What Is the Elimination Diet?

Elimination diet

Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

What Is the Elimination Diet?

An elimination diet is a diagnostic tool used to determine and relieve symptoms of food sensitivities. It does this by temporarily removing specific foods or food groups from a person's diet for a prescribed amount of time, then reintroducing them one at a time to uncover possible connections between suspected foods and undesirable symptoms, such as acne or fatigue.

While an elimination diet is a useful tool for that specific purpose, it’s not a long-term solution for weight loss or other health goals.

What Experts Say

“This elimination diet is used to help identify any food allergies, intolerances, or sensitivities. The diet typically only lasts for 5 to 6 weeks and it’s recommended that you work with a dietitian to ensure you’re following it correctly and not falling short of any nutrients.”

Kelly Plowe, MS, RD

The 7-Day Diet Plan

What you eat on the elimination diet depends on whether you are reintroducing foods. This is a sample meal plan for when you are eliminating all potential allergens and food sensitivities. You will likely need a lot of produce, as well as lean meats, nuts, and seeds, to make sure you are getting enough calories when cutting out so many other foods.

The following 7-day plan is in keeping with the initial stage that lasts 7 days. Other foods may be added afterward, according to the plan you're on. Keep in mind this is not an all-inclusive meal plan, and if following the diet, you may find other meals that work best for you.

  • Day 1: Fruit and greens smoothie made with flaxseed milk; apple, pumpkin seeds; grilled chicken breast, mixed greens, cucumber, tomato, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil; pork stir-fry with vegetables and ginger, riced cauliflower
  • Day 2: Turkey sausage, sauteed spinach, roasted sweet potato; fruit and coconut milk smoothie; whitefish poached in broth with lemon juice, green beans, sesame seeds, quinoa; rice pasta with meat sauce, garden salad
  • Day 3: Steel-cut oatmeal, berries, flaxseed milk; rice crackers with hummus; shredded chicken breast lettuce wraps with mandarins and bell pepper; vegetable and chickpea curry, quinoa
  • Day 4: Sweet potato wedges, homemade pork breakfast sausage patty, sauteed asparagus; berries, sunflower seeds; tuna, olive oil, greens, cucumber, red pepper, brown rice; chicken soup with beans and vegetables
  • Day 5: Steel-cut oatmeal with flaxseed milk, maple syrup, pumpkin seeds, diced apple; black bean dip with carrot sticks; leftover chicken soup, side salad with balsamic and olive oil; sirloin steak, avocado, and red pepper in cauliflower egg wraps, spiced pinto beans
  • Day 6: Avocado, sauteed spinach, ground turkey stuffed sweet potato; cucumber, carrots, grapes, pumpkin seeds; leftover vegetable and quinoa curry; pork tenderloin with mushroom arrowroot starch thickened pan sauce, broccoli, quinoa
  • Day 7: Blueberry, lemon, greens smoothie with flaxseed milk; rice crackers with seed butter, apple; shredded chicken, grapes, pumpkin seeds on greens with vinegar and olive oil dressing; white bean and pork stew with greens

What You Can Eat

When following an elimination diet, all aspects of your diet are flexible apart from the temporary restriction of certain foods for a specific period.

During the reintroduction phase, each food on the restricted list is added back slowly, one at a time, into your diet. Physicians and dietitians usually emphasize keeping a food journal to help identify reactions and record insights.

This slow, one-by-one process helps determine the types and amounts of foods you can consume before eliciting a reaction. If you are gluten-intolerant, for example, you may be able to identify exactly how much wheat you can eat before experiencing symptoms of inflammation.

Vegetables

Fruits

  • Berries
  • Citrus
  • Apples
  • Tropical fruits

Starches and Grains

Non-wheat grains such as:

Plant-Based Fats

Depending on your needs and goals, you may also be able to eat sunflower, safflower, and/or unrefined, light-shielded canola oils.

Animal Fats

The fats in animal proteins are fine to eat on an elimination diet, but an overall healthy diet includes minimal red meat.

  • Cuts of meat containing fat
  • Butter
  • Lard
  • Tallow

Seeds

You can enjoy seeds and seed butters on an elimination diet, but be sure to check the label on any store-bought seed butter to make sure it contains no nuts or other ingredients you're eliminating.

  • Sunflower seed butter
  • Pumpkin seed butter
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Flax seeds

Meat

The less processed any meat you consume is, the better.

  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Veal
  • Venison
  • Turkey

What You Cannot Eat

Multi-food elimination diets target specific foods that are suspected common allergens: milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts/tree nuts, and seafood.

Other elimination diets may include processed meats, artificial colorings and flavorings, preservatives, and/or processed sugars on their list of restricted foods. Sometimes only a single food is eliminated at a time.

Wheat

Wheat and products containing gluten are usually the first to go when you begin an elimination diet.

  • Bulgur
  • Couscous
  • Durum
  • Farina
  • Graham flour
  • Kamut
  • Malt made from wheat
  • Matzah
  • Seitan
  • Semolina
  • Spelt
  • Sprouted wheat
  • Triticale
  • Wheat berries
  • Wheat germ oil

You may also want to eliminate gelatinized starch, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, modified food starch, vegetable gum, and vegetable starch.

Dairy

Dairy is off-limits at the beginning of most elimination diets. This includes:

  • Cow’s milk
  • Goat’s milk
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Casein
  • Whey protein powders

Tree Nuts

This includes the following nuts and their milks or butters:

  • Cashews
  • Macadamias
  • Coconuts
  • Almond
  • Brazil nuts
  • Hazelnuts
  • Pistachios
  • Walnuts

Soy

Any soy products, including but not limited to:

Seafood

  • All fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, cod, tilapia, swordfish, etc.)
  • Shellfish (shrimp, clams, mussels, crab, lobster, prawns, etc.)
  • Caviar, fish roe, bonito flakes, clam juice

Eggs

  • Whole eggs
  • Egg whites
  • Egg-derived products

Caffeine

Say goodbye, at least temporarily, to caffeine. This includes:

  • Coffee
  • Energy drinks
  • Soda
  • Caffeinated teas

Sugar

  • Sugar
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Sugar alcohols

Some health professionals also recommend avoiding natural sweeteners, such as honey, stevia, and maple syrup.

Alcohol

Avoid all types of alcohol during your elimination diet.

Corn

Some people are sensitive to corn, and it can act as an inflammatory agent. As such, corn and corn products often are cut during an elimination diet.

How to Prepare the Elimination Diet & Tips

When following an elimination diet, you will eat primarily non-inflammatory foods that aren’t known irritants or allergens, such as fresh produce and lean protein. You will completely avoid foods thought to be allergens or irritants.

A registered dietitian or doctor can tailor an elimination diet to match your needs. If you have a known food allergy, you should only try an elimination diet under the supervision of a health professional to avoid potential illness or anaphylaxis.

Food allergens can commonly cause anaphylaxis, swelling of the mouth, rhinitis, diarrhea or vomiting, and neurologic responses, such as headaches, nervousness, anxiety, and confusion.

Food intolerances or sensitivities can also cause gastrointestinal difficulties, mood changes, and fatigue. Some allergic reactions are a response to foods themselves, while others are due to a hypersensitivity to food additives.

Keep in mind that many factors besides nutrition can contribute to a person's symptoms, making elimination diets challenging to summarize. However, being aware of sensitivities can empower you to shift your diet to eat in a way that promotes optimal health, energy, and vitality.

There is no recommended timing for the elimination diet. Eat as many meals and snacks as you need to feel satiated and energized. Eating three meals and two to three healthy snacks is a good way to stay full and avoid fatigue.

Your healthcare provider is your best resource for beginning an elimination diet. It’s highly recommended to have a list of alternatives to the foods you'll be eliminating, such as flaxseed milk or oat milk in place of dairy milk.

Pros of the Elimination Diet

Although elimination diets can be challenging and restrictive, following one does offer some benefits.

  • Temporary: An elimination diet requires a lot of planning but is only meant to last for a finite amount of time. You might want to continue certain restrictions indefinitely if you determine any food sensitivities.
  • Safe: Generally, an elimination diet is a safe way to learn more about how your body reacts to certain foods and create more awareness around your eating habits. Remember to experiment with new foods like seaweeds, organ meats, and exotic veggies so you don't miss dairy or nuts and obtain vital minerals (like magnesium, potassium, and selenium) and vitamins (A, the Bs, and D3).
  • Whole food-based: If you frequently eat processed foods, you might feel deprived at first on an elimination diet. However, as long as you eat enough fruits, veggies, meats, and compliant grains, those feelings will eventually subside.
  • May help relieve symptoms: Researchers have reported success in using elimination diets to treat ADHD, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and leaky gut syndrome. Many physicians who develop elimination diet plans also suggest that avoiding certain foods may clear up brain fog and reduce joint pain. Speak to your doctor about your symptoms and whether an elimination diet might help.

Cons of the Elimination Diet

Elimination diets do have some drawbacks and health concerns.

  • Not recommended for some groups: An elimination diet may become a trigger for people who are in recovery for disordered eating, anorexia nervosa, or bulimia nervosa.
  • Energy- and time-intensive: For many, an elimination diet can be a vast departure from their cultural traditions or day-to-day choices. Fortunately, humans are extremely adaptable. Just be prepared for a transition period as you adjust to new foods.
  • May cause dietary deficiencies: It can be easy to underestimate the calorie and nutrient requirements to replace dairy, wheat, and nuts. These foods often naturally contain or are enriched with essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals needed for health. Make sure you have a plan in place before you begin eliminating entire food groups from your diet. You also might want to get a blood panel to determine any current deficiencies.

Is the Elimination Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

Overall, the elimination diet is healthy and helpful to determine food sensitivities. While an elimination diet mostly aligns with federal dietary recommendations, the initial phase does veer from it. For example, the USDA recommends ample servings of dairy and grains, but on an elimination diet, you’ll need to avoid dairy products and wheat.

A bit of research and planning goes a long way to find adequate calcium and vitamin D sources outside of the dairy food group, and you can find plenty of non-wheat grain products to meet the whole grains recommendation.

The USDA also recommends eight ounces of seafood per week to prevent heart disease. You may choose to supplement with omega-3 fatty acids, EPA, and DHA or source these from plants.

Elimination diets are not focused on weight loss or gain, but knowing how much energy you need to fuel your life is important. Use our simple calorie calculator to find out how much food you need each day.

Knowing that you are meeting your recommended caloric intake can also help rule out symptoms like fatigue or mood swings that you suspect might be caused by a food sensitivity but are actually caused by undereating.

In the elimination phase, potentially inflammatory and allergenic foods are entirely removed from your diet. This phase can last anywhere from 21 days to six weeks. Since this diet can be restrictive, it might not be suitable for you. Speak to your doctor if you have any concerns or if you have potential allergies.

A Word from Verywell

An elimination diet can be difficult to follow, especially in the beginning, but is relatively balanced and less restrictive than some other food plans. If you suspect you may be sensitive to foods like dairy, gluten or soy, connect with a registered dietitian or nutritionist to find out if an elimination diet is right for you.

Just be aware of the temptation to attribute all of your stresses and woes to your diet. There are an infinite amount of factors that influence our well-being, and it's important to address all the facets of your life with equal care.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

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Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Chey WD. Elimination diets for irritable bowel syndrome: Approaching the end of the beginning. Am J Gastroenterol. 2019;114(2):201-203. doi:0.14309/ajg.0000000000000099

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