Food intolerances and allergies are one of the fastest-growing health concerns today, and it’s estimated that roughly 20% of the population in the western world is affected by either of these conditions. An allergy is an immune reaction to a protein component in specific foods. This causes a massive release of histamine, which gives rise to itching, swelling and anaphylactic reactions. An intolerance is a reaction within the digestive tract, or other body organs, not the immune system. The response can take hours to develop and includes things like stomach pains, diarrhoea, headaches and skin rashes.
Addressing the various factors that influence the development of an intolerance or allergy, along with a therapeutic elimination diet (and gradual reintroduction), can potentially decrease the intolerance or allergic reactions that previously occurred. This is done with the aim of improving a persons quality of life, and also to avoid any long term restrictive diets that can cause nutrient deficiencies. Elimination diets can be a valuable part of a food intolerance or allergy management plan.
An elimination diet is basically the removal of certain foods from your diet, usually those that have been identified as potential problem foods. However, if you have no idea which foods are causing issues, or if you seem to react to everything, then removing a wide range of foods can be most beneficial. The foods are removed for up to 4 weeks, and then slowly reintroduced one at a time. This allows you to see if your body reacts to them upon reintroduction. The whole process usually takes approximately six weeks, but can take a lot longer if your case is complicated.
The elimination diet is regarded as the gold standard in food intolerance and sensitivity circles, and it allows you to experience firsthand the results that certain foods have on your system. This is very empowering and will enable you to then make decisions about which foods to consume or not.
Often the reason for our symptoms is on our plates. We are having reactions to the foods that we are eating, and unless we challenge this, we may not find out which foods are the problem. Many of us feel subpar all the time, and we think this is normal. We may lack energy, have achy bodies, foggy brains, and we don’t know how good we are designed to feel. Some other symptoms that can be caused by food intolerances include:
This is just the tip of the iceberg, as food intolerances can impact every system in the body and produce a myriad of different symptoms. Undertaking an elimination diet is one of the first approaches that you can take if you are experiencing any kind of gastrointestinal symptoms, or any of the symptoms listed above.
We have three main barriers of entry into the human body, and they are the respiratory tract, the skin and the digestive tract. As individuals, we react to the foreign matter that enters our body through the above channels in unique ways. These range from no reaction at all, to a severe anaphylactic reaction. The level of response we have is our ‘tolerance’ level.
The steps of a healthy elimination program include;
Step 1 – Rest – elimination phase.
Step 2 – Reset – specific herbal and nutritional medicines help to reset the health of your gut and microbiome. Theoretically allowing you to tolerate more foods than before.
Step 3 – challenge – reintroduce foods one at a time and assess reactions.
Okay, so elimination diets can be daunting, especially when you learn that the most effective way to do one is to remove the most amount of foods initially. However, there are still plenty of foods to choose from in the elimination/rest phase. This initial phase is called ‘rest’ because it gives your digestive system a rest from many foods. Hopefully, this includes the ones that may be causing your symptoms. The rest phase aims to remove any inflammation that affects the digestive barrier and is causing overactive immune stimulation.
The foods that are removed are selective to each individual, which is why we are not providing a list here. You can find lists on the internet, but an individually tailored approach is what works best.
Please note, the purpose of an elimination diet rest phase is NOT to remove the foods forever, so don’t worry. The aim is to remove them for up to 4 weeks, and then slowly reintroduce them to find out which foods your body does well with, and which it doesn’t, and at what amounts (your tolerance level).
Foods are reintroduced only after all of your symptoms are eliminated, which can take up to 4 weeks. If you find that this approach does not eliminate your symptoms, they may be caused by something other than food intolerance, in which case further investigation with a doctor/naturopath is recommended.
The reset phase uses strategically prescribed nutrients, herbal medicines and probiotics to improve the strength and function of the digestive tract and immune system. This aims to increase a person’s overall tolerance levels, which are tested in the third phase, called challenge.
This phase (all of the phases) needs to be undertaken with a Naturopath or Nutritionist. Who will prescribe you specific supplements and probiotics suited to your individual situation. This is very important in order to achieve the highest level of healing possible for you.
Elimination diets are considered the benchmark in modern food intolerance treatment options. This approach offers a phased approach to eliminating specific identified trigger foods from a person’s diet, and then gradually reintroducing them with the aim of identifying and improving food intolerances. A person’s tolerance level to their trigger foods refers to the amount of that food they can consume before they react to it.
There are 3 main stages to an elimination diet, which we discuss in detail within this article.
These stages are the rest and eliminate stage, where foods are eliminated. The body has a chance to heal from the inflammatory symptoms bought on by food.
The reset stage, where further healing is done to reset the health of the digestive and immune systems.
Lastly the challenge phase, which is where eliminated foods are reintroduced in a carefully planned way.
If the desired results are not achieved in these 3 phases, then a maintenance phase can be entered into as a long-term healthy way to manage intolerances. It allows for a varied and nutrient dense diet that works within a person’s tolerance levels. Which is the ultimate aim of the elimination diet.