To Eat or Not to Eat: The Facts Behind Elimination Diets
Elimination diets are all the rage. Who knew the idea of giving up certain foods could gain such traction? But the phenomenon of cutting out a certain food or group of foods to cure a symptom has grown significantly in popularity as of late. Even though people continue to give up gluten, dairy, sugar, nuts, soy, and alcohol at the ready, some doctors still aren’t wholly convinced.
The Wall Street Journal published a piece on the elimination diet craze Wednesday and explained how many people turn to the idea when they have an annoying symptom, such as headaches, skin irritation, joint pain, or digestive problems, but don’t think a doctor’s visit is warranted. They believe cutting out certain foods may help, so they completely avoid a food group or a number of food groups for a few weeks, and then reintroduce each food one by one back into their diet, testing the body’s response. They believe that this way allows them to determine which food is causing their symptoms, and then they can work on avoiding that food long-term in the future.
It makes sense, except many doctors maintain that it’s not that simple, because as highlighted by The Wall Street Journal, there is still a lot to be learned about gut health, and there is little science to prove that the practice of an elimination diet and an improvement in symptoms is directly related. Some doctors believe that the diets simply force consumers to eat healthier, cutting out processed foods, and that’s why they feel better.
Still, many consumers are convinced about the effectiveness of the diets, and The Wall Street Journal highlighted Amanda Deming, a 35-year-old mother and legal assistant, as one of them. After suffering stomach cramps and intestinal issues for years, she tried Whole 30 — a plan where gluten, dairy, sugar and sweeteners, white potatoes, alcohol, legumes and grains, are eliminated — and reported that within two weeks of her new diet, her stomach felt significantly better.
But one of the main problems with elimination diets is that they usually aren’t sustainable, and they can cause a person’s grocery bill to double. When you’re giving up gluten, dairy, legumes, grains, and soy, most of your meals contain produce (fresh or frozen) and meat, and those costs can pile up. In addition, it’s difficult, though not impossible, to follow the dietary guidelines when you are eating out, and that’s why one elimination dieter explained to The Wall Street Journal that because he and his spouse have different food sensitivities, cooking became a hassle. “We were eating like a family of gypsies at the Wegman’s food court.”
Still, what remains to be seen is whether elimination diets can go even further than food sensitivities and actually help determine the cause of leaky gut syndrome or increased intestinal permeability. According to The Wall Street Journal, that idea is linked to the understanding that some foods irritate the intestines and cause food proteins to leak through the intestinal wall where they shouldn’t be. Once there, the proteins come into contact with large numbers of immune cells that live just below the intestinal wall, triggering inflammation that moves throughout the body. Elimination diets could help determine what foods facilitate those triggers, but the connection between symptoms and gut health still isn’t well understood, and that’s why not all doctors have jumped on board the elimination diet craze, although most don’t see any real harm in it.
The Wall Street Journal highlighted Jerrold Turner, associate chairman of the Department of Pathology at the University of Chicago, who explained increased intestinal permeability “can be linked to disease, but by itself it isn’t linked to things like headaches, fatigue and general malaise.” However, he added, “If it makes people feel better, I’m not sure why we should oppose [elimination dieting].”
So now you understand a little bit more why your coworker, classmate, relative, or even spouse might be giving up a certain food group, in hopes that his or her respective symptoms may clear up. There still isn’t conclusive scientific evidence that certain foods and symptoms could be linked that directly, but as Turner pointed out, elimination diets generally aren’t dangerous, unless they put people at risk for malnutrition or an eating disorder.