What is the Elimination Diet?
The elimination diet, aims to remove specific foods from your everyday diet which could be causing health issues such as allergies and digestive problems. When undergoing the elimination diet, it’s recommended that you commit to it for at least three weeks, with an emphasis on eating enjoyable and nutritious meals. The elimination period will give your body time to heal from any chronic symptoms you were suffering from and you should experience improvement in your health i.e. an increase in your energy levels.
After three weeks you can start to reintroduce eliminated foods slowly back into your diet. When reintroducing foods into your diet again it is important to record any negative side effects when eating these particular foods. If you do experience any negative effects on your physical, mental and/or emotional health then it’s advised you avoid these foods for another 3 to 6 months. This time frame allows time for your gut to heal, this is crucial in ensuring your body intakes an abundance of phytonutrients and achieve your optimal health
Key Benefits of the Elimination Diet
Helps to identify food triggers: many people do not realise that the food they eat on a daily basis could be the root cause of the health issues they are experiencing. The elimination diet is a useful method in finding out if you have any food sensitivities, allergies or intolerances because you essentially start from scratch by including and excluding certain foods in your diet. Then, when you slowly reintroduce other foods into your diet you can identify whether your body reacts negatively to any particular foods.
The foods that tend to cause food allergies, sensitives and/or intolerances are wheat, gluten, dairy, refined and artificial sweeteners, red meat, eggs, soy and processed foods. Of course not everyone will experience the same reactions hence why the Elimination Diet is a great way for individuals to kickstart their journey towards optimal health. As you get to discover which foods make you feel unwell you can tailor your diet accordingly to suit your health and fitness goals.
Helps to reduce inflammation: viruses, bacteria, toxins and food naturally cause the body’s immune system to react and trigger inflammation in the body. Certain foods in your diet can cause low-grade inflammation in the gut, thus have a negative impact on your intestinal walls and cause disturbances in your digestive system, this is known as the “leaky gut” phenomenon. The Elimination Diet typically indorses the intake of anti-inflammatory foods which help to reduce inflammation, improve immune responses and permit time for the gut to heal from the stress it’s been under. Subsequently, people who go on the elimination diet are likely to experience a decrease in chronic symptoms and sickness.
Helps to maintain a healthy gut: the health of your gut is fundamental to determining your overall health. The gut is essentially the digestive tract, it is always absorbing and processing the things we ingest. In the gut you will find the microbiome which is an ecosystem of organisms that help regulate the immune response, if the ecosystem of your microbiome is not kept at a healthy balance then you risk a weak immune response. Eliminating particular foods in your diet and eating healthy whole foods that are rich in protein, phytonutrients, probiotics and prebiotics will help maintain a healthy gut and microbiome.
Helps to adopt a dairy-free and gluten-free diet: during the first phase of the Elimination Diet, it is standard practice to cut out foods containing dairy and gluten. Lactose is a sugar that is usually found in dairy products and known to be the culprit in causing gas, bloating and digestive problems. This is especially the case when the enzyme called lactase is not sufficient enough to effectively digest lactose. Moreover, even if a dairy product is lactose free it may still contain a milk protein that may cause a negative reaction in the body.
Gluten is a water-soluble protein that can be found in some grains such as barley, rye, wheat, and in processed foods such as bread, cereal and pasta. There are toxic proteins found in gluten called gliadins which can damage cells in the small intestine, and lead to a leaky gut, food allergies and intolerances. Not forgetting to mention there is growing evidence that there is a link between gluten intake and poor mental and emotional health.
Examples of the dairy products or grains containing gluten are as follows; butter, cheese, cream, ice cream, yoghurt, milk, barley, bulgar, oats, rye, seitan, wheat etc.
Helps to include an array of phytonutrients in your diet: The Elimination Diet encourages the use of plant foods in your diet such as dark green leafy vegetables spinach, kale, broccoli, bok choy etc. Plant foods rich in phytonutrients support the processes of healing and detoxification in the gut, liver and kidney. Including plant foods in your diet also helps to alkalinize the body which is beneficial for removing of toxins. Note that although fruits hold an array of phytonutrients they also contain natural sugars, hence the Elimination Diet proposes a diet plan that includes more vegetables than fruits to minimise sugar intake.
Helps to reduce toxicity in the body: the food we buy in supermarkets can contain lots of additional ingredients or substances that are harmful to our bodies. Today, it is no secret that artificial colourings, flavourings, additives, preservatives, pesticides, insecticides are widely used in the food industry, and sadly these things can have short-term and long-term damaging effects on our health. The Elimination Diet endorses the use of whole foods, organic produce, and in a nutshell a “clean” diet which essentially can help the body to function at its optimum level i.e. the liver eliminating toxins. In other words, a cleaner diet will support the body to naturally remove toxins and at the same time prevent added toxicity from highly processed foods.
No restrictions on calorie intake: even though the Elimination Diet recommends the types of food to eat and foods to avoid, the diet does not restrict how much calories you can consume. The main focus of the Elimination Diet is to be more mindful about the food we eat and how it makes us feel.
Increasing body awareness: as briefly mentioned in the previous point the Elimination diet promotes mindfulness and body awareness. Eliminating foods from your diet for a specific amount of time and slowly reintroducing them back into your diet allows you to monitor which foods trigger symptoms in your body, and then tailor your diet accordingly. People who go on the Elimination Diet can learn a lot about their relationship with food and how it effects their bodies.
What’s included in the Food Plan?
Protein has various roles in ensuring optimal nutrition as it is made out of amino acids which are essential for the removal of toxins. Protein, also helps to fight cravings by stabilizing blood sugar levels. The Elimination Diet includes protein from animals and plants. However, it’s important to source high-quality proteins from lean, pasture-raised, grass-fed, organic and non-GMO produce. Some examples of plant-based and animal proteins are mackerel, salmon, tuna, chicken, turkey, lamb, venison, legumes, lentils, hemp and pea.
Legumes are a healthful combination of complex carbohydrates and proteins which help stabilize blood sugar levels. Legumes are also great for avoiding cravings, only one serving of soup, beans, dips or hummus is enough to keep you fuller for longer.
Dairy Alternatives are recommended to replace dairy products as they can cause gastrointestinal symptoms, hence they are not included in the Elimination Diet plan. Dairy products can also be contaminated with toxins and hormones that are harmful to your health in the long run. Examples of dairy alternatives are coconut, almond, flaxseed, or hazelnut milk. However, make sure to read the labels on dairy alternatives and avoid products that contain artificial sweeteners or gums.
Nuts and Seeds contain nutrients that help reduce chronic diseases. They are great to eat as a snack or for adding flavour to your meals such as adding cashews or pecans to your salad, grounded flaxseeds in your smoothie, or almond butter to spread on fruit. Note that it is better to consume nuts that are raw, unsalted and not roasted in oil. However, if you have a nut allergy then for obvious reasons you will exclude nuts from your personalised Elimination Diet.
Fats and Oils are a staple to your daily diet as they help to reduce inflammation, stabilize blood sugar levels, and minimize sugar cravings. When incorporating fats and oils to your diet it is important to choose organic, minimally refined, cold pressed, non-GMO fats and liquid oils because they are of the highest quality. Examples of fats and oils that are nutrient dense and included on the Elimination Diet are extra-virgin olive oil, coconut based fats and avocado oil.
Vegetables, starchy and non-starchy are in essence the makeup of the Elimination Diet. The recommended daily intake is between 10 to 12 servings of ½ cup of most vegetables or 1 cup of raw leafy greens. To ensure you eat nourishing amounts of the recommended daily intake remember to eat vegetables that represent a rainbow of colours; from dark green spinach to orange carrots, to yellow peppers and not forgetting white onions and garlic.
Fruits that are phytonutrient rich like vegetables and can help reduce inflammation, support the detoxification process, and satisfy your cravings for something sweet. However, be mindful that fruit still contains sugar and creating balance is important here. It’s highly recommended to have a bit of protein when eating a healthy serving of fruit to manage blood sugar levels, for example nut butter with sliced apples or berries with nuts.
Gluten-Free Grains play a supportive role in detoxification and are a great source of fibre. A lot of grain products like bread, pasta, cereals contain gluten; but there are grains that are gluten free such as quinoa, rice, teff, buckwheat, oats and millet. There are more gluten free alternatives available, and you can find a good selection of products that have the certified gluten free seal which will be helpful when you first start the Elimination diet.
Beverages keep you hydrated and support our bodies to detoxify, manage stress, improve metabolism, and can minimise the feeling of hunger. The general rule of determining how much hydration a person needs is the person’s weight in pounds divided in half to equal a figure that will be translated into ounces. For example if a person weighs 146 pounds they should have at least 73 ounces of water a day (146/2 = 73). Filtered water, fresh raw vegetable juices, decaffeinated teas, broths and meat stocks are recommended sources for maintaining hydration. Beverages that can have a negative effect on the body are excluded from the Elimination diet such as coffee, alcohol, soft drinks and non-dairy creamer.
Spices and Herbs are a wonderful way to add flavour to your meals and they also support the body to achieve optimal health. Spices and herbs like chili powder, cilantro, ginger and turmeric can reduce pain and inflammation. With the right ingredients you can also create homemade condiments like ketchup and barbecue sauce instead of shop bought condiments which tend to contain added sugar and preservatives.
Sweeteners permitted on the Elimination Diet are brown rice syrup, pure maple syrup, raw honey, coconut sugar, agave nectar, blackstrap molasses, erythritol and stevia. Note that only a small amount should be used in your daily intake (three teaspoons).
Cocoa carries properties that your health can benefit from, however it is often used in products like chocolate and hot cocoa which are not usually included in the Elimination diet due to the added ingredients being not so healthy. A Functional Medicine Practitioner may recommend to individuals the best way to incorporate cocoa into your daily diet.
Tips on Following the Elimination Diet
1. Plan, plan, and plan: planning is the key to being successful when following a diet plan. Make sure you plan your meals in advance, do the necessary grocery shopping and prepare your meals so they are ready to cook or even eat from the get go.
2. Never go hungry: do not starve yourself and eat enough food (food that is included in the Elimination Diet). Being constantly hungry will make following the diet difficult, listen to your body and eat something appropriate when you start to feel peckish.
3. Beware of added ingredients: when buying food products that are allowed on the Elimination Diet remember to check the ingredient labels because the product may contain other ingredients that are advised against i.e. some almond milk products contain added sweeteners that are not allowed when on the Elimination Diet.
4. Eat an adequate amount of food: remember on this diet you are not calorie restricted, in fact you are encouraged to eat enough calories to avoid starving yourself. Add the appropriate amount of vegetables and fruits to your menu to ensure you have energy and to consume the nutrients that are vital to achieving optimal health.
5. Eat regular meals: to help maintain stable blood sugar levels eat consistently throughout the day. A healthy snack like a portion of fruit or vegetables with a little bit of protein should do the trick when eating between meals.
6. Go organic: choose fresh and organically grown vegetables/fruits when possible. This helps to avoid the intake of pesticides and toxic chemicals.
7. Use cold-pressed oils: choose cold-pressed oils that have not gone through the process of heating, they are healthier than the oils that have been heated because it has not been broken down by heat. Again, organic oils are preferred.
8. Stop caffeine intake: if you consume caffeine regularly start off with reducing your daily intake to minimise the unpleasant experience of withdrawal symptoms. However, the goal is to eliminate caffeine as they can have negative effects on blood sugar levels and hormones.
9. Drink water please: keep hydrated and drink the necessary amount of plain filtered water on a daily basis. Remember the formula for estimating your recommended daily intake of water is (your weight in pounds/2 = amount of water in ounces)
10. Allow yourself to rest: to allow your body to heal from chronic diseases or to recover from stressful experiences it’s important to rest and limit the amount of strenuous exercise you do. On your rest days you can do light exercise for 30 minutes such as walking.
After about a month of being on the Elimination Diet you can start to reintroduce foods slowly back in to your diet in two day intervals and one at a time. This will allow you time to identify any reactions to the food.
The first food that you reintroduce can be the food you crave the most or the food you ate a lot of before the Elimination Diet. Eat a decent amount of your chosen food on day one (1 to 2 servings) and record any symptoms that you notice during the first and second day of reintroducing that particular food.
If you do not experience a reaction to that particular food then you can continue to include it in your diet plan and on the third day you can reintroduce another food and repeat the process of identifying any symptoms/reactions to the food. Continue the two-day reintroduction process with the other foods you wish to test out.
However, if you experience any reactions/symptoms when reintroducing a particular food into your diet immediately stop eating that food. Only try to reintroduce this food back into your diet after you have tested the other foods on your reintroduction list and when your symptoms have cleared. Possible reactions can be bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, fatigue, depression, anxiety, gas, headache, muscle/joint pain, skin reactions and many more.
You may find that some foods continue to cause symptoms and if you wish to achieve optimum health it would be necessary for you to remove these foods from your diet.
Foods that can be reintroduced
When going on the Elimination Diet it is standard practice to eliminate wheat, dairy, soy, corn, peanuts, eggs, red meat, pork and shellfish. There may be other foods that a Functional Medicine practitioner may recommend to avoid and it is totally up to you to decide the order of which foods to reintroduce, but you are encouraged to choose a purer form of that food. For example, if you decide to reintroduce beef back into your diet, ideally you will choose to consume grass fed organic beef.
After reintroducing the foods mentioned above you can start to test other foods like chocolate, caffeine, and alcohol. But if you decided to reintroduce these foods try to consume them separately, do not mix it with other foods you are avoiding. The idea here is to keep it as simple as possible and don’t eat complex foods like a pizza which can contain both gluten and dairy. It’s better to try cheese and a gluten based dough bread separately before having the two together so you can identify whether you react to either one or both.
The Elimination Diet is a great tool for healing the body and for identifying any foods that have negative effects on our bodies. It is also a diet that teaches us how to be more mindful about the food we choose to eat on a daily basis. When we understand how certain foods affect us we can make informed decisions about the food we consume. Moreover, by following the Elimination Diet you are arguably one step closer to improving your overall health; whilst you will go through the process of removing certain foods that contain toxic and harmful properties from your daily diet, you will also start to eat foods that can support your body to function at its optimum level. It's like what Charles F. Glassman says when you begin to remove negative feelings from your life your start to see improvements, it is the same principal when removing toxic and harmful foods from your diet.
“The elimination diet:
Remove anger, regret, resentment, guilt, blame, and worry.
Then watch your health, and life, improve.”
Contributor author Jennifer del Rosario