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photo of the most common food allergy triggers: nuts, eggs, fish, shellfish, legumes and wheat

Should you try an elimination diet?

If you suspect you may have a food intolerance or allergy, could an elimination diet help?

“An elimination diet is a way to identify foods that may cause adverse reactions,” says Lena Beal, MS, RDN, LD, a therapeutic dietitian at Piedmont. “If you suspect you have a food intolerance or allergy, you can eliminate the food from your diet for a certain period and then reintroduce it to see if it elicits the same response.”

Beal notes that all children and those with known food allergies should do elimination diets only under the supervision of a physician.

Food allergy and intolerance symptoms

Food allergy and intolerance symptoms to watch for include:

  • Rashes and skin changes

  • Joint pain

  • Headaches or migraines

  • Fatigue

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Changes in breathing

  • Bloating

  • Stomach pain or cramps

  • Changes in bowel habits

The difference between a food intolerance and a food allergy

“A food intolerance is when the body has trouble absorbing or digesting a certain food. An intolerance can sometimes be eliminated by using a probiotic or a motility medication,” says Beal. “If you’re lactose-intolerant, you could try lactose-free dairy products or take lactase enzyme pills to aid digestion.”

An allergy, on the other hand, affects the immune system and could cause severe or life-threatening symptoms says Beal. Symptoms can include:

  • Stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea

  • Rashes and skin changes, like eczema, hives and swelling

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Dizziness or fainting

  • Anaphylaxis, a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction

If you have these symptoms, contact your primary care provider or call 911 if you or someone you know has a severe reaction.

How to do an elimination diet

To do an elimination diet, Beal recommends choosing one or two potential triggers and cutting them out of your diet for two to three weeks.

“An elimination diet should only be done for a short amount of time,” she says. “Long-term restrictions of any type can cause nutritional deficiencies.”

The most common triggers include:

  • Wheat and gluten

  • Dairy

  • Eggs

  • Soy

  • Fast food

  • Alcohol

After two to three weeks, Beal recommends adding a new food group every three days. Start with one recommended serving size per day. If your symptoms return within three days, you may be allergic or intolerant to that food or beverage.

“If you don’t experience any symptoms during the three-day reintroduction period, you can move on to the next food group,” says Beal.

If, after doing an elimination diet, you think you may be allergic or intolerant to a certain food or food group, consult with a health care provider or dietitian.

“A dietitian can offer guidance on how to adjust your dietary habits and get all of the nutrients you need,” she adds.

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