Elimination Diets

Elise Deming, RDN

Do you ever wonder if certain foods you eat are the triggers of unpleasant reactions that occur your body? Determining this cause and effect is where an elimination diet is useful.

What Is an Elimination Diet?

There are many elimination diets, but the goal of all of them is to identify foods that may cause unwanted symptoms or distress to the body. During an elimination diet, specific foods are removed for a short period, allowing the body to readjust. These foods are later reincorporated into the diet to determine which triggers a reaction. Foods such as common allergens are typically eliminated. Although every diet varies, the most commonly removed foods include:

  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Gluten
  • Nuts
  • Soy
  • Shellfish
  • Refined sugar
  • Alcohol

Some follow an elimination diet to identify a food allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity, and the list above is usually enough to identify it. These diets are also introduced to combat symptoms such as chronic fatigue, migraines, skin issues like rashes or acne, irritable bowl syndrome, and others. Diets for these ailments are more restrictive, usually removing all GMO-containing foods, citrus fruits, nightshade vegetables, artificial sweeteners, and corn. Always speak with a nutrition professional or allergist before beginning any elimination diet.

How It Works

The logistics of following an elimination diet are straightforward. These diets last for 3 to 6 weeks and have two phases. Working with a dietitian or allergist can help you plan what foods should be eliminated based on symptoms and can ensure foods are removed safely.

Phase 1: Elimination

The first step of the diet is the elimination phase where you omit completely foods that are potential allergens or triggers. This phase lasts for 2 to 3 weeks. During this time, is it crucial to adhere to the diet and not consume the removed foods. Your dietitian will provide a list of foods you can eat in this phase, but safe foods typically include:

  • Most vegetables including greens, zucchini, carrots, cucumbers, green beans, broccoli, and cauliflower
  • All fruits except citrus fruit
  • Meats including salmon, organic chicken, turkey, and mackerel
  • Coconut milk, yogurt, and oil
  • Bone broth
  • Olive oil
  • Gluten-free grains such as quinoa, rice, or buckwheat
  • Water and herbal teas
  • Spices

Phase 2: Reintroduction

The premise of this phase is, after 2 to 3 weeks without the removed foods, the body should have eliminated all remaining traces. In this period, you reintroduce each eliminated food slowly and individually. Consuming small amounts of one food for a day or two allows the body to react to the food and indicates if it is an allergen or trigger. Some recommend eating each food at least two times a day. Symptoms to look for include:

  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Indigestion
  • Heartburn
  • Fatigue
  • Itching or rashes
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Joint pain

Although unpleasant, once you experience any of the above symptoms in the reintroduction phase, you've identified a trigger food. However, it is important to continue slowly reintroducing all eliminated foods; more than one food can cause sensitivities. Once identified, foods not tolerated should be eliminated from your daily diet to avoid the above symptoms.


To be successfu, consider the following tips.

  • Keep a food diary. When reintroducing foods, this will help you remember how you felt eating certain foods and what foods triggered undesirable symptoms.
  • Restrict dining out. Maintaining this diet and eating out can be very challenging as you don't always know what ingredients a restaurant uses. Try to eat out as little as possible during this diet.
  • Plan your meals out. If your meals are planned and food is purchased, you are less likely to break the diet.
  • Cook with spices. Spices are allowed and can help flavor your meals
  • Utilize a dietitian. The diets can be extremely challenging. A dietitian can guide you through step-by-step and ensure you are following it safely.

Is It for You?

The diets are for people who experience reoccurring reactions to the food they eat and cannot identify which food is causing the reactions. This process is a short 6-week diet that can identify which foods trigger unwanted symptoms. It can be effective and done safely if completed with guidance of a medical professional.

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Elimination Diets