#TryItTuesday: The Elimination Diet
During a recent visit to my health care provider, it was suggested that I consider trying the elimination plan (diet) to see if some of my health symptoms were caused by food allergies/intolerances.
Did you know that it is estimated that up to 20 percent of people worldwide suffer from a food intolerance? Many people with food sensitivities don’t even realize how awful they feel until the “trigger” foods are removed from their diet.
People with food intolerances or sensitivities can cause experience:
- Dry skin
- Digestive upset
- Stomach aches
- Joint aches and pains
Each of our bodies reacts to differently to various foods; it's highly individualized. While I understood the importance and reasoning about why I should consider the elimination plan, I was struggling: Could I do it?
To set myself up for success, I met with an Avera dietitian who explained the elimination plan in more detail, along with some suggestions for food swaps and recipes.
I left the office with much information ... and still a heaping serving of doubt.
A restrictive diet isn’t easy to follow, especially when you have to say "No: to some of your favorite foods. I kept reminding myself “short-term sacrifice, long-term gain.” If changing what I eat could make a difference in how I was feeling, it would be so worth the effort.
What Is An Elimination Plan?
An elimination plan is a way to discover if you have any food intolerances or sensitivities. The process involves avoiding certain foods entirely for a few weeks, then reintroducing them into the diet one at a time to identify which foods produce a reaction in your body.
There are several different kinds of elimination plans, including these:
- Basic elimination diet: This diet removes gluten and dairy products.
- Full elimination diet: This diet also excludes eggs, shellfish, soy and soy products, corn and tree nuts.
- Nightshade elimination diet: This elimination diet excludes products from the nightshade family such as white potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, goji berries, bell peppers, paprika, and chili peppers.
- Specific carbohydrate diet. This restrictive elimination diet excludes all grains, certain legumes, most dairy products, starches, root vegetables, and canned or processed meats or vegetables.
- The paleo diet. The paleo diet is an elimination diet of sorts. It excludes beans, grains, dairy, sugar and seed oils.
- The FODMAP diet. FODMAPs are fermentable carbohydrates, found in a range of foods, that can be poorly absorbed by some people.
Please note that elimination-plan diets should be undertaken with experienced medical or dietetic support; most are meant for short time spans.
How Does It Work?
An elimination plan consists of two phases: elimination and reintroduction.
The Elimination Phase
The elimination phase involves removing the foods outlined in your elimination plan, typically for three weeks. The program recommended to me was the nightshade-free elimination diet, along with gluten, dairy and sugar. Thank goodness my dietitian gave me a quick guide, a meal plan and a shopping guide.
The Reintroduction Phase
The final step is to reintroduce foods in order to identify triggers. You will introduce a challenge food every three days. There will be a reintroduction day followed by two elimination days.
Some symptoms to watch for include:
- Rashes and skin changes
- Joint pain
- Headaches or migraines
- Difficulty sleeping
- Changes in breathing
- Stomach pain or cramps
- Changes in bowel habits
If you experience no symptoms during the period when reintroducing a food group, it can be assumed that it is OK to eat and move on to the next food group. However, if negative symptoms like those mentioned above are experienced, then a trigger food has been identified.
The entire process, including elimination, takes roughly five to six weeks.
Foods You Can Eat on an Elimination Diet
Although an elimination diet is very restricting, there is still enough variety to make healthy and delicious meals. Some foods you can eat include:
- Most fruits and vegetables, excluding nightshades.
- Grains including rice, buckwheat, and gluten-free oats
- Meat and fish including turkey, lamb, and cold-water fish like salmon.
- Dairy alternatives including unsweetened coconut milk, almond and rice milk.
- Fats including avocados, coconut and extra virgin olive oil and coconut milk.
- Beverages: Water, herbal and unsweetened teas.
- Spices, condiments, and others including black pepper, fresh herbs and spices (excluding cayenne pepper and paprika) and apple cider vinegar.
Set yourself up for success with a few tips:
- It is best to start the elimination plan when you can control your environment.
- Eating out is not recommended. If you do dine out, you must ask if the meal you want to order is gluten, dairy, soy, corn and egg free.
- If you travel, it is helpful to bring your own food.
- Plan your menus and batch cook.
- Read all ingredient labels carefully.
- Eat regular and consistent meals.
- Experimenting with new recipes can help with motivation and prevent food boredom.
- Try new herbs and spices to add flavor to your dishes.
A few weeks back, I attempted the elimination plan. Within the first week, I was already noticing an improvement in my sleep quality and a decrease in a few of my other symptoms. By the two-week mark, I was feeling much better. Unfortunately, life happened, and we went out of town.
I found it extremely challenging to follow the plan and never made it to the reintroduction phase. While on the program for those two weeks, I did notice a significant improvement which is motivating me to try the elimination plan again soon.
If you are considering trying an elimination plan, please discuss it with your health care provider.