If you notice that your stomach acting up regularly, it could be time to formulate an elimination diet plan. Intolerances to dairy, gluten and nuts are increasingly common, and elimination diets are the best way to identify and which items are affecting you.
So, how does an elimination diet work? It’s fairly self-explanatory: it involves removing foods from your diet, one by one, to see which ones are causing the negative reactions you may be experiencing—such as a sore stomach, bloating, gas, or diarrhea—and then reintroducing them one at a time to see if the symptoms recur. Eliminate these potential trigger foods for about three weeks and then begin reintegrating them.
How an Elimination Diet Works
An elimination diet meal plan helps you clearly understand which foods are working for you and which ones aren’t. For example, you might think you’ve got a gluten intolerance, so you stay away from all items that contain gluten, when it reality it might be another ingredient, like milk, that’s causing the issue. This is quite common and elimination diets can point you to the exact problem, so the list of foods you can eat will again outnumber those you can’t. Although everybody is different, there are some foods that are more likely to cause intolerances than others. Let’s take a look at a typical elimination diet food plan.
Elimination Diet Plan: The Basics
If you want to get started on an elimination diet plan, there are a few central ideas to keep in mind. The first is that everyone has different sensitivities, but there are certain foods and food groups that are more prone to causing uncomfortable symptoms. These include items such as:
- Processed foods;
- Wheat products;
- Refined grains;
- Process meats;
- Condiments like ketchup and steak sauce;
- Citrus fruits;
- Some whole grains; and
- Nuts (again, this depends on the individual).
The best elimination diets include certain foods to eat and certain foods to avoid. Generally speaking, the more restrictive the better. Yes, it’s more work, but as with most things, the more work, the greater the payoff.
Avoid These Unhealthy Foods
Avoiding wheat, processed foods, and certain nuts and legumes are important here. However lists do vary on what you should avoid. For example, some elimination diets want to hold off on all grain products, including rye, while others allow them. The choice is yours. Some of the items on this list are not “unhealthy,” however they create problems for some people.
- Citrus fruits
- Potatoes (sweet potatoes and yams are fine)
- Soy beans
- Canned beans
- Hot dogs
- Canned meats
- Dairy (cheese, milk, yogurt, etc.)
- Ice cream
- Non-dairy creamers
- Refined Sugar
Foods to Eat
When you’re on elimination diet, you’ll want to eat foods that typically don’t cause inflammation. This includes most fresh fruits and vegetables, seasonings, water, fats in the form of oils such as olive oil and flaxseed oil, and whole grains such as brown rice and buckwheat. You can also eat unprocessed meats such as turkey and other game meats. Here are some items available on an elimination diet plan menu.
- Most fruits
- Green veggies (most vegetables are permitted, except for corn)
- Avoiding wheat is important, but the following whole grains are good:
- 100% Rye
- Brown rice or millet bread (as long as there is no wheat or dairy)
- Fresh beans
- Game meats (turkey, lamb, bison, etc.) and fish that is fresh and unprocessed
- Olive oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Herbs and spices
- Nuts (maybe)
Elimination Diet Plan
|Food Group||Foods to Eat||Foods to Avoid|
|Fruits||Almost all fresh fruit||Citrus|
|Vegetables||Almost all vegetables,
plus sweet potatoes and yams,
|Tomatoes, Eggplant, potatoes,|
|Grains||Buckwheat, rye, brown rice,
millet bread, oats, barley, quinoa
|Wheat, corn, spelt|
|Legumes||Fresh beans||Soybeans, tofu, canned beans,
|Nuts/Seeds||Maybe some nuts and seeds, later on||All nuts and seeds|
|Meat||Game meats||Beef, chicken, pork, hot dogs, eggs,
canned meats, sausage
|Dairy||Rice milk, coconut milk||Cheese, milk, yogurt, non-dairy creamers,
|Fats||Olive oil, flaxseed oil|
|Spices/Condiments||Salt, pepper, fresh herbs and spices||Ketchup|
|Sweets||Stevia||Refined sugar, honey, chocolate|
What to Drink during Your Elimination Diet Plan
During your elimination diet, you should be focused on getting the majority of your hydration through water. Water is free of additives and part of a healthy diet, and there is virtually nothing in it that will impact you negatively. If you don’t trust tap water, you can purchase bottled water. Unfortunately, since citrus should be eliminated on the diet, avoid flavoring it with lemons or limes. You can also drink nut milks and non-animal product milks. Test the waters with coffee and tea, and avoid adding any sugar, milk or artificial sweeteners or creamers. It’s also imperative to stay away from soda, alcohol, and other bottled products.
Healthy Elimination Diet Snacks
Who says an elimination diet challenge has to be restrictive? Although it might look like snacking options are slim to none, you can still find a way to tantalize your taste buds over the course of the diet. Snacks that are good for an elimination diet are nuts (that is, if they don’t bother you, of course), plus fruits and veggies. Some specific snack ideas include:
- Blueberries and almonds;
- Cashews and strawberries;
- Sliced apple;
- Coconut water and cashews;
- Carrot sticks;
- Celery sticks;
- Fruit spreads;
- Kale chips;
- Celery with peanut butter and raisins (ants on a log);
- Chia seed pudding; and
- Quinoa and cranberry balls.
Elimination Diet Sample Menu
As you can see, there are a number of ways you can take the challenge out of an elimination diet, because there are still many food options available. Here’s a look at what you can eat at any time of the day.
- Breakfast: Oatmeal with berries and sliced almonds. Add almond milk if you like.
- Lunch: A big salad with avocado, flaxseed and olive oil, and balsamic vinegar dressing. Include any veggies you like, and you can even put on some fresh turkey, salmon, or tuna.
- Dinner: Lamb, quinoa, or even a bison stew full of fresh veggies (just avoid tomatoes). You can also make a bean salad served alongside more vegetables or some game meat or fish of your choice. Roasted sweet potatoes are also a great option at dinner time.
- Dessert: You could make a fresh fruit gelato with almond milk in your blender, or make an oat/almond-butter ball as well.
The key to remember with the elimination diet is that foods cycle back in and out of it over the duration, so your menu will adapt according to your personal reactions and needs as items are reintroduced.
Create Your Own Recipes When Following the Elimination Diet
As you move through the elimination diet, different foods will become available that you can use to create great meals. This is one of the fun challenges about the elimination diet plan. It’s recommended that you start by eliminating one or two groups—say dairy and gluten—while still including nuts and beans. Use these items in your recipes and meal ideas for seven to 10 days and pay attention to any symptoms—fatigue, pain, bloating, etc.
If nothing happens, reintroduce gluten products and other grains to see if the problem comes back. This will allow you to create a menu with certain grains (I’d start with whole grains) to see how you react. As different foods become integrated and eliminated, you can come up with elimination diet recipes to accommodate what’s currently part of your diet plan.
It’s very important that you observe what you can and can’t eat; otherwise you will not be successful. If you’re combining ingredients that you’re supposed to be controlling, it will be impossible to determine what the problem is and what you should avoid to stay healthy. Create shopping lists in advance so that you know what to purchase and use in recipes.
How to Follow the Diet at Restaurants
Eating out is a part of life and it’s almost unavoidable. It’s not particularly easy to do when following an elimination diet, but here are some pointers.
- Be selective of where you eat. Fast-food restaurants are virtually impossible to order from, so avoid them entirely. Stick to restaurants that only offer fresh food.
- Read the menu carefully. You don’t want to ingest something you’re trying to control.
- Ask if you’re unsure. Note: don’t explain your life story to the server or ask redundant information that’s clearly outlined on the menu.
- Stick to salads and ask for your dressing on the side. If you’re ordering any cooked dish, instruct the server to ask that it not be cooked in butter or drizzled with any sauces. Always choose seasonings over sauces.
A Simple Shopping List for the Diet
There are a few items that are must-haves on any elimination diet shopping list, including:
- Filtered water;
- Fish such as sardines, herring, wild salmon, black cod, sole, and cod;
- Farm-raised, organic game meats;
- Lean cuts of fresh meat;
- Fresh or frozen fruit (but not citrus);
- Fresh or frozen green veggies;
- Low-sodium vegetable broth;
- Brown rice;
- Nuts and seeds; and
A Few Things Worth Noting
When you’re on your elimination diet, there are a few things you’ll want to pay close attention to.
- Energy levels: After taking away certain items, are you feeling more energized? Make a note of any changes you notice once certain foods are reintroduced. Keep in mind the first two to three days are the hardest.
- Calories: Make sure your calories aren’t drastically reduced.
- Vegetables: Get at least three servings a day.
- Hydration: Drink eight glasses of water a day.
- Read the labels: Corn starch and other starchy ingredients are in a lot of processed foods—that’s why fresh foods are encouraged.
- Grains: Gluten-free breads still contain grains.
Sources for Today’s Article:
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Walsh, B., “Food sensitivities and intolerances,” Precision Nutrition web site, http://www.precisionnutrition.com/elimination-diet, last accessed March 18, 2016.
Shah, A., “The Easy Way to Figure out if You Have a Food Intolerance,” Greatist web site, June 9, 2015; http://greatist.com/grow/easy-elimination-diet-for-food-intolerance, last accessed March 18, 2016.
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