When you stop to think about it, a lot goes into one meal. There are the plants and animals that grow from tiny beginnings, the farmers who tend to fields, and the ranchers who care for animals. The processes and journeys that take our food from their origins to our farmer’s markets and grocery stores. The shopping lists we create, recipes we follow, the chopping and cooking, the plating and serving. From seed to plate, our food transforms and travels, and that is only the start of how our food nourishes us.
Today’s guest post from Dr. Sult introduces the concept of an elimination diet. This six-week process has helped many people identify foods that fuel their bodies and make them feel vibrant and healthy. An elimination diet can also give you clarity on the foods that do not serve you… which might be different from the latest diet trend!
Keep reading if you have ever wanted to know the truth about what’s good for you and what’s not. The answer is different for everyone. An elimination diet will help you find a nutrition program that’s personalized for your unique body.
Dr. Tom Sult is board-certified in family medicine and integrative holistic medicine. He practices functional medicine and strives to find the fundamental cause of health issues. Dr. Sult is also an inspirational speaker and author of Just Be Well: A Book For Seekers of Vibrant Health. For more information about Tom and the Just Be Well Movement.
We often talk about good foods and bad foods, even among those that provide nutrition. Legumes, some say, are bad because some people don’t feel well after eating them. Soy has been called bad, with the claim that it interferes with thyroid production.
But these foods aren’t bad. They have nutritional value. The problem is, some people have a bad reaction to them. However, everyone can’t assume they’ll have the same negative reaction. I have patients who react very positively to so-called “bad” foods. Each person’s case is different, and we shouldn’t assume a one-size-fits-all solution.
That’s why, if you’re challenged by chronic health issues, such as arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome — that may be directly related to the foods you eat, an elimination diet can help identify foods that, while not inherently bad, may just be bad for you. Without an elimination diet, followed by a provocation (i.e. re-introducing a food you suspect may be a problem for you), you simply can’t know which foods are currently irritating you. Normally the irritation is related to some gut issue, but occasionally it can be some anti-metabolite. Your sensitivity to that antimetabolite and whether or not it is increasing in your system because of a gut issue determines whether you can eat that food at all, in some moderation or in abundance.
Differences Between Food Allergy and Food Intolerance
Before we go on, it’s important to distinguish between a food allergy and a food intolerance. The former is a severe, possibly life-threatening reaction that comes on suddenly and can be triggered by a small amount of food. Symptoms include a rash, shortness of breath, chest pain, difficulty breathing or swallowing, and a drop in blood pressure.
Food intolerance, in contrast, is not life threatening, and may only happen when you eat a lot of a food, or if you eat it often. With intolerance, your body cannot digest the food properly, resulting in symptoms, including gas and bloating.
If you suspect you have a food allergy, you should eliminate that food from your diet and contact your doctor for allergy testing. Do not attempt to introduce it back in your diet on your own.
On the other hand, if you have symptoms of food intolerance, or have chronic health issues and want to know what foods work and don’t work with your body, this elimination diet can help.
Basics of the Elimination Diet
- The diet lasts six weeks, during which you’ll eat a variety of fresh, delicious, nutritious foods, but will eliminate those that are the most common sources of irritation and illness.
- If your symptoms improve, you can begin to add back one food at a time to test for sensitivity. If you notice no symptoms, you can continue to include that food and gradually add a new food. If you do experience symptoms within ten minutes to twelve hours after adding back a food (i.e. nausea, dizziness, itching, rapid heartbeat), eliminate that food for three months, then try again. You can test new foods every two days.
- One important caveat: if you experience a severe reaction to foods such as shortness of breath, swelling of the tongue, severe dizziness or any sign of anaphylaxis, this indicates the possibility of a serious food allergy. Seek medical attention immediately and do not attempt to reintroduce that food without a doctor’s assistance.
- Keep a journal tracking the foods you add and your body’s reaction.
- Hydration is critical during the elimination process. Drink two quarts (eight eight-ounce glasses) of water a day.
- Try to eat three servings of fresh vegetables, including one dark green or orange vegetable and one raw vegetable per day.
Click here to download a chart that outlines the foods to enjoy in abundance as well as the ones to eliminate, adding back one at a time. The ones listed are the ones most likely to cause reactions.
A few additional tips for a successful process:
As you eliminate specific foods, pay careful attention to make sure the foods you do eat don’t have hidden allergens. Check food labels to ensure you are completely eliminating the specific allergen.
You may not experience the same symptoms in reaction to a food each time, but be aware of any changes in how you feel after you’ve eaten the food.
Even after the elimination diet is completed, continue supporting your system by eating more of the foods on the “Foods to Include” list to enhance your overall health.
If you complete the elimination diet and don’t feel any better, you probably do not have a food reaction. It may be time to talk with a functional medicine doctor to dive deeper into your symptoms and help you get well.
To see this article as it appears on the Just Be Well movement website, click here.
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