Elimination Diet Overview
An elimination diet is a way to test yourself for food sensitivities. With this method, you deliberately eliminate specific foods to see if your health improves when you don't eat those foods. After a specific period of avoidance (typically 7-14 days), you reintroduce the suspected food(s) into your diet and see what symptoms, if any, you experience.
People use elimination diets to test for sensitivities to gluten, eggs, dairy, nuts, specific fruits, and other foods. This can be a low-cost, low-tech way to understand more about how your body responds to different foods and substances.
How It Works
The idea behind an elimination diet is that you avoid consuming a specific food for long enough that it clears out of your system and your body stops reacting to it. (A reaction could be anything from a stomach ache to fuzzy thinking to a stuffy nose.) Then you can re-introduce that food and see if your body responds negatively. If you experience unpleasant symptoms, there is a good chance that you have a sensitivity to that food (or a component of it), and you will feel better if you do not consume it as part of your regular diet.
How to do an elimination diet
There are many ways you can go about doing an elimination diet. It may take some time to discover and confirm your sensitivities, so a few rounds may be necessary. Consider testing yourself for some or all of the following foods, which many people are sensitive to:
- Gluten (found in wheat and other grains, and derivatives of these grains)
- Dairy (especially from cows, and especially pasteurized milk and products made from it)
- Nuts (especially peanuts)
- Vegetables from the nightshade family (potatoes, peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes)
- Citrus fruits
The following are two ways you can do an elimination diet. There are many other methods, but these are two of the most common:
Method A: If you think you know the specific food(s) that might be sensitive to, you can selectively eliminate those foods from your normal diet. Experts typically recommend that you avoid your target foods for 7-14 days. After this period, you can add back one food at a time in intervals of 2-5 days, and see if or how your body responds.
For instance, if you want to test soy and dairy, you will avoid all soy- and dairy-containing foods for 7-14 days. On day 8 or 15, you can reintroduce soy by eating a tofu stir-fry. Wait 2-5 days and see if and how your body responds. After your test period for soy is up, you would then go through the same process with dairy.
Symptoms to look for:
- Sleepiness after a meal
- "Brain fog" or fuzzy thinking
- A change in your bowel movements, such as diarrhea
- Nausea or cramps
- Stuffy nose
- Itchy skin
- Phlegm in your throat
- Achy joints
- Etc.--symptoms can be many and vary from person to person
Method B: If you suspect that you have food sensitivities but aren't sure which foods are the culprit, you can go on a special diet and then re-introduce foods as you would in Method A. This special diet is recommended by Liz Lipski, PhD, a well-respected clinical nutritionist and author. The diet excludes most of the foods that people tend to be sensitive to. For 7-14 days, you eat fruits (minus citrus), vegetables (minus the nightshade family, which includes bell peppers, white potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplants), and white rice. You can use olive oil and safflower oil for cooking and salad dressings or marinades. If you want extra protein, you can make smoothies with enriched rice protein. On day 8 or 15, re-introduce one category of food at a time, in intervals of 2-5 days, looking for symptoms such as the ones listed above.
Lipski, E. (2004). Digestive Wellness: How to Strengthen the Immune System and Prevent Disease Through Healthy Digestion (3rd Edition). New York: McGraw-Hill.