What is the elemental diet and can you lose weight with it?
The Elemental Diet consists of easily digestible formulas that are available in liquid or powder form and provide the body with all the nutrients it needs.
It is intended for those with severe indigestion and is usually supervised by a trained medical team.
Some people may try to follow the basic diet to lose weight despite the lack of evidence to support its use for reasons other than treating certain medical conditions.
This article explains what the Elemental Diet is and looks at its potential benefits, drawbacks, and effectiveness for weight loss.
What is the elemental diet?
The elemental diet consists of complete nutrient mixtures in a “pre-digested” form. These formulas come in liquid form or as a powder to be mixed with water and consumed.
Elementary formulas contain proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, which are already broken down into their constituent parts – amino acids, fatty acids, and sugars. They also contain vitamins and minerals.
Since the nutrients in this form are easily absorbed, the Elemental Diet allows your digestive tract to rest without compromising nutrient intake.
Most elemental formulas contain more carbohydrates and proteins than fats, as fats are difficult to digest.
The elemental diet is often prescribed for people who have severe digestive problems. It has been shown to help manage symptoms associated with the following conditions.
- Crohn’s disease: This inflammatory bowel disease is characterized by abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and vomiting.
- Eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE): EoE is an inflammatory disease that damages the esophagus and leads to difficulty swallowing, chest pain, and heartburn.
- Small Intestinal Bacterial Irritation (SIBO): SIBO is characterized by an excess of bacteria in the small intestine, resulting in bloating, gas, and abdominal pain.
In addition, health care providers may prescribe a basic diet for people who have had gastrointestinal or intestinal surgery, as well as those who are struggling to meet their nutritional needs, such as people suffering from cancer or anorexia nervosa.
Some may go on a basic diet to lose weight, but they are not designed for that purpose.
How the elemental diet works
Those on an elemental diet usually consume only elemental formulas and do not eat solid foods. Water and plain tea are usually the only liquids allowed.
Elemental formulas are available in liquid or powder form and can be given through a feeding tube or intravenously, or mixed with water and consumed as a drink.
Health professionals often recommend drinking elemental formulas at a slow pace to prevent stomach cramps and discomfort.
Several commercial elemental formulas are designed to provide the correct amount of calories and all essential nutrients. They are available as OTC or prescription products.
Elemental nutrition is almost always supervised by a registered dietitian and physician who recommends the type and amount of formula based on calories and nutrients.
In most cases, a person gets their entire diet from elemental formulas, but some people may get only part of their daily requirements from formulas and the rest from solid foods. These cases are called half-nutrient or half-elemental diets.
Some people, such as those who have had their intestines removed, consistently follow an elemental diet, while others rely only on elemental formulas until their symptoms improve.
The elemental diet is not usually recommended for weight loss, but could theoretically be used for this purpose.
Can it help you lose weight?
Some aspects of the elemental diet may help with weight loss, but no scientific research has been done on this topic.
Studies of people with illnesses who received elemental nutrition have shown that this can lead to significant weight loss. However, this is not considered a beneficial or intended dietary outcome.
Since the Elemental Diet usually consists of complete nutritional formulas and does not contain other foods, it is easy to follow and does not require cooking.
Theoretically, you can drink elemental formulas and avoid all types of solid foods and still meet your nutritional needs.
Single-use packs with elemental formulas are available at most pharmacies and make it easier to control calorie intake.
However, it is not recommended to follow an elemental diet without the supervision of a physician or qualified healthcare professional.
In general, elemental formulas are usually reserved for people with specific medical conditions. Therefore, they are not suitable for weight loss.
Other Benefits of Elemental Nutrition
Research shows that a simple diet can help manage symptoms of inflammatory diseases and conditions that affect the digestive tract.
This is due to the fact that macronutrients – proteins, fats, and carbohydrates – are already split into elemental formulas, which allows them to be quickly absorbed by the small intestine. In turn, your intestines can rest.
Elemental nutrition has been used for decades to treat Crohn’s disease, a condition that causes chronic inflammation of the digestive tract, stomach pain, malabsorption, and a number of other problems.
They also help treat eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), which occurs as a result of damage to the lining of the esophagus and leads to difficulty swallowing, pain, and heartburn.
One study in 21 adults with EoE found that 88% of participants were no longer symptomatic of the condition after 4 weeks of the elemental diet. The diet also led to a significant reduction in inflammation.
In addition, a simple diet can help treat bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine (SIBO) and is characterized by bloating, gas, and stomach pain.
Since the nutrients from the elemental diet are absorbed quickly, they may not be enough to feed the gut bacteria, starving them and hindering their growth.
A study in 93 adults with SIBO found that after a 21-day elemental diet, 85% of participants had normal lactulose breath tests. Abnormal respiratory marker tests for lactulose are SIBO.
In addition, more than half of patients with a normal breath test showed improvement in symptoms.
Finally, a basic diet may help manage the pain associated with chronic pancreatitis, but research is limited.
There are several disadvantages of the following elemental weight loss diet.
Firstly, it should only be done under the supervision of a doctor and is not recommended for those who do not have specific health problems.
In addition, the elemental diet can be very difficult to follow in the long term, as it consists solely of elemental formulas and usually excludes solid foods.
People on a basic diet may feel tired and irritable in the initial stages due to a lack of food choices.
Plus, basic formulas can cost over $10 a pack and be extremely expensive for everyday use, especially if you don’t have a prescription or insurance.
For example, you may need 4 or more single meal packs (300 calories each) to meet your calorie needs, and it could cost upwards of $40.
Elemental formulas are usually low in fat and high in carbohydrates, which can raise blood sugar levels. Thus, a simple diet can lead to dysregulation of blood sugar levels in people with blood sugar control problems such as type 2 diabetes.
Finally, elemental formulas are relatively low in fat compared to proteins and carbohydrates. If you follow an elemental diet for a long time without consuming excess fat, you will not be able to meet your daily fat needs.
Should I try the elemental diet?
Under the supervision of a physician and a registered dietitian, a basic diet can help treat severe indigestion.
If you have any conditions that can be improved with an elemental diet, such as Crohn’s disease or SIBO, talk to your healthcare provider about following the diet.
However, it is not recommended to use the elemental diet for purposes other than treating these specific health conditions.
In particular, following a basic weight loss diet would be very restrictive, expensive, and unnecessary for a healthy person. There is also no research to support the use of this diet for weight loss.
Instead, try to eat a balanced diet with a variety of nutritious foods. This can be an effective way to lose weight without such extreme restrictions.
The Elemental Diet consists of easily digestible liquid mixtures that provide the body with all the nutrients it needs.
It is usually used under medical supervision to treat severe indigestion.
While you could theoretically stick to a basic diet to try and lose weight, this is not recommended.
A balanced diet based on whole foods is the best way to lose weight and reach your goals.