It is now much more widely accepted that many undiagnosed health conditions are a result of adverse food reactions. Every person’s body responds to foods differently. Elimination diets are usually used as a process to help to identify foods that trigger symptoms due to sensitivity or intolerance. Many health care practitioners prefer to prescribe an elimination diet rather than doing an allergy test. This is because they are not 100% reliable due to false-positive results but also if you have a low sensitivity then it may not show up in the results. It is not possible to do a test for every type of food possible.
Our gut acts as an interface between food and our body. Food is converted to chemical messages which are sent throughout our body. 70% of our body’s immune system is present in our gut. To protect us from ill effects the immune system is constantly working to rid the body of unwanted substances known as antigens. Immune cells are programmed to identify the antigen and neutralize it before any harm can occur. This is a normal process when we get a cold or flu where our immune system attacks the virus (antigen), and under normal circumstances, we recover without the need for medical treatment.
In an elimination diet, any food that is suspected of causing an allergy or intolerance is either strictly avoided or depending on symptom severity reduced for a period of 1-4 weeks until the symptoms are relieved. Acute and immediate reactions to food are easily identified; however, foods that result in a delayed or ‘masked’ reaction are harder to identify. These reactions may cause a wide range of symptoms e.g. fatigue, sinus congestion, skin rashes, joint pain, indigestion, headaches, anxiety, and depression. The most common foods associated with delayed reactions are wheat, dairy, sugar, eggs, shellfish, and soy products.
Planning an elimination diet
Prior to starting an elimination diet you need to learn how to interpret food labels, ensure that (despite the eliminated food) you continue to have a nutritionally complete diet.
- Drisko J, Bischoff B, Hall M, McCallum R. (2006). Treating irritable bowel syndrome with a food elimination diet followed by food challenge and probiotics. J Am Coll Nutr. 25(6):514-522.
- University of Wisconsin Integrative Medicine. Elimination diet: handout. [accessed: 15th Dec 2015] http://integrativemedicine.arizona.edu/resources.html
- University of Colorado Colorado Springs. Simple elimination diet: handout. 2003. [accessed: 15th Dec 2015) http://www.uccs.edu/Documents/healthcircle/pnc/health-topics/Allergy%20Elimination%20Diet.pdf