It’s important to eat a balanced diet for your health and wellness, but sometimes certain foods can lead to tummy troubles. Food intolerances and sensitivities can lead to symptoms like bloating, diarrhea and constipation, as well as non-GI issues like headaches and skin rashes. An elimination diet can help you figure out what’s causing your symptoms. Remember: there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to eating and what will make you feel good or bad is different for everyone, so finding what works for you will be a huge factor in your well-being and comfort. Take a look at how to do an elimination diet to help you feel your best.
What is An Elimination Diet?
An elimination diet is an eating plan that has you remove certain foods or ingredients from your diet so that you can find out if you have any food sensitivities or intolerances. It omits foods thought to cause an adverse food reaction, such as inflammation, headaches, skin issues, fatigue or stomach problems. By removing certain foods for a period of time and then re-introducing them, you can learn which foods are causing symptoms or making symptoms worse.
Food intolerances can be triggered by various natural compounds in foods, such as natural sugars or proteins, or food additives like artificial colours, preservatives, antioxidants and flavour enhancers. While it’s possible to be intolerant to any food, the most common culprits are alcohol, coffee, corn, dairy, eggs, peanuts, shellfish, soy and wheat. Once you successfully identify the food(s) your body can’t tolerate well, you can remove them from your diet to prevent uncomfortable symptoms and improve body functions such as digestion, absorption, microbial balance and inflammation.
Who Should Do An Elimination Diet?
An elimination diet is a helpful way to determine food sensitivities in anyone who experiences symptoms and suspects they may be intolerant to foods like dairy, gluten or soy. Get in touch with a registered dietician or nutritionist to see if an elimination diet would be beneficial for you and help create a plan to ensure you’re getting all your nutritional needs.
Note that if you have a known or suspected food allergy, you should only try an elimination diet under the supervision of a medical professional. Reintroducing a food allergen may trigger a dangerous anaphylactic reaction. Those who have struggled, or are struggling, with an eating disorder should also speak to a health care professional before starting an elimination diet.
What Are the Benefits of Doing An Elimination Diet?
1. Can alleviate symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, headaches and stomach cramps
2. Improved skin issues like acne and eczema
3. Reduced chronic headaches
4. Can decrease feelings of fatigue and sluggishness and increase energy
5. May help you lose weight in a healthy way
6. May decrease PMS symptoms
7. Improved mood
8. Decreased inflammation
How to Do An Elimination Diet
Check Your Social Schedule
It’s important to block off time in your calendar so you can properly do the elimination diet. Check to see what social events you have coming up so you can plan around major milestones. If you have a bunch of events like birthdays, baby showers and weddings around a certain time and know you’ll be tempted by the food, it’s probably best to wait to start the diet.
Keep a Food Diary
Before you start an elimination diet, create a food diary to note down any symptoms you get and what you were eating when they happened. This will help you figure out patterns and which foods trigger your food sensitivities the most. Symptoms may include fatigue, dry skin, gastrointestinal issues, itching, headaches, stomach aches, migraines and joint aches and pains. Eat normally and thoroughly document everything you eat and how you feel after eating it.
The Elimination Phase
In the elimination phase, you eliminate foods you think your body can’t tolerate, as well as foods known to cause sensitivities such as dairy, gluten, peanuts and caffeine. This phase typically lasts 4-6 weeks and helps you determine if your symptoms are due to food or something else. If your symptoms still remain after removing the foods for 4-6 weeks, make sure to contact your doctor.
The Reintroduction/Challenge Phase
In the reintroduction phase, you slowly bring eliminated foods back into your diet. Each food group should be reintroduced individually over 2-3 days to see if you experience any negative symptoms such as joint pain, stomach issues, headaches or changes in bowel habits. If you experience no symptoms when reintroducing a food group, you can assume it’s fine to eat and move on to the next food group. If you experience negative symptoms, it means this is a trigger food that should be removed from your diet.
Foods to Eat
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower
Most fruits, except citrus fruits
Non-wheat grains like rice and buckwheat
Cold water fish like salmon and tuna
Meat like turkey, chicken, lamb and wild game
Nuts like walnuts and almonds
Seeds like sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and flaxseeds
Fats like olive oil and coconut oil
Fresh herbs and spices
Water and herbal teas
Foods to Avoid
Processed meats and cold cuts
Nightshade veggies like tomato, onions, eggplant
Legumes like beans, lentils, peas
Soy-based products like tofu, tempeh, soy milk
Peanuts and tree nuts
Sweets containing refined sugar and artificial sweeteners
Sauces, relish and mustard
Talk to a Pro
Elimination diets can be challenging and it’s not uncommon to hit roadblocks along the way. Working with a nutritionist or dietician who’s experienced in elimination diets can help you navigate challenges and temptations and help you curb nutritional deficiencies and cravings.
Sample 7-Day Elimination Diet Meal Plan
Below is a sample 7-day meal plan for when you’re eliminating all potential allergens and food sensitivities.
Breakfast: Smoothie made with fruits, greens and almond milk
Snack: Berries and pumpkin seeds
Lunch: Grilled salmon and a mixed greens salad with cucumber, tomato, balsamic vinegar and olive oil
Dinner: Pork stir fry with veggies and rice cauliflower
Breakfast: Turkey sausage and sautéed spinach
Snack: Fruit and coconut milk smoothie
Lunch: Whitefish poached in broth with lemon juice, green beans, sesame seeds and quinoa
Dinner: Rice pasta with chicken meat balls, homemade white sauce and garden salad
Breakfast: Steel-cut oatmeal, berries and flaxseed milk
Snack: Carrots with hummus
Lunch: Turkey lettuce wraps with mandarins and bell pepper
Dinner: Vegetable and chickpea curry with quinoa
Breakfast: Homemade pork breakfast sausage patty with sautéed asparagus
Snack: Berries and almonds
Lunch: Tuna, olive oil, greens, cucumber, red pepper and brown rice
Dinner: Chicken soup with beans and vegetables
Breakfast: Steel-cut oatmeal with flaxseed milk, maple syrup, pumpkin seeds, berries
Snack: Black bean dip with rice crackers
Lunch: Leftover chicken soup, side salad with balsamic and olive oil
Dinner: Salmon, avocado, and red pepper
Breakfast: Avocado, sautéed spinach, ground turkey stuffed sweet potato
Snack: Cucumber, carrots, and pumpkin seeds
Lunch: Leftover vegetable and quinoa curry
Dinner: Pork tenderloin with mushrooms, broccoli and quinoa
Breakfast: Strawberry and greens smoothie with almond milk
Snack: Apple slices with seed butter
Lunch: Shredded chicken, grapes, pumpkin seeds on greens with vinegar and olive oil dressing
Dinner: White bean and pork stew with greens
If you’ve noticed uncomfortable symptoms when you eat certain foods, an elimination diet may be just what you need to figure out your tummy woes.
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