An Elimination Diet for Food Sensitivities

A Modified Diet that Eliminates Your Most Likely
Food Culprits – Without Starving!
© Dane Roubos, D.C.

Halfway through the stressful program at chiropractic college in 1981, I began suffering from intense allergy-like symptoms. Feeling curious and somewhat desperate, I went on a juice fast for 3 days to see if foods were involved.

I was greatly relieved to find that my runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes and fatigue completely disappeared. Of course, I was still left with the task of identifying which foods were causing the problem. That wasn't easy in those days, as there were no reliable lab tests for food allergies. A classmate used muscle-testing to help me get started on a safer diet.

Common Symptoms of Food Intolerance
Reactions to particular foods are far more common than most people realize. In my practice, I've noticed a big increase in the prevelance of food reactions in my cleints over the years. I believe the increasing environmental toxicity, pesticide usage, GMO's in the food supply, under-nutrition due to poor food quality and choices, and generally increasing stress have all contributed to the increase in food reactions in our population.

I suspect that most people have some sort of food intolerance, whether they are aware of it or not. The reactions have to exceed the body's ability to adapt to the situation before we notice any symptoms.

Reactions to the foods we're eating can affect any system in our body, and cause almost any symptom you could think of. We commonly think of sneezing, itchy eyes and skin rashes, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Here's a list that might surprise you, because these are just the symptoms related to our nervous system and mental function:

Inability to think clearly, negative thoughts or feeling crabby when waking, difficulty waking up, insomnia, bad dreams, light headedness, twitching, memory loss, stammering, math and spelling errors, feeling "blank," delusion, hallunination, self-harm, convulsions, intoxication, hyperactivity, tension, restlessness, fidgeting, restless legs, anxiety, panic attacks, irritability, uncontrollable rage, breaking things, feeling speedy, depression, brain fog, withdrawn, melancholy, confusion, crying, and lack of confidence.

The Gold Standard Test
A rigorous elimination diet has been the "gold standard" for food allergy testing for decades. It's started with a basic diet limited to foods that are usually safe. If your symptoms clear up, you know your problems were related to your diet.

To find out what was causing the trouble, you then reintroduce foods one or two at a time until the symptoms return. But here's the catch: certain types of reactions to food can be delayed for up to 5 days! The process can also be tedious, time-consuming, and emotionally challenging for some people to do.

I usually use  either Applied Kinesiology (an advanced form of muscle testing) or a certain blood test panel to identify likely food reactions. This makes it easier to navigate the elimination part of the program. You then embark on a modified elimination diet, similar to the one below. If food allergy was the main problem, the food was accurately identified, and you didn't cheat on your diet, you will usually start feeling better within a week. Please see Food Allergy Testing for more information on these methods.

The minimum Trial Period is 7 days, and a 14 day period is recommended.
It usually takes about 5 days for all traces of offending foods to be eliminated from your body. The actual time required depends on several factors, like how quickly things move through your digestive tract, and how will your liver, gall bladder and kidneys are working. 

The most accurate elimination diet is actually a plain water fast, but that has many inherent problems and I don't recommend it for such a long period. People can be allergic to anything, but following this diet works very well for most people.

Three Common Mistakes that Can Cause Your Elimination Diet to Fail
It's a shame to go through the effort required to do a test like this, and miss out on the life-changing benefits it has to offer! Unless you're an extremely lucky person, making any of these mistakes will doom your test:

  1. Short-Cutting. Trying to make it easier by only eliminating one food, like wheat, may not change anything for you, even if you're reactive to it. This happens when you're also reactive to one or more additional foods, which were not eliminated. Your reaction to the other foods can mask any improvement you might have gained from avoiding the wheat. Short-Cutting includes failure to eliminate your favorite "comfort" food, or any food you experience cravings for. These are actually the foods you are most likely to react to. But you will only notice the reaction once you've stopped eating that food for a period of time. Otherwise, your body is adapted to the stress and stimulation that food has been causing behind the scenes. You will discover what you've been "missing out on" when you do your "challenge" testing! That's when it becomes clear what you've unknowingly been doing to yourself all this time!
  2. Assuming that "a little bit won't hurt!" If you're dealing with an allergy, it only takes a few molecules of an allergic food to trigger your immune system into a "red alert" defense mode, which in turn causes your unpleasant symptoms. There are other types of reactions which may be less sensitive, but you won't know until you experiment a bit. That can come later, in the challenge phase. Until then, you can safely assume that "a little bit won't hurt" will be the kiss of death for your experiment.
  3. Not ensuring that you have adequate support from the important people in your life. Because our relationship with food often has a strong emotional component, we need emotional support when we're giving up our "comfort" foods. One of the most important people in your life is you, and especially that little girl or boy who still lives inside you. You might need their cooperation to succeed in this experiment. Most of us began our relationship with comfort foods during childhood. Before you start your elimination diet, you can get together with your inner child to enjoy a special celebration of how your comfort food has served you over the years. It would be fun to do this with a friend, who would like to join you in this program. First, get an idea of how the food has helped you cope with certain life challenges. What "needs" has it helped you with? Now, get creative with your "team" and brain-storm some alternative ways to meet those needs. When you're planning your elimination diet, be sure to include these alternatives in your support system.

The Most Common Allergens – the "Big Three" and Others
Cow's milk or its derivatives, such as cheese, butter yogurt, kefir, etc. are extremely common allergens. Goat milk might be OK, but it's best to wait until the trial period is over before trying it. Blood type “O” people are more likely to have a sensitivity to milk products. All milk products can cause heavy mucus, though this doesn't necessarily mean there is an allergy. Aside from allergies, pasteurization, homogenization, and hormones are other problems with cow's milk, unless you can find it organic and raw (now illegal in some states)

Wheat and Gluten
About one out of every ten people is thought to be gluten-sensitive. Personally, I suspect the real incidence is greater than that. According to Neurologist David Perlmutter, MD, in his book Grain Brain, modern research has implicated gluten as a causative or contributing factor in many common illnesses.

Perhaps you have a condition in which gluten sensitivity is playing a significant role. Here's a list from Grain Brain that will probably stun you if you haven't heard of this before. NOTE: The more serious diseases may require several months of gluten elimination before significant improvement is experienced, and improvement could be limited in advanced conditions.

Wheat also contains opiate-like compounds which compete with our body's natural "endorphins." This means that wheat can have an addictive quality, which generates cravings when you try to withdraw from it. Some people experience withdrawal symptoms, and others do not. Don't worry, though, because there are natural ways to help you deal with any cravings.

Surprising Signs of Gluten Sensitivity: ADHD, alcoholism, ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), anxiety, ataxia (easy loss of balance), autism, autoimmune disorders (such as diabetes, Hashimoto's, thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis and others), bone pain/osteopenia/osteoporosis, brain fog, cancer, chest pain, constantly getting sick, dairy intolerance, delayed growth, depression, digestive disturbances (gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, cramping, etc), heart disease, hives/rashes, infertility, irritable bowel syndrome, malabsorbtion of food, migraines, miscarriages, nausea/vomiting, neurological disorders (dementia, Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, etc)parkinsonism, seizures/epilepsy & sugar cravings.

Gluten is in the majority of grains, and a host of other common foods, cosmetics and other things. Please read the lists below – it will blow your mind! Commercial oats often have some wheat mixed in, so you will need to use "Certified Wheat Free" Oats if you want to include them.  

Foods That Often Contain Gluten: baked beans (canned), beer, blue cheese, bouillon/broth, cereals, chocolate milk, cold cuts, communion wafers, egg substitute, energy bars, flavored coffees & teas, French fries, fried veges/tempura, fruit fillings & puddings, gravy, hot dogs, ice cream, imitation bacon/crab, etc, instant hot drinks, lunchmeats, ketchup, malt/malt flavoring, malt vinegar, marinades, mayonnaise, meatballs/meatloaf, non-dairy creamer, oats or oat bran (unless certified gluten-free), processed cheese, roasted nuts, root beer, salad dressings, sausage, seitan, soups, soy sauce, syrups, tabbouleh,  teriyaki, trail mix, veggie burgers, vodka, wheatgrass & wine coolers!

Ingredients That Often Contain Gluten: amino peptide complex, Avena Sativa (wild oats), brown rice syrup, caramel color, cyclodextrin, dextrin, fermented grain extract, hydrolysate, hydrolyzed malt extract, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, maltodextrin, modified food starch, natural flavoring, phytosphingosine extract, Secale cereale, soy protein, Triticum aestivum, Triticum vulgare, vegetable protein (HVP) & yeast extract!

Miscellaneous Sources of Gluten: cosmetics, lipsticks & balms, medications, non-self-adhesive stamps & envelopes, Play-Doh, shampoos & conditioners, vitamins & supplements (unless stated otherwise on label)!

Yes, it's in almost all packaged foods (that means almost everything that comes in a can, box or package, unless it claims to be gluten-free, and even then you can't be sure!

Grains & Starches That Contain Gluten: barley, bulgur, couscous, farina, graham flour, kamut, matzo, rye, semolina, spelt, triticale, wheat, wheat germ.

So, how do you avoid gluten? Your best bet is to prepare all of your own food from scratch, without using any of the ingredients mentioned above. This isn't bad once you get used to it – I've been doing it for decades. You can use the following grains and starches as part of your elimination diet. If you also want to loose weight, I'd suggest you adopt a low-starch (low carbohydrate) diet. Grain Brain will take you through the reasons why, and help you through the process.

Grains & Starches That Are Gluten-Free: amaranth, arrowroot, buckwheat, corn, millet, potato, quinoa, rice, sorghum, soy, sweet potato, tapioca, teff and yam. Oats should be okay if they're certified gluten-free.

Avoid soy carefully, as it's a common allergen and is found in almost everything that comes in some kind of packaging.  Watch the labels on packaged foods!  Most Vitamin E is made from soybeans. I've done well with "Ultimate E" from Thorne Research.  Thorne products are carried by many chiropractors and some pharmacies.

I strongly recommend that all packaged foods be avoided for the trial period, because they usually contain one or more of the "Big Three." There is no guarantee that the label is truthful or accurate. Wait until the "challenge phase" to try anything that comes in a can, box, or other packaging. That will be the "moment of truth!"

Other common allergens (avoid completely for two weeks):
Nightshades (peppers, eggplant, regular potatoes, tomatoes, paprika, cayenne and Gogi Berries)
Citrus – usually oranges, but sometimes lemons & limes
Nuts, cashews (not really nuts) and peanuts. Cashews, peanuts and their "nut butters" may have hidden mold.
MSG (usually hidden under other names, like natural flavoring, etc. Cooked or canned tomato products are high in natural MSG)
NutraSweet, and other artificial sweeteners

Unfortunately, your most favorite food is often a problem, especially if you crave it!

Also avoid sugar, mayonnaise, and wine or booze of any kind.  This would include common products like salad dressings and protein bars (they almost always have milk, wheat, oats or soy).

Avoid protein shakes because most have either soy or whey as their protein source. These are common allergens and could blow your test. You might be OK with a rice protein source, but it should be tested first to make sure (competent muscle-testing should be an adequate test). Rice Dream products have been known to cause reactions in people with cow's milk allergies.

More About Nuts
I recommend you avoid nuts and seeds for this two week period. Reactions to tree nuts, peanuts and various seeds are fairly common – especially peanuts, which are not really nuts, but a legume. Peanuts are a very common allergen, and are known to harbor mold because of the way they are processed and stored.

Also avoid cashews (which aren’t really nuts).  They are prone to mold, which is rarely visible.  Almonds are also prone to mold. Both cashews and almonds have a higher fat content than most nuts, which tends to go rancid.

If you really need to eat something from this category, you could try some sprouted raw sunflower seeds – just enough to see the little rootlets coming out the bottom of the seeds. This takes less than an hour.

Use These Generally Safe Foods for Your Trial Period – But Note the Exceptions

The first foods I've listed under each group are the least allergenic foods, and are safe for most people.  A few people may be reactive to some of the foods on this list, so it is not 100% foolproof.  It is important to use relatively fresh, organic food which you have prepared yourself so you know what's in it.

Here are some allergen-free recipes, with a section on adaptation for certain food sensitivities.  This may be especially helpful if you are not used to preparing whole, natural foods from scratch.

It is wise to avoid GMO foods, and foods with chemicals such as preservatives and pesticides in general, and especially during the elimination diet.  Before you begin your program, please see "Hazards Along the Way" below for some important tips.

Brown rice is usually the foundation of elimination diets, and millet is the other grain – neither have gluten (as do most of the rest).  Food for Life makes a nice brown rice bread, and they have a millet bread as well.  If you don't do well with brown rice, you can try white rice, or better yet – millet, for the test period. A large percentage of people do better when they avoid grains in general, and wheat in particular.

Some people are reactive to legumes, especially soy. To be safe, I recommend eliminating all legumes in the beginning.  If you want to try other legumes, it's best to wait until you've been on the "test phase" for  seven days.  After that, you could try sprouted legumes, like mung bean, lentil or alfalfa, which are the easiest to digest.

If you want to try cooked legumes, you can do so after making sure the sprouts are OK. For this purpose, I suggest mung dahl, which is easier to digest.  You can probably find it in your local food co-op. People with type A blood seem to do better with legumes than the other blood types.

Carrots, celery,  chard, zucchini,  lettuce, spinach, bok choy, sweet potatoes, yams, onions & garlic are rarely a problem for most people.

The NIghtshade family (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, cayenne and paprika) should be eliminated for at least 2 weeks. I've read a report by one doctor that these foods could cause problems with arthritis up to 5 months after being consumed. If you have arthritis, and want to take it that far, winter would be a good time to try it – the tomatoes aren't so good then!

The "coles" (broccoli, kale, cabbage, collards, brussels sprouts and mustard greens) have a reputation for causing bowel gas or other digestive discomforts. Eliminate them for 2 weeks as well.

It's best to avoid fruit if yeast (candida) is a possibility, which it might be if you are sensitive to mold. Organic mango, pears, or blueberries are rarely a problem for people.

After a week on the trial elimination diet, you can try organic apples and bananas (non-organic bananas are usually loaded with toxic fungicides, and regular commercial apples are highly sprayed and one of the more toxic fruits. Grapes and raisins contain fungicides unless organically grown. Regular grapes are considered the most toxic fruit.

Avoid all citrus fruits for the 2 week period. They are common allergens.

Free-range or organic, unprocessed (other than grinding) turkey, chicken, or lamb.  Type Blood type “A” people are more likely to have trouble with red meats.

Sea salt, white pepper (black pepper may contain mold), organic olive oil or coconut oil are OK. No vinegar, mayonnaise  or regular salad dressings. You can make a nice substitute for vinegar or lemon juice, by grinding fresh cranberries with an equal amount of organic apples in a food processor.

I highly recommend you do not use "Canola" Oil (at any time). It is found in a lot of "health food" products, and actually has toxic constituents. Its real name is rapeseed oil, and its common use in the food industry is the result of a big PR campaign and cover-up of its true nature.

Water and Other Beverages
For the duration of the elimination phase, I reccommend that you drink lots of pure water, and nothing else!

However, I recommend you avoid tap water and most bottled water, due to the likelihood of toxins from the water itself, or absorbed from plastic containers. 

Hazards Along the Way Watch out for these traps!
Packaged foods (even in the “health food section”) almost always have common allergens in them, and should be avoided completely during your 2 week period, and avoided as much as possible in general.  Packaged foods are usually "dead" foods.

Package labels can be deceiving, and the fact that something is not listed on the label is no guarantee that it is not present in the food.  This is one reason why I ask people to prepare their own.

Eating in restaurants will almost certainly mess things up, as the employees have little understanding of the issue, and poor knowledge of what's actually in the food they put on your table. An Organic Food Co-Op deli is more likely to be knowledgeable of what is really in their food.

After the Trial Period
At the end of the period, assuming you feel better than when you started, introduce one new food a day, and see what happens.  Reactions can be delayed up to 4 or 5 days, but usually occur within 1-2 days.  This means if you have a reaction, you'll need to backtrack a few days (eliminate recently added foods) until things improve again, then re-challenge with those foods, introducing a new one every 3 or 4 days, until the culprit is discovered. This is tricky business – it requires commitment and patience!

NOTE: with gluten sensitivity, the more serious diseases may require several months of elimination before significant improvement is experienced, and improvement could be limited in advanced conditions.

If making dietary changes or breaking habits are difficult for you, please see my short article on PSYCH-K, which might be a helpful technique. Coaching can also be very helpful in making your habit changes successful.

Click here for information on Food Allergy Testing.