Health care

Find Your Food Sensitivities with an Elimination Diet

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Food intolerances can be hard to narrow down—your symptoms could be caused by many factors, or just one food in particular.

Experiencing digestive distress, bloating, skin issues, mood imbalances, and other unexplained symptoms on the reg? A food intolerance or sensitivity may be to blame. To find out which food is potentially causing symptoms, an elimination diet may be able to help.

Of course, speak with your general care practitioner before embarking on any new diet or eating plan, especially an elimination diet.

Here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about an elimination diet, explained.

What is an elimination diet?

An elimination diet is a short-term, usually three to six weeks, eating plan that removes common food allergens from the diet.

The Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) organization notes that eight foods make up 90 percent of all food-allergic reactions. They are: eggs, dairy, gluten, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, and fish.

Other food allergens that can be removed during an elimination diet include corn, alcohol, added sugars, and packaged and processed foods that include preservatives and artificial dyes.

After the allotted period of time, potential allergen provoking foods are slowly reintroduced to the diet to determine which foods are and are not tolerated.

Unlike a food allergy, which can be triggered by a very small amount of food, food intolerances may be dose dependent. Removing certain foods from the diet is an easy way to pinpoint which ones are causing the issues.

Symptoms that might drive someone to do an elimination diet include persistent diarrhea, bloating, constipation, eczema and acne.

Who should do an elimination diet?

As many as 15 million people in the United States have food allergies, according to FARE. This does not take into account the hundreds of thousands of individuals who may be living with food intolerances or sensitivities, or less severe reactions.

In this case, embarking on an elimination diet may help to figure out the root cause of intolerance-related symptoms.

Joshua Axe, MD notes that an elimination diet is recommended for “someone experiencing ongoing symptoms, and she can’t seem to figure out what’s causing them.”1

According to Axe, “Symptoms that might drive someone to do an elimination diet include persistent diarrhea, bloating, constipation, eczema and acne.”2

Other symptoms of food intolerances include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), nausea, stomach pain, gas, cramps, vomiting, heartburn, headaches and migraines, and irritability or nervousness.3,4,5

How to do an Elimination Diet

If removing all eight dietary allergens from your diet seems overwhelming, Amy Shah, MD, wants you to take a step back. “For most people it’s almost impossible and really cumbersome to take out so many foods at once” she says.6

“You may feel like you can only eat produce if you try that (and then wind up starving the entire time).”

Shah notes that an elimination diet is much easier to do if you eliminate three or four food groups at a time for 21 days and then slowly reintroduce them back into the diet.

This is because antibodies, little proteins that are produced by the immune system when it has a negative reaction to food, take about three weeks to dissipate, therefore reducing symptoms of sensitivities.

Shah notes that after the first 21 days of avoiding certain allergy-provoking foods, you should (hopefully) feel better.

“That’s when you reintroduce the foods one by one, allowing at least three days before you reintroduce the next one so you’re able to notice any changes in how your body reacts to the food” she says. “If you add back all the eliminated food groups and have no symptoms, move on to the next step of the plan, when you’ll take out new foods.”

Continue to reintroduce foods until a particular food group causes symptoms, “that’s likely your trigger” Shah explains. “You can stop the diet then, or continue if you think more than one food is at fault.”

During this time, make sure to keep a food journal that records what you consume daily, to help identify the food sensitivity. Also, read labels of any packaged product (including condiments and seasonings) you purchase: dairy, soy, gluten, and corn are found in nearly everything.

There are plenty of foods you can still enjoy while on an elimination diet.

What can you eat on an elimination diet?

Removing entire food groups is overwhelming, food sensitivity or not.

There are still plenty of foods to enjoy during this time, however. Axe notes, “During an elimination diet, try to make about 40 percent of your plate fresh vegetables, 30 percent ‘clean’ sources of protein, 20 percent healthy fats and the remaining percent whole-food carbohydrates and fruit” he says.

This means ample organic greens, cruciferous vegetables, root vegetables, berries, herbs, legumes, and fruits can be consumed to your heart’s desire. (Sign up for our newsletter to stay inspired and motivated while you’re on your health journey!)

Also include organic pasture-raised meats and poultry, healthy fats such as avocado, coconut oil, and ghee, fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut, bone broth, and coconut products.

With a bit of patience, preparation, and a well-recorded food journal, figuring out food sensitivities shouldn’t be overwhelming.

Have you tried an elimination diet before, or will this be your first time? Let us know your experiences in the comments.

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