Why and how to do an elimination diet

The article on gluten intolerance in the last issue of Red Clover Clinic Newsletter got a great response—thank you! The most common comment was “Now I understand why gluten has become such an important health issue.” The demonstrated interest in gluten intolerance means the obvious topic to discuss next is the elimination diet. 

Elimination diets are a useful tool for two reasons: they can not only unravel food sensitivities, but they also give your body a break by reducing its toxic load. Other than a stool test that screens for antigens, an elimination diet is the only way to figure out which foods are creating issues for an individual. 

People suffering from fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, skin rashes, arthritis, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome or other chronic digestive issues, chronic migraines, and sinus issues should consider doing an elimination diet to see if they have any food sensitivities that are triggering their symptoms. 

Even if you choose to not permanently avoid a food you may be sensitive to, eliminating it completely for a few weeks periodically will help to get your symptoms back under control and make you feel better. It is also a good reminder of how well you can feel if you avoid their triggers most of the time.

There are four main steps to an elimination diet: 

  1. Planning what to eat and what to avoid.
  2. Avoiding the suspected foods for at least 2 weeks.
  3. Challenging your body by adding back the suspected foods one at a time, allowing at least 3 days in between each addition.
  4. Creating a new, long-term diet plan based on the results of your testing.

Planning what to eat

A thorough elimination diet will be very structured, eliminating all of the typical foods associated with food sensitivities: wheat, gluten, soy, corn, dairy, eggs, beef, chicken, pork, nightshade vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant), peanuts, sulfites, citrus, shellfish, sugar, caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, vinegar, yeast and artificial food additives. Whew!

The foods that can be eaten include: rice, quinoa, millet, non-nightshade vegetables, non-citrus fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, fresh fish, and wild meats. 

If you are mostly curious about how your body reacts to gluten and dairy, you can do a modified elimination diet that focuses primarily on eliminating all gluten and dairy products. In this modified version, it is still best to eliminate alcohol, caffeine, sugar, yeast and vinegar, in order to avoid yeast overgrowth in the system. Yeast overgrowth, also known as candida, can be an added burden to the immune system and can cause many of the same symptoms listed above. While you’re making the effort, it’s important to give your body a break from all of the potential irritants, and allow it to heal.

Avoiding suspected foods

Once you have your diet planned out, it’s time to avoid all the foods listed above for a minimum of two weeks. You may experience a worsening of your symptoms in the first few days, as your body starts to flush out the toxins associated with your food sensitivity. The symptoms should start to improve after the first week if they are due to a food that you have cut out of your diet. During this period, you may find it helpful to keep a journal, and track the foods you eat and the symptoms you experience.

Adding back suspected foods

After two to three weeks, you are ready to start challenging your body by adding foods back in. If you haven’t already started a food journal, this is when to begin. Be sure to log what you are eating, what your symptoms are, and when they occur. 

Begin by selecting a food that you want to test out first. The test period for each food is 3 days. On the first day, eat a small amount of the food in the morning. If you don’t notice any symptoms, eat a larger portion with lunch and again with dinner. 

For the next 2 days, avoid this food again and see if you notice any symptoms. If the food doesn’t cause symptoms anytime during the 3-day period, it’s unlikely to be a problem food. If this is the case, it’s important to wait to add it back into your diet until you have tested all the other foods on your test list. Now proceed to the next food on your list, and introduce it following the same method.

Creating a long-term diet plan

When every food on your list has been tested, you can start to create a long-term diet based on what you have learned. First and foremost, avoid the foods that caused a reaction. Other than that, it is best to center your diet around organic, whole foods. The primary focus should be on lots of fresh vegetables of all colors, complemented by nuts, seeds, whole grains, and protein from organic/free-range/wild-caught sources. 

The information gleaned from doing an elimination diet can make a profound change in your health. The successful implementation of an elimination diet requires a lot of planning and commitment. If you are ready to commit to the process and need some help, Red Clover Clinic is here for you.