Consuming foods you’re sensitive to can increase inflammation and contribute to a range of symptoms and conditions. Here is the elimination diet I followed to identify food sensitivities that improved my health and eased my symptoms. Details of the foods I included and avoided, example meal plans & recipes and how I reintroduced foods.
Disclaimer: This post is intended for informational purposes only. I’m not a qualified practitioner and I’m not encouraging anyone else to do an elimination diet. Please consult a qualified practitioner before considering and undertaking an elimination diet or making any changes to your current diet or treatment plan. This post contains affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you I earn commission if you click on a link and make a purchase. See my full disclaimer here.
If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’ll know that since the start of the year after reading:-
- Amy Myers’ book The Autoimmune Solution (UK Link/US Link)
- Tom O’Bryan’s book The Autoimmune Fix (UK Link/US Link)
I’ve been doing an elimination diet to identify food sensitivities.
Elimination diet – first port of call for any symptom/condition?
Nutritionist Tom Malterre recommends an elimination diet to identify food sensitivities as the first port of call when dealing with any symptoms and illness. Consuming foods we’re sensitive to causes inflammation, which can contribute to symptoms and prevent you knowing whether other factors such as infections or mold, are also responsible for symptoms.
What is an Elimination Diet?
An elimination diet, in functional medicine, is the most effective away of determining food sensitivities that may be increasing inflammation, causing a leaky gut, suppressing the immune system and contributing to symptoms, such as dizziness, chronic fatigue and headaches etc.
It involved me:-
- Removing common food allergens/sensitivities for at least a few weeks until my symptoms had improved.
- Replacing them with nutritious unprocessed foods, which reduce inflammation, heal the gut lining and support the immune system.
- Slowly reintroducing one food at a time and observing how I felt.
- This allowed me to identify which foods I can enjoy and which ones are aggravating symptoms and need to continue to be eliminated or limited.
Benefits of an Elimination Diet
1). Identifies Food Sensitivities, which reduces inflammation and eases symptoms
With food allergies/sensitivities, the immune system overreacts and perceives the specific food to be a toxin or threat. In response, the immune system creates inflammation to attempt to destroy and remove the threat from the body (1). Whereas food allergies produce symptoms immediately, like hives, swollen lips and difficulty breathing, food sensitivities are difficult to identify as they can produce a delayed immune response that can take up to 3 days to appear (1; 2). Continued consumption of foods you are sensitive to causes prolonged inflammation, which damages healthy cells and tissues, causing symptoms (1; 2).
An elimination diet allows you to identify which foods you react to. Removing them from your diet allows the immune system to calm down, which reduces inflammation and allows the body to heal and regenerate and function optimally.
Elimination diets have been shown to improve symptoms for those with:-
- Eosinophilic esophagitis (3),
- Irritable bowel syndrome (4),
- Migraines (5),
- Autoimmune conditions (6) and
- Skin conditions (7).
2). Heals leaky gut
80% of your immune system is in your gut. Therefore, a healthy gut is vital not only for physical health, including digestive, cardiovascular, metabolic, skin and hormonal health, but also mental health (1).
A healthy gut has small gaps in its lining which allows water and nutrients to flow through, whilst also blocking toxins and bacteria. If the gut lining becomes weaker, holes can develop, causing a leaky gut. This means the toxins, bacteria and undigested food can now pass through the gut lining into the bloodstream and spread throughout the body, which:-
- Causes inflammation,
- Impairs the absorption of vital nutrients like vitamins and minerals,
- Increases the risk of infections and,
- Can result in the immune system producing an auto-immune response (1).
Removing foods which damage the gut heals the gut lining and consequently strengthens the immune system, relieving symptoms of any inflammatory and auto-immune disease and preventing the development of any further conditions (1; 2).
3). Gives you more energy, both physically and mentally
Chronic inflammation from the continued consumption of foods you are sensitive to increases the energy demands of the immune system, limiting the energy available for rest of the body (8). Eliminating foods from your diet you’re sensitive to reduces the energy demands of the immune system. This increases the energy available for the rest of the body, benefitting you both physical and mentally.
how an elimination diet improved my health
- My heart rate when I stand has lowered from around 120 to 90.
- My dizziness is no longer constant, but I still experience intense episodes.
- My muscle and joint pain and tingling has reduced from 7 to 3, with episodes less frequent.
- I no longer have to rely on compression stockings to stand and walk.
- My nausea is no longer constant and has lessened in severity.
- The only time I experienced intense headaches was when I tried reintroducing nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, white potatoes etc).
- I wake up 2-3 times during the night, rather than every hour.
- I’m still sensitive to light, noise and chemicals.
- I still have flu like symptoms, which intensify every 2-4 weeks.
The elimination diet I followed
There are lots of different versions of elimination diets but below is the one I followed.
elimination diet Step 1). elimination phase – Foods I Ate and Eliminated
Foods I Eliminated
I first removed the following foods, which are either common food allergens/sensitivities, increase inflammation, feed the bad bacteria in the gut or damage the gut lining: –
- Common allergen/food sensitivity,
- Can cause leaky gut and inflammation,
- Causes the protein zonulin to be released, which widens the holes in the gut lining (1).
Butter, buttermilk, cheese, cream, curds, ghee, ice cream, kefir, margarine, milk, sour cream, whey, yoghurt
- Common food allergen/sensitivity,
- Highly inflammatory,
- Conventional dairy contains artificial hormones and antibiotics, which kills the good bacteria in your gut.
- Common allergen and food sensitivity,
- Egg whites contain lysozyme which cannot be digested, so easily passes through the gut lining and enters the bloodstream, causing inflammation (1).
Edamame, miso, soy lecithin, soy milk, soy mince, soy protein powder, soy sauce, tamari, tempeh, tofu
- Top allergen and food sensitivity,
- Contains lectins, which can bind to the gut wall and damage it,
- Contains a large amount of various anti-nutrients, which limits the absorption of vital vitamins and minerals from the food we consume,
- Can disrupt your hormones, which negatively impacts your health (9),
- The majority of soy is genetically modified, which is lower in nutrients and higher in toxins (9).
Refined sugar and artificial sugar substitutes
Cane sugar, white sugar, demerara sugar, brown sugar, saccharin, sweetex, sorbitol, xylitol, erythritol, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, sucrose, aspartame, neotame, sucralose
- One of the most inflammatory foods,
- Increases free radical production, which damages healthy body cells,
- Causes vitamin and mineral deficiencies,
- Feeds the bad bacteria in the gut,
- Suppresses the immune system for a few hours after consumption, reducing the body’s ability to fight viruses, bacteria and other pathogens (9; 10),
- Causes a rapid rise in blood sugar levels, which increases symptoms for those with conditions like dysautonomia and POTS.
Sweetcorn, corn on the cob, high-fructose corn syrup, cornstarch/corn flour
The majority of corn is genetically modified, which is lower in nutrients and higher in toxins.
Grains and Pseudograins
Amaranth, barley, buckwheat, corn, millet, oats, quinoa, rice, sorghum, teff, rye, wheat, spelt
Beans and Legumes
Aduki/adzuki beans, baked beans, black beans, borlotti beans, broad beans, butter beans, cannellini beans, chickpeas, edamame beans, fava beans, flagelot beans, garbanzo beans, great northern beans, haricot beans, kidney beans, lentils, lima beans, lupin beans, navy beans, peanuts, pinto beans, runner beans, snap peas, soy bean, split peas
Nuts and Seeds, including nut/seed butters, flours, milks and oils
Acorns, almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, chia seeds, filberts, flaxseeds, hazelnuts, hemp seeds, hickory nuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, poppy seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts
Aubergine/eggplant, ashwagandha, cayenne pepper, chilli powder, curry powder, golden berries, goji berries, paprika, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, tomatillos.
Grains/pseudograins, beans/legumes, nuts and seeds and nightshades all:-
- Contain antinutrients (lectins, phytates, saponins), which bind to the gut wall lining and damages it by causing large holes to develop,
- Binds to vital vitamins and minerals from our food, preventing our bodies from absorbing them,
- Over time this can potentially lead to deficiencies (1).
Meat, including organ meat and processed meat
Beef, lamb, pork, turkey, chicken, liver, kidney, heart, bacon, hot dogs, jerky, luncheon meats, deli meats, sausages, salami
- All meat has an omega 3:6 fat ratio that falls outside of the ideal 1:1-1:4 ratio.
- Red meat and organ meat is high in saturated fat, which when consumed in excess feeds the bad bacteria in the gut, and simultaneously reduces the number of good bacteria, which suppresses the immune system.
- Processed meat contains inflammatory added sugar, artificial additives and preservatives.
Compared to wild caught fish, farmed fish contains:-
- Higher amount of toxic chemicals,
- Higher amount of saturated fat,
- Higher amount of inflammatory omega 6 fats,
- Lower amount of anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats.
Canola, corn, cottonseed, grapeseed, palm kernel, peanut, rapeseed, safflower, sesame, soybean, sunflower, vegetable
- High in inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids,
- Low in anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids.
Biscuits, cereals, cakes, cookies, flapjacks, muffins, ready meals, pancakes, pastries, pies, pizza, popcorn, pretzels, sausage rolls, scones, shortbread, waffles
- Contain high amounts of added refined sugar, salt, fat and artificial preservatives, additives, colourings and flavourings, which create inflammation and increase the bad bacteria in the gut.
Coffee, tea, matcha tea, green tea, energy drinks
- Increases the level of the stress hormone cortisol, which weakens the immune system,
- Stimulates the nervous system, which can increase symptoms for those with conditions like dysautonomia and POTS,
- Stresses the adrenal glands, which can reduce energy levels,
- Interferes with sleep, which is critical for optimal function and healing (9).
- Causes holes to develop in the gut lining,
- Feeds the harmful bacteria in the gut,
- Increases free radical production, which damages healthy body cells.
All chocolate products and powders (cacao/cocoa powder)
- Contains caffeine,
- Very high in the anti-nutrient phytic acid, which can damage the gut and reduce nutrient absorption,
- Often contains refined sugar, dairy and soy, which can increase inflammation.
Foods I Included
I replaced the above foods with nutritious anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-bacterial foods, which are rich in vitamins and minerals to help reduce inflammation, increase the number of good bacteria in the gut, strengthen and heal the gut lining, rebuild other damaged tissues and support the immune system.
Fruits and Vegetables
- Rich in fibre, antioxidants and various vitamins and minerals, which helps support the immune system, cleanse the body and reduce inflammation,
- High in polyphenols and fibre, which feeds the good bacteria in your gut and binds to toxins to eliminate them from the body,
- To get maximum benefit, I ate a range of different coloured fruit and veg from the rainbow, each of which supports different functions in the body.
Sustainable wild caught fish/seafood (with at least 2 portions of oily fish per week)
- Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, trout, whitebait, sardines, pilchards) is the best source of anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids as well as vitamin B12 and D, which reduces inflammation and supports the immune system.
- However, fish contains mercury, which is toxic to the nervous system in large amounts, so I avoided high mercury fish (bigeye tuna, king mackerel, marlin, shark and swordfish).
- Help absorb fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E & K) from the food we consume,
- Important for hormonal health,
- Help produce bile, which helps eliminate toxins from our body.
Herbs and Spices
- These have anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.
- Contains amino acids, which heals and strengthens the gut lining.
- It can be found in the following foods:-
The following fermented foods increase the number of good bacteria in the gut, which strengthens the immune system (2): –
- Sauerkraut (UK Link/US Link)
- Ruby Kraut
- Water kefir
- Coconut milk kefir (I consumed this in moderation due to the higher saturated fat content)
- Beet Kvass
Ensure these products are raw, organic and unpasteurised. Store bought products can be pasteurised to prolong shelf life, which kills the good bacteria and minimises the health benefits. I ate a range of these foods as each type of fermented food contains and provides you with different types of good bacteria.
Food Swaps for the elimination diet
Eliminating a large number of foods can feel restrictive. In my other blog post I’ve listed 20 Simple Swaps for the eliminated foods and drinks to make the transition easier.
Example Meals for the elimination phase
Below are example meals I had during the elimination phase:-
- Breakfast: Oven Baked “Chocolate” Carob Pancake
- Main: Rainbow Nourish Bowl
- Snack/Dessert: Wild Blueberry & Lemon Energy Balls
It’s common to feel worse for the initial few days to couple of weeks of an elimination diet. When eliminating foods that are causing inflammation and damaging the gut, the body goes through withdrawal, the same feeling you get if you stop drinking caffeine, for example.
Consuming inflammatory foods, and foods I am intolerant/sensitive to, impairs the body’s ability to detox and remove toxins efficiently, which may cause them to accumulate and build up in the body (1; 2). Removing these foods from my diet improves my bodies ability to cleanse and remove toxins, which may result in detox symptoms like:-
- Dizziness/light headedness,
- Brain fog,
- Itchy skin,
- Sleep problems,
- Flu like feelings.
I experienced flu-like symptoms, nausea, headaches, fatigue and worsening of my shakiness and dizziness for the initial couple of weeks. After this my withdrawal reactions eased and I noticed improvements in my health.
elimination diet step 2). Reintroduction Phase
Many people find relief from their symptoms during the elimination phase but the amount of time this takes varies for each individual. Once I got to a point where I saw a noticeable improvement in my symptoms, I then began the reintroduction phase where I add eliminated foods back into my diet one at a time, and monitored if there was any reaction.
Again, there’s different ways of doing this, but I love Will Bulsiewicz’s approach in his book Fiber Fuelled (UK Link/US Link) and The Alter Health’s approach, which is to see your gut like a muscle. You wouldn’t walk into a gym and initially try to squat 100kg, so they recommend starting with a small serving of each eliminated food and not trying to eat a typical serving straight away (for example, don’t initially try to eat half a tin of chickpeas or 80 grams/1 cup of tomatoes).
The process I used was: –
- I made a list of the foods I wished to try and reintroduce back into my diet
- I added one food back into my diet at a time.
- First day – I started with a very small amount, for example:-
- 1 tablespoon of seeds or
- 10 grams/0.25 ounces of tomatoes or beans.
- Second day – If I had no negative reactions after the first day, I increased the amount slightly:-
- 2 tablespoons of seeds or
- 20 grams/0.5 ounces of tomatoes or beans.
- Third day – If I still had no negative reactions after the second day, I increased the amount slightly again:-
- 3 tablespoons of seeds or
- 30 grams/0.75 ounces of tomatoes or beans.
- Fourth to sixth days – I removed the food from my diet for the next 3 days to see how I felt.
- If a certain food produced or worsened symptoms on any day, then I eliminated that food from my diet again and once my symptoms had cleared up, tried reintroducing a different food.
- Otherwise, if after 3 days of removing the food I still had no reaction, then on the seventh day I either:-
- Added the same food back into my diet, increasing the amount slightly again over each of the next 3 days, for example:-
- 40 grams/1 ounce on the first day,
- 50 grams/1.25 ounces on the second day and,
- 60 grams/1.5 ounces on the third day,
- Alternatively, I tried adding a different food back into my diet, repeating the same process as above, for example:-
- 10 grams/0.25 ounces buckwheat on the first day,
- 20 grams/0.5 ounces buckwheat on the second day and,
- 30 grams/0.75 ounces buckwheat on the third day.
- Added the same food back into my diet, increasing the amount slightly again over each of the next 3 days, for example:-
- I repeated the above process for each food I wished to try and reintroduce back into my diet.
- At the end of the process I have a list of foods and the amount of each food I can tolerate and a list of foods I am potentially sensitive to and need to continue to eliminate at the moment.
Soaking and Sprouting Grains, Legumes, Beans, Nuts & Seeds
When reintroducing grains, legumes, beans, nuts and seeds, I found soaking and sprouting them before consumption really beneficial.
Soaking and sprouting them has the following benefits:-
- Reduces antinutrients,
- Maximises the protein, fibre, vitamin and mineral content,
- Increases the absorption of these nutrients,
- Increases digestive enzymes, which aids digestion.
These benefits all make them easier to digest, meaning there’s less risk of them irritating the gut and causing a reaction.
Sprouting at home
Beans & Legumes
For beans and legumes, the following are commonly able to be sprouted at home in a sprouting jar (UK Link/US Link). Make sure you buy organic beans and legumes designed specifically for sprouting as these have been tested to ensure they’re free from harmful bacteria:-
- Chickpeas/garbanzo beans (UK Link/US Link),
- Red Lentils (UK Link/US Link),
- Green Lentils (UK Link/US Link),
- Mung beans (UK Link/US Link),
- Mixed beans (UK Link/US Link).
nuts & seeds
For nuts and seeds, most are just soaked in filtered water with lemon juice/salt for 4-8 hours prior to consumption as they are unable to be or very difficult to sprout.
pre soaked and sprouted grains, nuts & seeds
Some grains, nuts and seeds you can buy already soaked and sprouted, like the following:-
- Sprouted flaxseed (UK Link/US Link)
- Sprouted sunflower seeds (UK Link/US Link)
- Sprouted pumpkin seeds (UK Link/US Link)
- Sprouted almonds (UK Link/US Link)
- Sprouted oats (UK Link/US Link)
- Sprouted buckwheat
- Sprouted quinoa
Sometimes the reaction I could experience when reintroducing a food could be instant or I could experience a delayed reaction up to 3 days after consuming it. This is why it’s recommended to only add one food back into the diet at a time, up to every 7 days (1; 2).
Symptoms/reactions can range in severity from mild to severe, including:-
- Rashes and skin changes
- Joint/muscle pain
- Headaches or migraines
- Brain fog
- Difficulty sleeping
- Changes in breathing
- Stomach pain or cramps
- Sleep problems
- Nasal and chest congestion
- Runny nose
- Changes in bowel habits (diarrhea/constipation)
I kept a journal throughout the whole process, recording the foods and amounts of each food I had eaten and any symptoms to help make tracking which foods I could and couldn’t tolerate easier.
Tom O’Bryan recommends getting blood work done 6 months after reintroductions, as it’s possible to have no symptoms but have reactivated an immune response where you have elevated antibodies, meaning inflammation is developing and attacking healthy cells and tissues again (2).
follow more of my journey on social media
Other health and chronic illness Blog Posts
Click to read my other blog posts with tips and strategies that are helping improve my health and manage chronic illness:-
- Managing Symptoms – 6 Things To Do In Bed
- 10 Free Ways To Improve Your Health
- Morning Routine – 7 Things That Ease My Symptoms In The Morning
- Hydration – 9 Tips To Stay Hydrated
- Anxiety & Stress Relief – 15 Things To Do In Bed
- 12 Vagus Nerve Exercises To Improve Physical & Mental Health
- Toxin Free Lifestyle – 6 Free Ways To Start
- 6 Detox Pathways To Support To Remove Toxins & Help Ease Symptoms
- Herbal Tea For Liver Health
- 15 Easy Ways To Detox Your Home (& How It Can Help Ease Symptoms)
- 10 Tips To Stay Cool & Survive The Summer Heat