Why aren’t more people talking about gut health? A sour stomach can put a damper on anyone’s day, or—if it happens regularly—it can negatively impact their entire life. Occasional bloat is one thing, but—just like meat-eaters—some vegans still experience distressing stomach issues including bloat, stomach pain, and general digestive distress. If you can relate, an elimination diet might be something to consider before you spend an exorbitant amount on food allergy tests or undergo a dreaded colonoscopy. Educate yourself on the vegan elimination diet to see if this could help you see your sexy vegan six-pack again.
What is an elimination diet?
The elimination diet is a short-term way of eating that removes all potential food intolerances from your diet for a specific amount of time. These items are then introduced back into your diet one by one to pinpoint the specific foods an individual can or cannot tolerate. Admittedly, it is extremely restrictive and should not be followed for the long-term.
How long is the elimination diet?
The most restrictive portion of this diet is the first three weeks. During this time period, you should avoid all of the potentially triggering foods listed below. After these three weeks, you can begin to introduce these foods back into your eating routine one by one. You should monitor your reaction to this particular food for three days, after which you can introduce another food. Of course, if you experience symptoms such as bloating, pain, or digestion issues after introducing this food, you’ve identified an intolerance. Avoid this food permanently or as much as you can to keep these symptoms at bay.
Will I lose weight on the elimination diet?
While not intended as a weight-loss diet, you may inevitably lose weight since the diet involves cutting out many processed and sugary foods. It is important to maintain your caloric needs during the diet—you should not be eating less than you did before starting the diet. If you feel tired or lack energy during the diet, you may be calorically deficient. Regain your energy by upping your calorie intake.
What foods should I avoid on the elimination diet?
Fortunately for vegans, many of the avoidance foods are animal-based, so we’ve already got a headstart. Vegan foods to cut out during the first three weeks of the diet include gluten, nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplants), citrus fruits, all soy products, all beans, nuts and seeds, corn, processed fats (such as vegan margarine and hydrogenated oils), alcohol and caffeine, cauliflower, and all sweeteners (including maple syrup, artificial sweeteners, and sugar). Yes, it’s that restrictive, but you can do this for three weeks! We’re right there with you.
Can I do a modified version?
The short answer is yes, but you may get mixed results. The list above is the most comprehensive of food intolerances; however, many people aren’t intolerant to all of these foods. For a less restrictive route, allow yourself beans, lentils, seeds, and nuts—excluding peanuts and pistachios. If you do choose this route and still experience the same uncomfortable symptoms, you may wish to eliminate these foods as well. Pay attention to how you feel 24 hours after eating, as symptoms can take this long to occur. Keep a food journal during the entire diet to pinpoint trigger foods.
What can I eat on the elimination diet?
If you’re scrambling trying to think of something you actually can eat for three weeks, don’t worry—you won’t starve. Herbal teas and your favorite kombucha (as long as it’s not the high-alcohol variety) are fair game. For breakfast, try unsweetened coconut yogurt with blueberries, a green fruit smoothie made with rice protein powder, or a savory veggie scramble with avocado. Later in the day, salads are safe (just skip the tofu or tempeh topper), as are many soups; baked sweet potatoes with quinoa and steamed dark leafy greens are all good to go; some vegan sushi (without tofu or soy sauce) is acceptable; jackfruit curry is totally fine; sauerkraut and kimchi will be your new BFFs; rice is nice; and banana dusted in cacao powder for dessert is about to become your new go-to. Try to get creative instead of focusing on the foods you can’t have. Write down what you typically eat, then find a gut-friendly substitute for it.
Can I exercise on the elimination diet?
Yes. The elimination diet is not a calorically restrictive diet—you should be fueled properly enough to go about your daily activities including exercise. However, certain foods you are used to eating may be on the avoidance list, so it may be necessary to pay a bit more attention to your protein intake. The recommended baseline is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (or 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight).
What should I expect to feel on the elimination diet?
While you may crave certain foods, you should experience significant gastrointestinal relief a few days into the diet. Some people may go through a withdrawal-like state within the first few days; feeling tired, moody, or bloated are signs of this reaction (so warn your roommates or your significant other). But your body should adapt within the week. Those who have successfully completed the process claim to feel lighter, more energized, and far more regular. When you are reintroducing foods, be alert and try to notice if symptoms return. If they do, continue to eliminate that specific food from your regular diet. Remember, no matter how great you feel during the three weeks, it is essential to reintroduce other foods and incorporate as many non-triggering foods back into your long-term diet. The key to health is variety, and while our stomachs may tell us to avoid certain foods, the sheer amount of edible plants makes it possible for everyone to enjoy an exciting, satisfying, and healthy abundance of foods.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Tanya Flink is a Digital Editor at VegNews as well as a writer and fitness enthusiast living in Orange County, CA.