What is an elimination diet?

Sarah Worden
Nutrition & Dietetics
An elimination diet is often recommended when trying to pin down the cause of a possible allergy. While there are many tests out there to test for allergies, an elimination diet, when done correctly, is the one of the best ways to identify the culprit of a food allergy or intolerance. This diet is done by eliminating possible trigger foods, particularly the foods that are typically allergens including: Wheat and gluten, dairy, eggs, nuts, fish, shellfish and soy. A person should plan to stay on a complete elimination diet, avoiding all possible trigger foods, for about 4 days. After that initial elimination, trigger foods will be eaten one at a time, including one particular trigger food 3 times during a day, unless, of course, a reaction occurs! 

During this diet, a food diary should be kept where all foods that are eaten are recorded and any side effects or reactions are noted. After introducing a food, the individual should plan to go back on the complete elimination diet for 2-3 more days, continuing to record foods and negative reactions in a food diary. One will continue this process of introducing possible trigger foods until the food causing the allergy or intolerance is identified. For a teen, it is important that this diet is monitored by a Registered Dietitian or physician to ensure the proper balance of nutrients are being provided during the elimination period.
If you suspect that your child becomes uncomfortable after eating certain foods (i.e. dairy), you might try working with your health care provider to determine what those foods are by eliminating the suspects one at a time (elimination diet). Be aware that this is a way to manage a food intolerance, not an allergy.
Elimination diets involve removing foods or ingredients in foods that may be causing a sensitivity or allergy. After removing these foods, you will gradually introduce foods one by one to see if there is a reaction. Eliminiaton diets are generally medically supervised by a doctor or dietitian. 
William B. Salt II., MD
An elimination diet requires that you eliminate most foods from your diet initially while maintaining a careful diary. Food groups are then gradually reintroduced into the diet, and you observe and record your reactions in the diary. An elimination diet may help you identify unsuspected triggers.  

If you try an elimination diet, remember the following:
  • Keep a careful diary.
  • Do not rely upon your memory. If you are going to go to the trouble of trying an elimination regimen, then you must take the time to record your reactions in writing and analyze them afterward.
  • Psychological stressors and emotional upset might be playing an important role in your symptoms. Therefore, you might incorrectly implicate a food when the problem is really that symptoms are occurring in relationship to your stress response. This is why a diary in which you also include your emotional state of mind can be helpful.
  • Prepackaged and processed foods can contain unsuspected triggering foods and substances. There are some exceptions, such as carefully prepared organic foods, but a good rule of thumb to remember is, "fresh is best."
  • The amount of food eaten may matter. In other words, small amounts of a food may not be a problem, while larger amounts may. So make note of the quantity of food that you eat.
  • Some foods may only act as a trigger when eaten alone and not when eaten with other foods.
  • Strictly avoid alcohol, caffeine and coffee during the elimination diet trial.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome & the MindBodySpirit Connection: 7 Steps for Living a Healthy Life with a Functional Bowel Disorder, Crohn's Disease, or Colitis (Mind-Body-Spirit Connection Series.)

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Irritable Bowel Syndrome & the MindBodySpirit Connection: 7 Steps for Living a Healthy Life with a Functional Bowel Disorder, Crohn's Disease, or Colitis (Mind-Body-Spirit Connection Series.)

Fast Facts on IBS: One in five people suffers from the frustrating symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). There is no simple answer--no pill, potion, or quick fix--that will cure IBS. But help...

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.