Elemental Diet: A Beginner’s Guide and Meal Plan

Many people struggle with gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn’s and Colitis. One of the best ways to address the symptoms of these diseases is to regulate your diet. People suffering from GI disease cannot rely on typical diets and must turn to ones like the elemental diet.

The Elemental Diet consists of nutrient-rich foods easily broken down in the stomach and absorbed with minimal digestion. By consuming elemental diets, individuals can provide their bodies with a balance of essential nutrients, proteins, fiber, and carbohydrates. Elemental diets are also beneficial to people who have difficulty digesting food because the nutrients in the shakes are easily absorbed in the small intestine.

The elemental diet has many benefits for those looking for an effective way to manage their health and wellness. Studies have shown that elemental diets can reduce inflammation, improve gut health, and support weight loss. Furthermore, doctors recommend elemental diets for people with digestive issues, food intolerances, and nutrient deficiencies.

This article will explain the elemental diet, how it works, and its benefits. It will also provide you with an elemental diet meal plan to start implementing the elemental diet immediately. Some potential drawbacks of Elemental diets and what to consider when considering the Elemental Diet will also be included. This article aims to provide you with everything you need to know to evaluate the Elemental Diet and decide if it is right for you.

What Is an Elemental Diet?

An elemental diet is an incredibly strict elimination diet that replaces food and drinks with specially created meal-replacement shakes and formulas. Standard elimination diets eliminate certain types of food like carbs, processed sugars, or dairy, but elemental diets remove all food from your diet.

What is Elemental Diet
What Is an Elemental Diet?

Elemental formulas are liquid meals that contain elemental nutrients such as amino acids, carbohydrates, and fats in their simplest form. These nutrients are already broken down, making them easier to digest and absorb. These formulas typically come in liquid or powdered form.

The elemental formulas only have the nutritional essentials your body needs to survive. They contain protein in amino acids, and these diets have little to no fat. Elemental diets are not meant for weight loss. Instead, they are prescribed for people with severe digested problems or conditions, including the following.

  1. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO): SIBO is a condition in which bacteria overpopulate the small intestine, causing bloating and other GI issues. Elemental diets can help eliminate these symptoms.
  2. Eosinophilic esophagitis: Eosinophilic esophagitis is an allergic reaction to certain foods, causing inflammation in the throat and difficulty swallowing.
  3. Chron’s disease: Chron’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes diarrhea, stomach pain, and more.
  4. Ulcerative colitis: Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation and ulcers in the colon.
  5. Cancer: Elemental diets help reduce the symptoms associated with cancer and cancer treatments.
  6. Radiation-induced diarrhea: Elemental diets can reduce episodes of diarrhea caused by radiation therapy.

These diseases and conditions can cause severe damage to your digestive tract, which can prevent you from absorbing nutrients and lead to malnutrition, dehydration, and weight loss.

An Elemental diet cannot cure these diseases or conditions but can dramatically reduce symptoms and improve overall health. Since Elemental diets only provide the bare minimum of nutrients, your body will not be irritated by this diet plan. The simplicity of the nutrients also makes it easier for a damaged digestive tract to absorb the nutrients.

If you are considering the elemental diet, it’s essential to consult with your healthcare provider. They can help you determine if the elemental diet is proper for you and provide guidance on safely transitioning into the elemental diet. In addition, it is vital to create a meal plan that fits your specific needs and lifestyle.

How Does an Elemental Diet Work?

The elemental diet consists of nutrient-rich, calorie-restricted shakes and meal replacements that replace all your meals and snacks. The formulas contain proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals in their most basic form, which is already broken down into their simplest forms, making them easier to digest and absorb.

The elemental formulas provide the essential nutrients your body needs to survive but no extra calories. The formulas provide the necessary nutrients without your body having to do extra work. 

The elemental diet is typically prescribed for several weeks or months, depending on your condition and your healthcare provider’s recommendations.

When you first begin the Elemental Diet, you will notice immediate changes in your body. You may experience more energy, improved digestion, and relief from your symptoms. As you continue the elemental diet, you will find that your body can absorb the nutrients it needs better.

When ready to transition off the elemental diet, your healthcare provider can help you slowly add other foods. They will help you find the right balance of calories and nutrients that works best for you.

What Are the Health Benefits of an Elemental Diet?

There is a wide range of benefits for the Elemental Diet such as bowel rest, improved nutrition, reduced inflammation, and reduced bacterial overgrowth.

  1. Bowel rest:  Elemental diets provide all of the essential nutrients without having to do any extra work. Limiting the amount of work your bowel does can help reduce inflammation and give your digestive system a break from processing all the food you usually eat. Your bowels will have an opportunity to recover and heal. 
  2. Improved nutrition: If your GI issues prevent eating, an elemental diet can improve your nutrition. The elemental formulas are packed with proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals to help your body get the nutrients it needs.
  3. Reduced inflammation:  Elemental diets reduce inflammation in the intestines, which can help reduce symptoms associated with inflammatory bowel disease, radiation-induced diarrhea, and cancer treatments.
  4. Reduced bacterial overgrowth:  Certain elemental formulas can help reduce bacterial overgrowth in the intestines.

What Are the Health Risks of an Elemental Diet?

Despite the benefits, there are some significant health risks such as abdominal cramping, nutrient deficiencies, weight loss, detox symptoms, and bacteria die-off symptoms.

  1. Abdominal cramping: The elemental formulas can cause abdominal cramping and bloat at first. Cramping is due to the body adjusting to the diet.
  2. Nutrient deficiencies: The elemental formulas provide all essential nutrients but may not provide enough for specific individuals, leading to nutrient deficiencies and other health problems.
  3. Weight loss: The elemental Diet is restrictive so that it leads to rapid weight loss. If you are not careful, this can cause further health issues.
  4. Detox symptoms:  When beginning the elemental diet, you may experience detox symptoms due to the body cleansing itself of toxins, which can include headaches, fatigue, and nausea.
  5. Bacteria die-off symptoms: As the elemental formulas reduce bacterial overgrowth in your intestines, you may experience die-off symptoms, including fever, chills, and achiness.

When considering the elemental diet, it is critical to consider these potential risks and discuss them with your healthcare provider before beginning.

How To Do an Elemental Diet?

When beginning the elemental diet, you should discuss it with your healthcare provider to ensure it is the right choice. They can help guide you through the process and ensure you get all the essential nutrients. Your healthcare provider can also guide transitioning away from elemental formulas. They can help you find the right balance of calories and nutrients that works best for you.

How to do Elemental Diet
How To Do an Elemental Diet?

When beginning the elemental diet, you should start with small amounts. Slowly increase the amount of elemental formula you consume, and keep track of any symptoms or reactions.

You complete the elemental diet in three phases. During the first phase, you only consume formulas for three to four weeks. It is important to note that you should only do the elemental diet under the supervision of a healthcare provider. While consuming elemental formulas, you slowly reintroduce other food sources during the second phase. The third phase is maintenance, where you can maintain a diet tailored to your specific needs.

Finally, it is vital to continue to monitor your health. Make sure you stay hydrated and keep track of any changes in your health. While on the elemental diet, you will consume around 1800 calories daily which is a calorie deficit for many people, resulting in weight loss.

If you are considering an Elemental diet, there are some best practices you should be aware of. It would be best never to pursue an Elemental diet without consulting your doctor first. They can ensure you get all the essential nutrients and guide you in transitioning away from elemental formulas. Make sure you slowly increase formula consumption and transition off the formulas. Finally, stay hydrated and monitor your health closely during the elemental diet.

By following these best practices, you can ensure the elemental diet is as successful and safe as possible.

What Are the Foods That You Can Eat While on an Elemental Diet?

While on an Elemental diet, you cannot eat any foods besides the elemental meal replacement shakes. You cannot eat any other foods because they can interfere with the elemental diet’s ability to reduce bacterial overgrowth in your intestines or trigger other health issues related to your GI problems.

  1. Fruits
  2. Vegetables
  3. Grains
  4. Legumes
  5. Nuts
  6. Seeds
  7. Healthy fats
  8. Proteins

What Are the Foods that You Should Avoid While on the Elemental Diet?

You must avoid all of the foods listed below while on the Elemental Diet.

  1. Meat: Red meat, steak, pork, veal
  2. Poultry: Chicken, turkey, cornish game hens
  3. Fish and shellfish: Tuna, shrimp, scallops, etc.
  4. Meat-based ingredients: Deli meat, hot dogs, sausage 
  5. Eggs: Eggs and egg substitutes 
  6. Dairy products: Cow’s milk, cheese, yogurt

In addition to the foods listed above, you should avoid any food that is not the elemental meal replacement shakes. Therefore, you should avoid processed foods, sugar, fruit, vegetables, and beverages like coffee, tea, and alcohol. All these foods can jeopardize the elemental diet and trigger your GI disorder symptoms. 

Who Should Do the Elemental Diet?

The elemental diet is for those suffering from intestinal disorders such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome. It can also be used as an elemental formula for those with difficulty digesting or absorbing, such as celiac disease or food allergies.

If you are considering the elemental diet, you must consult a doctor before beginning to ensure it is the right choice for your health.

The elemental diet is beneficial for those dealing with intestinal issues because it provides a basic formula that goes directly into the bloodstream and helps reduce the symptoms of intestinal disorders. The elemental diet also helps to control bacterial overgrowth in the intestines and can help people with food allergies, intolerances, and other sensitivities.

The elemental diet is not suitable for everyone. It would be best if you only used it as a last resort. You should not pursue the elemental diet if you have blood sugar conditions like diabetes or are trying to lose weight. This diet is not practical for people in either situation.

You should also avoid the elemental diet if you are bodybuilding. The Elemental bodybuilding diet is ineffective because it does not provide your body with the nutrients and protein needed to repair itself after working out.

How Easy Is an Elemental Program To Follow?

The Elemental program is challenging to follow. It requires you to commit to a strict elemental meal replacement shake diet. The shakes are not known for tasting good, and it can be incredibly dull to eat the same thing repeatedly.

The repetitiveness of the diet can cause mental health challenges for people who have a close relationship with food. Since you cannot eat anything besides the shakes, it can also limit your social interaction with people since you cannot eat with them anymore.

If you start the elemental program, it is vital to prepare for the mental and social challenges that come with it. Being mindful and kind to yourself is also essential, as this diet is very restrictive.

What Is a Sample Elemental Diet Plan?

Below is a sample elemental diet plan. While the number of scoops is listed below in bulk, they should be divided up into four scoops per meal (breakfast, lunch and supper).

What is a Sample Elemental Diet Plan
What Is a Sample Elemental Diet Plan?
  • Day 1: 12 Scoops of elemental meal replacement mixed in water
  • Day 2: 12 Scoops of elemental meal replacement mixed in water
  • Day 3: 12 Scoops of elemental meal replacement mixed in water
  • Day 4: 12 Scoops of elemental meal replacement mixed in water
  • Day 5: 12 Scoops of elemental meal replacement mixed in water
  • Day 6: 12 Scoops of elemental meal replacement mixed in water
  • Day 7: 12 Scoops of elemental meal replacement mixed in water

What Are the Best Recipes for Elemental Diet?

There are no recipes for the Elemental Diet. You cannot eat anything besides meal replacement shakes.

What Are the Facts About the Elemental Diet?

There are some critical facts that you should know about the Elemental Diet, including what happens the first week, the impact of weight loss, how it tastes, the benefits, and the length of the program.

  • First week: During the first week of the diet you may notice a reduction of symptoms and less bowel pain. 
  • Weight loss: You may unintentionally lose weight while on this diet.
  • Taste: The shakes do not taste good and are best consumed cold. 
  • Benefits: There are a wide range of benefits including reducing symptoms of GI diseases and conditions. 
  • Length of Diet: The diet can last weeks or even months. 

How Much Does an Elemental Program Cost?

The elemental program is expensive. One package of meal replacement powder costs over $100, and this only provides enough servings for one day.

What Are the Alternatives To Elemental Diet?

If the elemental diet is not for you, there are other alternatives, such as ketogenic, paleo, and ulcerative diets.

  1. Ketogenic: The Ketogenic Diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet. It focuses on reducing your carbohydrate intake and replacing it with healthy fats. This diet is known to be effective for weight loss and can help improve your overall health.
  2. Paleo: The Paleo diet is a low-carbohydrate, nutritious diet based on the foods eaten by our ancestors. This diet emphasizes eating proteins and a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  3. Ulcerative: The ulcerative Diet reduces ulcers’ symptoms and improves digestion. This diet focuses on eating foods that are low in acid, high in fiber, and probiotic-rich to mitigate inflation in your digestive system.

What Does an Elemental Diet PDF Involve?

An elemental diet PDF includes benefits and tips for transitioning from a solid diet to elemental shakes.

How To Find a 3D Elemental Diet Printable Plan?

You can find a 3D elemental diet printable plan on many websites. You can also get one from your doctor.

What Are the Elemental Diet Reviews?

Many highly review the Elemental Diet because it has helped many people manage the symptoms of GI conditions.

Is It Possible To Follow an Elemental Diet While Nursing?

Yes, you can follow an elemental diet while nursing, but doctors do not recommend it.

What Is the Difference Between the Elemental Diet and Sibo Diet?

The elemental diet is a low-fiber liquid meal-replacement program, while the Sibo Diet is elemental-based but with more variety in the types of food allowed. The Elemental diet focuses on nutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, and fat, while the Sibo Diet includes low-carbohydrate and low-fat meals.

Athletic Insight

Athletic Insight Research


The Athletic Insight Research team consists of a dedicated team of researchers, Doctors, Registered Dieticians, nationally certified nutritionists and personal trainers. Our team members hold prestigious accolades within their discipline(s) of expertise, as well as nationally recognized certifications. These include; National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer (NASM-CPT), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA-CPT), National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Nutrition Coach (NASM-CNC), International Sports Sciences Association Nutritionist Certification.