In terms of discovering which foods your body may be intolerant or allergic to, that are causing undue stress on the entirety of your system’s health, going on an elimination diet is one of the best ways to gain first-hand insight. Maintaining a diet suited for your body is crucial for gut health, and a healthy gut has been shown to be imperative in better cognitive functioning, improved mood, less risk of certain diseases, amongst many other health benefits. If you’re curious about that, we’ve covered it more in-depth in another article here.
So, what is an elimination diet?
An elimination diet is more or less exactly what it sounds like: systematically removing foods from your diet which you suspect may be causing adverse symptoms, later reintroducing them while monitoring your body’s reactions. There are many different types of elimination diets, depending on which and how many specific foods you remove, yet they all typically last for 5-6 weeks. Some of the most effective elimination diets are the most restrictive at first, which can give you a clear snapshot of exactly which foods your body enjoys, and those it doesn’t.
The first three weeks are known as the elimination phase, the part where you cut out all groups of food you suspect your body may be intolerant of.
There are in general, five or six main foods that tend to cause most people trouble: gluten, dairy, refined sugar, corn, soy, and eggs. Eliminating refined sugar from your diet for three weeks will also show you how to avoid most processed foods, which contain inordinate amounts of sugar and trigger inflammation. You may find that just getting rid of this set of trigger foods and giving your immune system time to recover for three weeks may already show drastically improved energy levels.
Some of the other most commonly removed foods are:
- Citrus fruits: Avoid citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruits.
- Nightshade vegetables: Avoid nightshades, including tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, white potatoes, cayenne pepper and paprika.
- Nuts and seeds: Eliminate all nuts and seeds.
- Legumes: Eliminate all legumes, such as beans, lentils, peas and soy-based products.
- Starchy foods: Avoid wheat, barley, corn, spelt, rye, oats and bread. Also avoid any other gluten-containing foods.
- Meat and fish: Avoid processed meats, cold cuts, beef, chicken, pork, eggs and shellfish.
- Dairy products: Eliminate all dairy, including milk, cheese, yogurt and ice cream.
- Fats: Avoid butter, margarine, hydrogenated oils, mayonnaise and spreads.
- Beverages: Avoid alcohol, coffee, black tea, soda and other sources of caffeine.
- Spices and condiments: Avoid sauces, relish and mustard.
- Sugar and sweets: Avoid sugar (white and brown), honey, maple syrup, corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, desserts and chocolate.
After the initial elimination phase which lasts for three weeks, you’ll enter the reintroduction phase. This is the part where you begin bringing back the foods you eliminated, one at a time, for 2-3 days and monitor your body for any adverse reactions. A few common indicators of an adverse reaction are rashes and skin changes, joint pain, headaches, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, changes in breathing, bloating, stomach pain or cramps, and changes in bowel movement habits.
If you introduce a food and have none of these reactions, then congratulations! You’ve just discovered something your body loves, and can move on to the next, continuing to monitor for any reactions. If you did experience some of those symptoms, wait until they subside before introducing another food from the list. The entire reintroduction phase will last for as long as the number of items you initially eliminated during the first three week phase.
What foods can you eat during the elimination phase? These are the most common foods that most people’s guts don’t have any issues with:
- Fruits: Most fruits, excluding citrus fruits.
- Vegetables: Most vegetables, excluding nightshades.
- Grains: Including rice and buckwheat.
- Meat and fish: Including turkey, lamb, wild game and cold-water fish like salmon.
- Dairy substitutes: Including coconut milk and unsweetened rice milk.
- Fats: Including cold-pressed olive oil, flaxseed oil and coconut oil.
- Beverages: Water and herbal teas.
- Spices, condiments and others: Including black pepper, fresh herbs and spices (excluding cayenne pepper and paprika) and apple cider vinegar.
Elimination diets aren’t for everyone. Children shouldn’t be put on them, and they should always be done on the prescribed, shorter term timeline of 3-6 weeks, as any longer can have some harmful effects from nutrient deficiency. But if you’ve been experiencing general fatigue or any of the symptoms on that list of adverse reactions and suspect it may be from some of the regular foods in your life, try an elimination diet to find out exactly what types of food you should be eating for optimal health.
Do you think that your body may be intolerant or allergic to certain food groups? Would you be interested in trying the elimination diet to find out what is triggering your symptoms?