Do you feel bloated and uncomfortable? Do you develop rashes or itching after a meal? Ever wondered if the food you eat could be causing this bloating? Think about it. It is true, we are what we eat. In fact, it’s safe to say that what we eat can affect how we feel physically as well as mentally.
In fact, if you are unable to understand what’s causing these symptoms you could try an elimination diet. Eliminating a range of foods at once may cause nutritional imbalances in the body, especially when they are not substituted with the right alternatives. It’s not a fad, when done right.
What Is An Elimination Diet?
An elimination diet is a diet that helps you identify if certain foods that you consume, as a staple, could be the cause of discomfort and unease.
Here’s how it works, you exclude certain foods or food groups from your diet for a period of time. The duration could last anywhere between two to four weeks.1
Also, the duration of an elimination diet may vary for individuals. As it depends on individuals and how they react to certain foods. For instance, if someone is suffering from bloating it could be be eased by eliminating milk or milk products. But, for others bloating may still persist even after excluding this food group. It is safe to say then that milk and milk products aren’t the cause of bloating in them. They will need to continue eliminating other foods to identify what’s causing the bloating.
Elimination diets require you to exclude certain foods or entire food groups that you usually have on a daily basis. To explain how the elimination diet works, let’s stick to the example of bloating.
If you’ve experienced bloating some time in your life, then the first thing that you need to eliminate from your diet is milk and other dairy products.2 In this scenario, let’s eliminate milk, curd, and cheese. You then observe how your body reacts.
If the bloating eases in two weeks, then you know one of the eliminated foods is the culprit.
The next step is to reintroduce these foods slowly, one at a time. First, add curd and notice how your body reacts. If there is no sign of bloating, move on to the next food which is cheese. Introduce cheese back into your diet and continue to observe signs of bloating. If there is no sign of bloating, introduce milk. If your body begins to feel bloated again after introducing milk into the diet, you know what is causing you this symptom.
However, if your sign of bloating is not at ease in spite of eliminating these products for over two weeks, then you know that these foods are not the cause.
Embarking on an elimination diet will not only help you find the signs of bloating, but it can also help with other food intolerances.
This diet is based on a trial and error method; however, with a little patience, elimination diets can explain many unknown symptoms you experience.
Here’s a look at the six benefits of an elimination diet.
1. Helps Identify Unknown Food Allergies
A food allergy reaction occurs when your immune system overreacts to a food or a substance in food, identifying it as a danger.(when your immune system overreacts to a food or a substance in the food, you develop an allergic reaction) The severity of food allergies ranges from mild to severe.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction may involve the skin, the gastrointestinal tract, the cardiovascular system, and the respiratory tract. The symptoms include:3
- Vomiting and/or stomach cramps
- Shortness of breath
- Repetitive cough
- Shock or circulatory collapse
- Tight, hoarse throat
- Trouble swallowing
- Swelling/tingling of the tongue (affecting the ability to talk or breathe)
- Weak pulse
- Pale or blue coloring of skin
- Dizziness or feeling faint
Studies have reported that elimination diets can help you identify which food is causing this symptom in your body.4
Eight types of food account for 90 percent of allergic reactions. These include eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, and soy.5
Milk, eggs, and peanuts are mostly associated with food allergies in children. Fruit and vegetable pollen, peanuts and tree nuts, and fish and shellfish are the most common food allergens in adults.
2. Minimizes Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Symptoms
If you are experiencing IBS, eating can pose challenges. Sometimes, simply the act of eating (smelling, tasting, or chewing food) can trigger the intestines even before the food is eaten. Variations in diet can help with IBS symptoms.
The most common symptoms of IBS are:6
- Abdominal (stomach) pain and cramping
- A change in your bowel habits – such as diarrhea, constipation, or sometimes both
- Bloating and swelling of your stomach
- Excessive wind (flatulence)
- Occasionally experiencing an urgent need to go to the toilet
- A feeling that you have not fully emptied your bowels after going to the toilet
- Passing mucus from your bottom
Eliminating breakfast cereals and caffeine-containing drinks for a period of 12 weeks may help identify the symptoms.7
Studies have also demonstrated that individuals with IBS symptoms not responding to other standard therapies have had a positive impact on their overall well-being through elimination diets.8
People suffering from IBS should modify the amount of fiber in their diet. There are two types of fiber: soluble fiber (dissolves in water) and insoluble fiber (does not dissolve in water). Foods containing soluble fiber include oats, barley, rye, fruits such as bananas and apples, root vegetables such as carrots and potatoes, and golden linseeds. Foods containing insoluble fiber include whole grain bread, bran, cereals, and nuts and seeds (except golden linseeds).
If you have diarrhea, cut down on the insoluble fiber you eat; if you have constipation increase the amount of soluble fiber in your diet.9
3. Heals Leaky Gut Syndrome
Many symptoms and conditions caused by the leaky gut syndrome are due to the reactions of the immune system reacting to germs, toxins, or other substances absorbed into the bloodstream by a considerably porous bowel.
Alcohol and certain painkillers cause irritation to the bowel lining.10 Common gut-related symptoms include:
- Candida overgrowth
- Ongoing diarrhea
The leaky gut is also an important contributor to autoimmune diseases and is caused mostly due to gluten intolerances. A gluten-free elimination diet can help heal the leaky gut syndrome.11
People with a leaky gut should avoid sugar and sweeteners, although natural sugars can be consumed in moderation. Additives and packaged foods, flavorings, processed meat, and unhealthy oils should be avoided. Egg yolks tend to be okay, but egg whites may upset the digestive tract.
4. Relieves Eczema, Acne, And Hives
Elimination diets help relieve certain skin irritations like eczema, acne, and hives. Eczema is often associated with food allergies. This does not mean that eliminating certain foods will cure the irritation, but it can help in determining the possible cause for it.12
Symptoms of eczema include:13
- A red rash or red patches of skin, especially inside the folds of the elbows and knees
- Dry skin, which can crack and possibly bleed
Symptoms of acne include the following, which may appear on the back, chest, neck, shoulders, upper arms, and buttocks:14
- Pustules (what many people call pimples)
Hives, also known as urticaria, occurs when a trigger causes high levels of histamine and other chemical messengers to be released in the skin. Histamine is released for many reasons: an allergic reaction – such as a food allergy or a reaction to an insect bite or sting; cold or heat exposure; infection – such as a cold; certain medications – such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or antibiotics.
The most common signs (what you see) of hives are:15
- Slightly raised, pink or red swellings
- Welts that occur alone or in a group, or connect over a large area
- Skin swelling that subsides or goes away within 24 hours at one spot but may appear at another spot
People suffering from eczema should avoid cows’ milk, eggs, soya, wheat, fish, and nuts as they trigger eczema symptoms. However, always consult your healthcare practitioner before avoiding all of these.16
People prone to acne must avoid sugar, junk food, fast food, and high-glycemic foods. High-glycemic foods trigger inflammation and hormonal fluctuations, both which encourage acne. These foods include white bread, processed breakfast cereals, white rice, pretzels, potato chips, cookies, and cakes, etc.
Several different types of foods have been known to trigger urticaria, including chocolate, some citrus fruits, food additives, and wheat products. The most common food triggers of hives include peanuts, eggs, nuts, and shellfish.17
5. Prevents/Treats Learning Disorders
Learning disorders affect how a person understands, remembers, and responds to new information. Learning disorders occur in very young children, most of which are not detected until they reach school. About one-third of children having learning disorders also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).18
Symptoms of ADHD in children and teenagers are associated with behavioral problems. They can be categorized into two. The common signs of ADHD in both categories are mentioned below.19
The main signs of inattentiveness are:
- Having a short attention span and being easily distracted
- Making careless mistakes – for example, in schoolwork
- Appearing forgetful or losing things
- Being unable to stick at tasks that are tedious or time-consuming
- Appearing to be unable to listen to or carry out instructions
- Constantly changing activity or task
- Having difficulty organizing tasks
ii. Hyperactivity And Impulsiveness
The main signs of hyperactivity and impulsiveness are:
- Being unable to sit still, especially in calm or quiet surroundings
- Constantly fidgeting
- Being unable to concentrate on tasks
- Excessive physical movement
- Excessive talking
- Being unable to wait their turn
- Acting without thinking
- Interrupting conversations
- Little or no sense of danger
Eliminating certain foods from a child’s diet can treat ADHD symptoms.20. Eliminating the major sources of artificial colors and additives — candy, junk food, brightly-colored cereals, fruit drinks, and soda — from your child’s diet for a few weeks may improve symptoms.
The body cannot make essential fatty acids, so these nutrients must be consumed in the diet. Essential fatty acids are important for cell functioning and overall immunity. Omega-3 fatty acids can be obtained from salmon, tuna, and other cold-water fish, as well as from some seeds and oils. Omega-6 fatty acids (especially linoleic acid) is obtained primarily from vegetable oils. A balance of omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids is best for overall health.21
6. Fights Migraine Headaches
There are different types of migraine headaches but most are characterized by the following symptoms:22
- Severe pain on one or both sides of the head
- Visual disturbances
Dietary interventions can help reduce the degree of migraine headaches. Studies have shown that a low-fat plant-based diet can reduce the severity of migraines.23
People with migraine headaches should avoid dairy products (includes skim or whole cow’s milk, goat’s milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.), chocolate, eggs, citrus fruits, meat (includes beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish, etc.), wheat (bread, pasta, etc.), nuts and peanuts, tomatoes, onions, corn, apples, and bananas. Certain beverages and additives are also among the worst triggers, including alcoholic beverages (especially red wine) and caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea, and colas).24
How To Start An Elimination Diet
There are four main steps to an elimination diet. They are as follows:25
- Planning: Consult your healthcare practitioner to know which foods might be causing problems for your body. You may be asked to maintain a diet journal for a week so you know what foods you consume on a daily basis, which later helps you eliminate foods in your elimination diet.
- Avoiding: Follow your elimination diet without exceptions for two weeks. For example, if you are eliminating coffee from your diet, then avoid any food containing caffeine and caffeinated drinks.
- Challenging: If your symptoms have not improved, talk with your practitioner. If your symptoms have improved, start “challenging” your body by reintroducing the foods, one group at a time.
- Creating a new, long-term diet: Based on your results, your practitioner will help you create a diet plan to prevent your symptoms.
It’s best to try elimination diets after you have spoken about it with a healthcare practitioner.
Elimination diets can be challenging, but the efforts can be worth the results.
|↑1||Food Elimination Diet. Food Allergy Research & Education.|
|↑2||Beat the bloat. National Health Service (NHS) Choices.|
|↑3, ↑5||Food Allergy. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.|
|↑4||Molina-Infante, Javier, Angel Arias, Jesus Barrio, Joaquín Rodríguez-Sánchez, Marta Sanchez-Cazalilla, and Alfredo J. Lucendo. “Four-food group elimination diet for adult eosinophilic esophagitis: A prospective multicenter study.” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 134, no. 5 (2014): 1093-1099.|
|↑6||Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Better Health Channel.|
|↑7||12 Week Elimination Diet for IBS. International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders.|
|↑8||Drisko, Jeanne, Bette Bischoff, Matthew Hall, and Richard McCallum. “Treating irritable bowel syndrome with a food elimination diet followed by food challenge and probiotics.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition 25, no. 6 (2006): 514-522.|
|↑9||Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – Treatment. National Health Service (NHS) Choices.|
|↑10||“Leaky gut syndrome”. National Health Service (NHS) Choices.|
|↑11||Fasano, Alessio. “Leaky gut and autoimmune diseases.” Clinical reviews in allergy & immunology 42, no. 1 (2012): 71-78.|
|↑12||Eczema (atopic dermatitis). Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy.|
|↑13||Eczema. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.|
|↑14||Acne. American Academy of Dermatology.|
|↑15||Hives. American Academy of Dermatology.|
|↑16||Atopic eczema – Treatment. National Health Service (NHS) Choices.|
|↑17||Hives (Urticaria). Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy.|
|↑18||Learning Disorders. MedlinePlus.|
|↑19||Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – Symptoms. National Health Service (NHS) Choices.|
|↑20||Nigg, Joel T., and Kathleen Holton. “Restriction and elimination diets in ADHD treatment.” Child and adolescent psychiatric clinics of North America 23, no. 4 (2014): 937-953.|
|↑21||Diet and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Harvard Medical School.|
|↑22||Migraine – Symptoms. National Health Service (NHS) Choices.|
|↑23||Bunner, Anne E., Ulka Agarwal, Joseph F. Gonzales, Francesca Valente, and Neal D. Barnard. “Nutrition intervention for migraine: a randomized crossover trial.” The journal of headache and pain 15, no. 1 (2014): 1-9.|
|↑24||Migraine Diet: A Natural Approach to Migraines. The Physicians Committee.|
|↑25||Elimination Diet. University of Wisconsin Integrative Medicine.|