What Is an Elimination Diet and Should You Try One?

By Laurie Fanelli in Healthy Feeling

Have you ever had a mild stomachache after enjoying a bowl of cereal? How about a light bout of hives after eating peanut butter?

These reactions could be the result of a food intolerance. Pinpointing which ingredients cause which side effects can help you develop a better nutrition plan for yourself. If you experience these symptoms but are unsure of the cause, you may consider trying an elimination diet.

But what is an elimination diet, exactly? Read on to discover how this diet works, and which foods are the most common culprits causing adverse reactions. As with any diet change, always consult with your doctor before starting a new program.

Food Allergy vs. Intolerance

According to the Mayo Clinic, a food allergy causes an immune system reaction after eating even small amounts of a certain food. Symptoms include wheezing, trouble breathing, vomiting, and dizziness—and in severe cases, they can be life-threatening.

On the other hand, a food intolerance may allow you to eat small amounts of the offending food, with mild symptoms similar to a food allergy. In some cases, you can prevent your reactions by consuming specialty products or digestion aids, notes the Mayo Clinic.

A doctor can determine if you are experiencing an allergy or an intolerance and recommend a diet or treatment plan. If they recommend an elimination diet, it may help you determine the source of your symptoms.

Dairy is a good example of a food group for an elimination diet

What Is an Elimination Diet?

An elimination diet is exactly what it sounds like: a meal plan that omits specific foods. After a period of time without consuming the omitted food, once the adverse side effect has disappeared, you slowly reintroduce the food back into your diet. If the negative reaction returns, you have identified the problematic food.

For instance, if you notice that you always have stomach problems after eating pasta, bread, or cookies, you may have an issue with gluten. The University of Wisconsin-Madison outlines a great example of a simple, one-food-group, two-week elimination diet.

Elimination Diet Example

Using gluten as an example, here's an example of how to follow an elimination diet. On day one, you will remove all gluten from your diet. Be sure to read the labels on everything you eat, as gluten could be included in premade foods as an additive. Over the next seven days, monitor your symptoms. The University of Wisconsin-Madison notes that symptoms may get worse for a few days before you feel an improvement. If your symptoms are gone entirely by days eight through fourteen, you have a clue that you may have eliminated the right food.

On days fifteen through seventeen, you will reintroduce small portions of gluten back into your diet, increasing the amount slightly each day. If by the end of day seventeen, your achy stomach has returned, it's a pretty safe bet that gluten is the problem. If you don't experience any symptoms, you may want to try the diet again with a different food group, such as tree nuts.

Gluten is a good ingredient to try in an elimination diet

Again, you should consult your doctor prior to starting the diet, as well as throughout the process. To ensure success, you will likely need to continue to eliminate the offending ingredient from your diet. Luckily, there are tons of specialty products designed for people who need to avoid certain food groups, such as gluten-free flours.

After identifying a food intolerance, you will feel healthier having eliminated an ongoing problem. Instead of looking at it as giving something up, get excited about all the new recipes you can try!

Do you have any tips for identifying a food intolerance? Tag us @toms_of_maine as you document your journey on Instagram.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons | Wikimedia Commons | Wikimedia Commons

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Why It's Good

By identifying foods that cause you discomfort—whether that's in the form of bloating, stomach aches, rashes, or other symptoms—you can eliminate them from your diet and lead a healthier, happier life.