27 Oct The Amazing Health Benefits Of The Elimination Diet
Specific foods or commonly eaten foods could be causing a whole host of health conditions, including digestive problems, headaches, low energy, depression, mood swings, eczema, joint aches, asthma, weight gain, and many more. Perhaps you’ve had one or more of these symptoms for years, but haven’t considered the fact that certain foods that you’re habitually consuming could be the cause.
What is the Elimination Diet?
The elimination diet, as the name implies, is based on removing common foods that people tend to be sensitive to. Unfortunately, these foods are usually things we most often consume, such as wheat, dairy, eggs, nuts etc, so the elimination diet can be quite challenging.
Many people who manage to strictly follow the diet for a period of 3 weeks report feeling improvements in many symptoms, such as increased energy and mental alertness, fewer headaches, less muscle or joint pain, fewer and milder GI symptoms, and a general sense of improved well-being. These people often say they didn’t realise how bad they were feeling until they experienced what it was like to feel healthy and revitalised again. Gone are all the symptoms that had been plaguing them for years on end. People feel so good after this diet that they actually continue on it indefinitely!
How does it work?
It reduces inflammation
I’m not talking about the necessary type of inflammation that repairs damaged tissues. If you’ve turned an ankle and it becomes red and swollen, that’s inflammation doing its job, and it’s serving a purpose.
What doesn’t serve any beneficial purpose in what is known as ‘chronic low-grade inflammation’. This type of inflammation is ongoing and unrelenting because it’s constantly reacting to what it considers a threat to your body. Chronic inflammation is a result of ‘leaky gut’. Large, undigested food particles squeeze through the gaps in the gut wall (aka intestinal barrier) and cause an immune reaction.
This will happen indefinitely unless the gut wall is given a chance to heal itself, so it can properly digest the food you’re eating, and prevent foreign compounds from leaking through. That’s where the elimination diet comes in. By removing the common triggers that irritate the gut wall, it allows time for it to repair itself, and serve its proper function.
The importance of this healing process cannot be overstated. If chronic inflammation is allowed to continue, not only will your current symptoms persist, but the immune system will become so overburdened and reactive, that it will start attacking your own body tissues, resulting in autoimmune conditions.
It supports a healthy microbiome
A healthy population of gut microbes, or gut flora is essential for health. There are good guys (beneficial bacteria) and bad guys (pathogenic bacteria), and also microbes that are just looking for an opportunity to dominate (opportunistic bacteria). It’s not possible to get rid of all the bad guys that live inside our gut. What we have to do is make sure they are outnumbered by the good guys, who can keep them in check. Beneficial bacteria provide so many health benefits that directly impact us, it’s hard to know where to start. For one thing, if we have a healthy microbiome that is populated with beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, the chronic, low-grade inflammation, and all its downstream consequences discussed above – all that stuff doesn’t happen. The reason is because beneficial bacteria protect the gut wall, and they communicate with the immune cells to create an environment of tolerance and understanding, so the immune system doesn’t overreact to everything ‘foreign’ that it sees. Beneficial bacteria will make sure the cells that make up the gut wall are tightly knitted together, so large protein fragments cannot squeeze through.
Because the elimination diet is based around eating healthy whole foods, and eliminating refined and processed sugary foods, this will ensure that the beneficial bacteria are getting the food they need to thrive, while the pathogenic bacteria, and yeasts, which tend to like sugar, are going hungry, so they gradually die off. You have to imagine these microbes only live for a few days, so there is a very fast turnaround going on all the time. That is why our diet can have such a profound impact on the composition of our microbiome in such a short amount of time. This is obviously a double-edged sword. While eating healthily for a few days can increase our beneficial flora, eating and drinking junk foods can have the opposite effect.
It provides phytonutrients to heal the gut
The word phytonutrients basically translates as ‘plant-based nutrients’.
Phytonutrients are what give vegetables their amazing variety of bright colours. They are packed full of antioxidants, so they can prevent damage to cells and help reduce inflammation. They can also aid in detoxification and help reduce our response to stressful situations.
You’ll want to eat plenty of brightly coloured vegetables on this diet. If you’re not really a veggie-lover, consider this: the food you like or dislike is dictated to you by your microbiome. Yes, you heard that right! It is your gut microbes that send messages to your brain to induce cravings for the type of food that they want. So if you have been eating a lot of sugar, chances are you’ll have many types of yeasts living in your gut, because they love sugar. These guys will keep sending messages to your brain to continue eating sugar. On the other hand, reducing sugar intake will reduce the dominance of yeast in your gut, which in turn will reduce cravings for sugar. Replacing sugary foods with whole foods, such as brightly coloured veggies will improve the numbers of beneficial bacteria, and they will send signals to continue eating the food that helps them thrive. So, initially, if you’re not finding the veggies enjoyable, try to persist, and over the course of the diet (3-4 weeks), you might see a positive change in how you approach a whole-food diet. It doesn’t need to be boring, or bland or restrictive. There are plenty of ways to make it nutritious and tasty, and
we give all our patients the recipes and resources that make following an elimination diet as easy as possible.
So what can you eat?
I touched above on the importance of whole food, such as meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. There is no restriction on these foods. The parts most people find restrictive are cutting out dairy and cutting out wheat, which contains gluten.
Let’s look at the problem of cutting out dairy first, and see if there are workarounds that might be appealing to you.
Nowadays, dairy alternatives are everywhere. The hard part is choosing which alternative you like best! Milk made from nuts, such as almonds, flaxseed, hazelnut, or coconut can be found in most supermarkets. They tend to be more expensive than regular milk. Often these milk contain added sugars, so be careful to select the unsweetened version (which also tends to be cheaper).
Also, since butter is not an option, you can try using ghee. Ghee (sometimes called clarified butter) is technically dairy-based, but since all the milk proteins have been removed it’s fine to eat on this diet. Ghee is actually a great source of butyric acid, a short-chain fatty acid with amazing benefits for gut health and gut-immune communication.
This is a tricky one for most people, since it excludes breads, cereals, crackers and pastas that contain gluten. However, there are still plenty of gluten-free whole grains that are allowed on the diet, and these provide a good source of fibre.
Oats are strictly speaking gluten-free, but there are issues with cross-contamination with gluten-containing products, so if you’re thinking of eating oats on the diet, do so with caution and perhaps with oats that are certified gluten-free. Amaranth can be used in place of oats if you want to play it safe. They take slightly longer to cook, but you can pre-soak them overnight to shorten the cooking time.
Click on the resources link above to find resources on gluten-free and dairy-free options, so I would encourage you to check those out.
To sum up, don’t accept the niggling (and not so niggling) symptoms that are compromising the joy you should be getting from life. We at NatMed want you to feel empowered to live your best life, and to be your best self. Making some small sacrifices in your diet for a few months can often be the ideal reset for many people plagued with the symptoms outlined at the top of this blog.
If you want to get a greater understanding of why you are experiencing gut dysfunction. Book in for a FREE 15 minute scoping session and I can answer your questions and help guide you back to optimal wellness.