diagnosed with IBS in each of the two groups. (3)

Those who followed the elimination diet experienced a reduction in symptoms of 10 percent, whereas those who did not experienced a reduction in symptoms of 26 percent. (3)

2. Eosinophilic Esophagitis Patients May Benefit

EE is a condition that lasts for a long time and is caused by allergens that induce inflammation of the esophagus, which is the tube that delivers food from the mouth to the stomach. (3)

Because of this, those with EE have a greater risk of choking on dry or thick foods. In a number of studies, it was found that eliminating certain foods from one’s diet could help ease the symptoms of EE. (3)

Over three quarters of the 146 individuals diagnosed with EE who followed an exclusion diet reported significant improvements in their symptoms and reduced inflammation. (3)

3. ADHD Symptoms Could be Lessened

ADHD, also known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, affects an estimated three percent to five percent of adults and children. (3)

It has been shown that elimination diets can reduce the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). (3)

Researchers found that limiting certain meals helped reduce the symptoms of ADHD when they reviewed the results of 20 separate clinical trials. It has been demonstrated that children with ADHD who are sensitive to particular foods can experience a reduction in their symptoms by following an elimination diet. (3)

However, children should not go on an elimination diet unless they are doing so under the supervision of a trained medical expert if+ a child’s growth is stunted. In contrast, on an elimination diet, the problem may be caused by a deficiency in essential nutrients. (3)

4. It May Helps Skin Conditions Like Eczema

There are wide varieties of eczema, but the most frequent symptoms include inflammation, cracking, itching, and skin redness. (3)

Many different things might bring on eczema, but a lot of people find that certain foods can make their symptoms much worse. (3)

According to a number of studies, individuals who suffer from eczema may find relief from their condition by omitting particular items from their diets. (3)

An elimination diet helped 14 out of 15 persons with eczema get relief from their symptoms and identify the foods that triggered their condition, according to the findings of one study. (3)

5. Chronic Migraines May be Reduced

Around 2–3 million people in the United States suffer from chronic migraines. It has been shown that inflammation can be a possible trigger for migraines, but the exact process that causes them is not yet fully understood. (3)

An exclusion diet, in which foods that increase inflammation are cut out of the diet entirely, may provide relief for people who suffer from chronic migraines. (3)

One study found that people who followed a diet that excluded certain foods for six weeks could reduce the number of times they experienced migraine headaches from nine to six. (3)

An elimination diet may be helpful for patients who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), migraines, eosinophilic esophagitis, and skin conditions such as dermatitis. (3)

Risks

Elimination diets have a few potential negatives you should be aware of, although they could assist you in pinpointing the foods or substances contributing to your health issues. (4)

To get started, you should only follow a diet that restricts certain foods for a short time, anywhere from four to eight weeks. (4)

Because following an exclusion diet for an extended period might result in nutrient deficiencies due to the restriction of certain food groups, this type of diet should be avoided if possible. (4)

For children and anybody else who may or may not have food allergies, the elimination diet should be monitored by a medical professional. (4)

Even when followed for a minimal length of time, diets that are too restrictive, such as elimination diets, can stunt a child’s growth. (4)

Introducing a food group a child has previously been allergic to can put them at risk for catastrophic reactions, including anaphylaxis. After a certain amount of time without eating, their bodies may become more reactive to what they consume. (4)

An elimination diet may cause a shortage in essential nutrients if followed for an extended period. Children or adults with known or suspected food allergies should not follow the elimination diet unless their primary care physician closely monitors it. (4)

The Bottom Line

Elimination diets can assist you in identifying the items that your body cannot correctly process or digest. (4)

If you are having symptoms that you believe may be linked to your diet, then an elimination diet may assist you in determining which foods are contributing to the manifestation of those symptoms. (4)

Elimination diets, on the other hand, are not appropriate for everyone. Elimination diets are not suitable for use with children unless a medical professional or registered dietitian closely monitors them. (4)

Similarly, individuals who are aware of or think they have allergies should only try an elimination diet under the direction of a medical professional. (4)

Last but not least, it’s essential to remember that elimination diets should only be followed for a limited period of time because restricting your diet for an extended period of time might lead to nutritional deficiencies. (4)

References:

  1. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/elimination-diet
  2. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/elimination-diet/
  3. https://www.womenshealthmag.com/health/a19977355/elimination-diet-0/
  4. https://www.precisionnutrition.com/elimination-diet
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