by Dr. Will Cole
William Cole, leading functional medicine practitioner, is an expert at identifying the underlying factors of chronic conditions and offering natural, holistic approaches to optimal health. This week, we’re thrilled to share his series on the elimination diet and how it can improve your overall well-being. To learn more, check out his new course, The Elimination Diet: A 60-Day Protocol to Uncover Food Intolerances, Heal the Gut, and Feel Amazing.
In functional medicine, the elimination diet is the gold standard for uncovering hidden food intolerances, healing the gut, bringing inflammation levels down, and tailoring a food plan that works best for your body. Removing the foods that are most likely to irritate your body for just a few weeks gives your body a chance to calm down and focus on healing. Then, when you bring those foods back one by one, you can identify what specifically is helping or hurting your health. We are all different, with unique genetics and health issues, so this reintroduction stage will have different results for each individual.
There are many ways to do an elimination diet, but in my years of experience, I’ve found one simplified version that I believe works best. Not only have I seen this elimination protocol work in my patients’ lives, but it also made a big impact on my own life. When I noticed my digestion and energy crashing, I used the power of the elimination diet to figure out the food plan that would become the foundation of my own health.
Here’s a quick overview of what you can expect from the plan:
What Foods You Can Eat
One of the biggest misconceptions people have about the elimination diet is that they won’t be able to eat any delicious foods. Let’s first go over all the nourishing and delicious foods you can enjoy on the elimination diet:
Organic meat, poultry, and fish
I recommend enjoying lots of wild-caught fish, like salmon and albacore tuna. You will also get your B vitamins from grass-fed beef and clean protein from organic chicken.
Enjoy a variety of different colors, especially green leafy vegetables, bright orange and red vegetables, and starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes. In my mindbodygreen course, I offer lots of great ideas and delicious recipes, so that you don’t dread eating veggies or feel like you’re eating rabbit food.
Every type of fruit is allowed on the elimination diet, but I recommend focusing on lower-fructose berries like strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, as well as citrus like lime, lemon, and grapefruit as these have the least natural sugar.
Cook liberally with natural fats from grass-fed organic meats, like tallow and clarified butter or ghee. I also encourage you to use avocado oil and extra-virgin coconut oil daily, as well as extra-virgin olive oil to drizzle on foods after cooking since olive oil can’t handle higher cooking temperatures.
Cassava, coconut, and plantain flours are great alternatives for baking. I also like arrowroot powder and tapioca starch as thickener alternatives for soups and gravy.
Coconut products are all kinds of delicious. My favorite iterations are full-fat coconut milk, coconut butter, and coconut aminos – a great soy alternative.
It’s time to lay off the sugar, but you can still enjoy raw honey, pure maple syrup, and molasses in small amounts, to keep your life sweet.
What Foods You Should Avoid
Now that you know all the great stuff you can eat, you know you won’t be deprived. But just in case you were wondering, these are the foods most likely to cause intolerances and be inflammatory, so these foods are off your shopping list and your plate for the initial stages of the elimination diet:
Refined and artificial sugars
Cutting out sugar probably won’t come as a surprise – but “refined sugar” means more than those white crystals. You should also avoid other supposedly healthier versions of cane sugar, such as turbinado or raw sugar, and even agave. Also forget about artificial sugars – they wreak havoc on your gut bacteria.
This includes all grains – even the gluten-free ones such as rice, quinoa, oats, and corn. Surprised? The truth is, all grains can be difficult to digest and can be inflammatory for many people. During the reintroduction phase, we’ll add each back one by one to discover if you can tolerate some of them, but that test won’t work until you take them all out for a while.
Dairy and eggs
Taking out eggs and dairy during the elimination phase allows you to rule out an albumin (egg-white protein) or casein (dairy protein) intolerance, which I find is common in people with digestive issues.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds can be rough on some people’s digestion because of their natural roughage. By not eating them in the elimination phase, you’ll give your gastrointestinal system a rest. When your system is calmer, you can try reintroducing them, one type at a time, to get a better insight into whether all, or some particular, nuts and seeds irritate your system.
This is a plant group that includes white potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and some spices. These nightshade plants are fine for some people, but for others they can cause inflammation and can even trigger autoimmune spectrum problems. Best to know where you stand!
FODMAPS is an acronym for the long and almost unpronounceable names of a group of fermentable sugars found in foods like legumes, onions, garlic, dairy products, and fruit. Not everyone has to eliminate this group of foods, but people with digestive issues like IBS should try it for a little while and see how they do. As you heal your gut, these foods – or at least some of them – can typically be brought back in with no problem.
Alcohol and caffeine
Give your liver a break so it can focus on detoxing the rest of you by avoiding all alcohol during this time. I also recommend limiting your caffeine intake to a few cups of green or white tea per day. An occasional organic coffee is OK as well.
What A Typical Day Of Meals Looks Like
Breakfast: A tasty breakfast bowl filled with warm butternut squash, organic turkey bacon, apples, coconut oil, cinnamon, and honey.
Lunch: A salad of field greens with albacore tuna, drizzled with a dressing made from olive oil, honey, and vinegar.
Snack: Whipped sweet potatoes with coconut cream and cinnamon.
Dinner: Rosemary salmon with sauteed vegetables in coconut oil, and sweet potatoes with coconut butter.
Dessert: Dairy-free coconut lime ice cream made with avocados, coconut milk and pure maple syrup. (I’ll be sharing some of my favorite recipes for this protocol in my video course.)
The Reintroduction Phase
After the elimination phase, you’ll slowly bring foods back in over a few weeks while looking out for any flare-ups of symptoms or a decrease in your energy levels. In my mindbodygreen course, I go into much more detail about how to reintroduce foods back into your diet safely, and how to tell which ones are causing reactivities.
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer in person as well as phone and webcam consultations for people across the country and around the world.
The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.