By Sarah Sarway
Is the elimination diet healthy?
All involve eating whole foods (as opposed to packaged and processed) and filling your plate with quality sources of protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and vitamin-, mineral-, and fiber-rich vegetables. (Again, we’re talking about the ones that fall somewhere on the healthy spectrum, not unhealthy fad diets like, ahem, the Grapefruit Diet.)
However, each proposes a slightly different path that leads to fulfilling those principles.
In this column, we break them down for you one by one so you can figure out which (if any!) is right for you. We’ll quickly explain the facts and then provide quick, actionable tips on how to follow the diet as part of a Nutritious Life.
The Elimination Diet is a little different than others we’ve covered before. It’s more of an investigative tool for finding out what’s going on with your body as opposed to a long-term pattern of eating (like going keto). Keep reading for the details.
The Elimination Diet
What It Is
The Elimination Diet is a popular tool used by health professionals like nutritionists and functional medicine physicians to help people identify foods that may be causing issues like lack of energy, bloating, or acne. As the name suggests, it’s done through a process of elimination.
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First, you stop eating a slew of foods for about four weeks, essentially cleaning out and resetting your digestive system. The idea is that after that initial period, your symptoms will vanish. Then, you slowly reintroduce foods one by one to see which causes them to come back.
What You Don’t Eat
There are many, many different variations of the elimination diet. Generally, you cut out all processed foods, including processed oils and condiments. Also on the no list: alcohol, all refined sugar, dairy, gluten and other grains, soy, and shellfish. Depending on whose plan you’re following, you may also have to nix eggs, some meats and seafood, legumes, some nuts like peanuts, and “nightshade” veggies like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. Coffee is a no-no, but you can totally wean off slowly to avoid the caffeine withdrawal headache.
RELATED: Is Coffee Good for You?
What You Do Eat
While it may seem like just about every food is off-limits, there are still plenty of filling and nutritious ways to fill your plate. First up: veggies, veggies, and more veggies! Fruits are fine (although some plans exclude a few), and usually there are some grain options, like brown rice, quinoa, and millet. Most elimination diets allow for high-quality meats like grass-fed beef, organic chicken, and wild salmon, plus healthy fats like cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. And you can snack on seeds like sesame, pumpkin, and sunflower.
After four weeks, you add the excluded foods back into your diet one at a time for two to three days and take notes of which ones trigger any negative symptoms.
Pros and Cons
Monitoring everything that enters your mouth is a lot of work. You’ll want to keep a journal to track what you’re eating as well as any and all symptoms that arise. And at least at the beginning, it’s very restrictive. If you’re the type that likes to dine out or order in, you’re going to have to make major adjustments and cook for yourself.
On the flip side, the elimination diet is a great tool for finding out what is causing the pesky health problems that keep you from living your best life. With the right guidance, you’ll find the culprit and be able to adjust your diet accordingly for long-term wellness.
The Bottom Line
The elimination diet is a commitment, but it’s a smart, proactive way to free yourself of symptoms that have been bothering you for a while. The most important point: It’s going to be much more successful with the help of a professional like a nutritionist or health coach who can offer guidance, advice on menu planning, and monitor how your body responds to adding foods back into your diet. With help, you’ll have a better chance of getting to the root of the issue. Be patient with the process, as it can take some time.
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(Featured Photo: Shutterstock)