Whether it is due to a disease or just age-related sensitivity and intolerance, certain foods can be an irritation to the system. It may affect only certain organs in different ways or cause generalized symptoms that are not always easy to explain yet are clearly linked to certain foods. Various medical tests and standardized eating plans may not provide an answer. This is where the elimination diet is of the greatest benefit. It is an individualistic method of identifying problem foods.
An elimination diet is the gradual identification of foods that may cause adverse effects when consumed. As the name suggests, these foods are eventually identified by the process of elimination – simply through trial and error. Most people who opt for this process either have allergies or experience conditions such as migraines with the consumption of certain foods. There are usually specific medical conditions linked to these foods.
The more definitive symptoms like diarrhea, skin rashes, headaches and abdominal symptoms are typically accepted as an indication that the food may be a trigger factor. However, in some instances there are vague symptoms which cannot be ascribed to a specific medication condition. Yet a person knows that one or more foods may be the trigger for these symptoms. It can be as vague as a generalized feeling of being unwell (malaise), to fatigue, or even changes in mood.
The easiest route in an elimination diet is to list the possible foods suspected of being the trigger and stop consuming it altogether. If the symptoms clear, or do not return while these foods are being avoided, then it is fairly conclusive that food in question is the problem. However, it is not often this simple with elimination diets.
An alternative option is to remove several foods from the diet simultaneously and gradually introduce these foods back one at a time. The recurrence of the symptoms is an indicator that the most recent food introduced is the most likely trigger. This is a broad approach that can be long and drawn out and still raise concerns about food combinations.
The more extreme method is to remove almost all foods from the diet except unprocessed and simple foods which are definitely known not to be a trigger. Gradually a new food is introduced back in the diet. Should the symptoms recur, then this food is avoided again and other foods slowly added back. The suspected food is then brought back into the diet at a later stage. It is a very slow process.
Sometimes when there is uncertainty that a specific food is definitely the cause of the symptoms, a person may have to undergo a food challenge. The causative food is re-introduced into the diet and provided that it is not causing any life threatening symptoms, it is continued while other foods recently introduced are stopped. Should the symptoms continue then the suspected food is the most likely cause of the symptoms in question. It is a means of confirming that the body cannot tolerate the suspected food.
However, in the process of undertaking these measures, a person can strain the body both from the major change in eating habits, starving at times leading to nutritional deficiencies or the accumulation of the suspected food in the system in an attempt to confirm its effect. This may not cause discomfort but can also be serious if there is no medical supervision. Therefore elimination testing should only be done after consulting with a medical professional who is overlooking the process on a regular basis. In the elderly there is the added risk that chronic medication and chronic diseases may further cloud the assessment and identification of problem foods.