By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
Food is information, and when the body becomes out of balance in an inflamed state, the quality of food becomes even more critical. I am a big fan of a ‘food-first’ approach with health, because it is incredible the impact that dietary changes can make on symptoms like joint pain, migraines, fatigue, skin conditions, bloating, weight and more.
The purpose of an elimination diet is to:
- reduce inflammation
- lower the allergenic load
- identify food triggers
- support a healthy gut microbiome
- promote body awareness to food
One key distinction here, is that there is no calorie restriction or measuring portions. We first want to see what a change in diet does to your symptoms. This is actually the most accurate way to determine food triggers because there is not one perfect test that picks up on the different branches of immune-mediated food reactions (IgG, IgA, IgE), as well as general inflammatory foods and irritants.
Typically, an elimination diet will avoid the following:
- All dairy products
- Gluten-containing grains (wheat, spelt, kamut, barley, rye)
- Processed meats
This may sound like a lot, but it is done for just 3 weeks and then foods are gradually reintroduced. I always provide recipes and meal plans so that this plan can be adapted according to your food preferences – including poultry, including fish, vegetarian or vegan. When you focus on the positive benefits to a modified food plan, and especially when you start to feel better, it becomes much easier to follow through for three weeks. It is extremely important to be well prepared, focus on all of the great foods you can eat, and have an abundance of healthy foods on hand so you don’t feel deprived. It is possible to shift this mindset with a focus on all of the tasty foods you can eat.
Foods that are especially helpful to include when we focus on lowering inflammation include: dark leafy greens, red and blue coloured fruits and vegetables (red cabbage, red onion, berries, red grapes, cherries, plums), spices like ginger, turmeric, garlic, rosemary and oregano, fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, cod, sardines), nuts and seeds (especially almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds).
What most people notice during the three week elimination phase:
- Less body pain
- Better energy levels
- Significant reduction in bloating
- Better mental clarity
- Weight loss (if desired)
- More clear skin
- Better digestion
If you’re having a hard time figuring out what you would eat during this 3 week elimination, here are some examples from the menu plans:
Blueberry, banana, hemp heart, almond butter, almond milk smoothie
Chia pudding topped with almond milk and fresh berries
Overnight oats with chia, almond milk berries and nuts
Big salad with roasted chicken or chickpeas, avocado, olive oil vinaigrette and sweet potatoes
Vegetable lentils soup with side salad and seed crackers
Stir-fried vegetables on brown rice with chicken or beans
Roasted / baked / grilled salmon with quinoa, and steamed greens
Chickpea coconut curry on quinoa with spinach
Veggie chilli with beans and a side salad
fruit with nuts
coconut milk yogurt with berries, cinnamon and nuts
rice or seed crackers with hummus
What you will probably notice is that these meals are all very nutrient dense, high in fibre and high in vegetables and fruits. Regardless of the elimination, you will be providing amazing nourishment to your cells.
Most people are feeling significantly better after just 3 weeks on an elimination diet, and this is the time when we can reintroduce some of the foods to see which ones are problematic. It’s most important to note that you don’t need to stick with this much restriction even if you are feeling much better.
Foods are reintroduced one at a time every 3 days. For example you would choose the first food, eat it 2-3 times in the same day and then wait an addition 48 hours to see if you have a reaction. Reactions may be digestive, joint / muscle aches / headache / congestion / skin / energy / sleep. If there is no reaction, you can continue to eat this food regularly and then move on to the next food.
The elimination diet and then food reintroduction is the most accurate way of personalizing your anti-inflammatory food plan. It also shows you directly what kind of impact the foods you have been eating are having on your body – both positively and negatively, making it easier to stick with the plan long-term without feeling deprived.
If you are interested in starting an elimination diet, please ask at your next appointment. It is really incredible how powerful food can be to turn on and off inflammation in the body, and always a good idea to start with food first. In some cases the elimination plan is customized – for example it may be more paleo for some people, and more vegan for others. Let’s see what an impact 3 weeks of a new nutrition plan can make!