The Elimination Diet: A Food-Based Way to Sort Out Your Health

You might think about food allergies in terms of breaking out in hives after eating shrimp. Actually, food allergies are sneakier than that. If you feel bloated after eating bread or drinking milk, you might be reacting to a food allergy. And often, it’s not clear what food (if any) is the culprit. If that’s the case, your doctor may suggest trying an elimination diet.

As the name suggests, this diet has you cut out foods that may be causing negative effects. Then these foods are reintroduced one at a time. This is so you can figure out any reactions they may cause, says Rebecca Trepasso, clinical dietitian at Henry Ford Hospital.

Conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, eczema, inflammation of the esophagus and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder could also have a dietary link. That means if you have one of them, certain foods may trigger or worsen symptoms. While everyone reacts differently to foods, the “big eight” are the foods also the most likely to trigger true food allergies. They include: eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, shellfish, soybeans, tree nuts and wheat.

While people sometimes experiment with diets to help figure out whether they have food sensitivities, Trepasso cautions against trying them without the help of a doctor and dietitian. “You get into murkier water,” she says. “People may end up with 20 or 30 foods they think they’re intolerant to. It’s not as clear-cut as people think. And the problem is people may start to restrict what they eat, and it may lead to nutritional deficiencies.”

Following an elimination diet

It’s important to make sure you give your body time to let it completely eliminate all foods that may cause symptoms. “You have to give your body ‘wash-out time’ to clear your system,” says Trepasso. “Then, you start to reintroduce foods in a systematic way and you keep track of your symptoms, if there are any.”

Talk to your dietitian about foods you can eat — those that aren’t likely to cause reactions — during this elimination phase. They may include things like:

  • White or brown rice
  • Various fresh or cooked fruits (including cherries, grapes and pears)
  • Fresh or cooked green, yellow and orange vegetables (including asparagus, broccoli, lettuce, spinach and squash)
  • Chicken, lamb and turkey — and some cold-water fish like halibut, mackerel and salmon

Add back foods one at a time. Keep notes about what you ate, and when, and any symptoms you experience. Then share your results with your dietitian.

“Your dietitian can help you save time bringing foods back in — and to make sure you’re not over-restricting or spending too long on the diet,” says Trepasso. “You need guidance. An elimination diet that’s done appropriately is short term and is a learning diet.”

After the diet, your dietitian and physician can help you determine the next steps of treatment. “An elimination diet is a starting point for most people,” says Trepasso. “It’s a tool, but just one tool in the toolbox.”

Contact customer service if you have questions about coverage for dietitian services.

Categories: Get Healthy

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