What are Elemental Foods and Elemental Diets?
Written by Julie Simmons, BVSc (Hons 1) BBus /LLB (Hons)
Elemental Diets are a subset of liquid enteral nutrition; liquid diets consumed orally, that contain all the vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and proteins that the body needs to live.
When we eat any normal food, we break them down to get at their nutrients. This may start with cooking a food and for many, continues with chewing food into pieces. Finally, our food will be broken down in our gut.
At this point, the food is broken down into the elements our body will absorb, such as amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Most of these elements will be welcome but there may be some that our bodies don’t cope with so well, resulting in symptoms we’re all familiar with like bloating and gas but also sometimes more serious symptoms and conditions. Some people, with conditions such as Crohns Disease, require specialised nutritional support as their guts are damaged by the disease and they cannot absorb or digest normal food adequately.
An Elemental Food is one that aims to be in an elemental form before we eat it, usually meaning things like vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates are added in separately. There are two main reasons for this:
By being in an elemental format we can be much more sure about exactly what elements we’re putting into our bodies. Importantly we can avoid elements that may be a problem such as certain sugars, gluten or fats, whilst still getting the elements we need for nutrition.
The normal digestion process takes time and energy for our bodies to extract the nutrition. The broken-down nature of elemental foods means nutrients can be absorbed much more quickly and with less effort.
Foods presented in their elemental components are absorbed much higher up in the digestive system, with very little reaching the large intestine and the bacteria (microbiome) that resides there. With less food available to the bacteria in the colon, their numbers reduce and composition changes, assisting in colonic mucosal healing1.
Elemental diets are also known as “gut rest” diets which implies that they can provide nutritional support whilst giving your digestive system a “time out” to heal from any condition that may have created inflammation.
Elemental diets are not a “cure” for any condition, rather gentle and effective nutritional support to facilitate healing.
Who can Benefit from Elemental Diets?
Elemental diets have been used for decades for the nutritional support of people suffering from Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), including Crohn’s Disease. In these cases it is often used as the sole source of nutrition under medical supervision. Elemental Diets are also commonly used for the nutritional support of SIBO and IBS.
Due to the rapid absorption and elemental nature of ingredients elemental foods can also be used for casual nutritional support by anyone who has difficulty swallowing or absorbing food. This can range from people who have had oral surgery/dental work, the elderly, patients undergoing chemotherapy, those preparing for and after surgery, of those suffering from flare-ups of chronic conditions where they are unable to ingest and retain nutrition.
What makes ElementGold semi-elemental and why is this beneficial?
Often, patients with IBD, Crohns disease in particular, struggle to maintain weight as the damage and inflammation in the colon prevents them from absorbing nutrients.
We mentioned before that elemental diets present nutrition in their most broken down forms. This means that proteins are broken down into their component amino acids and mixed into the formula. This would be known as a pure elemental diet. The difference with ElementGold is that in addition to a mix of important amino acids, it also contains selected whole proteins. The body is better able to utilise these proteins to build muscle and maintain weight than if it was offered amino acids alone. The addition of whole proteins to the ElementGold formula makes it a semi-elemental diet.
The protein in ElementGold is sourced from whey which has undergone ion-extraction processing. This premium processing method is currently the best method to preserve the quantity and quality of protein whilst extracting any nasties like lactose, casein, ash and other un-needed material. As a result, ElementGold boasts one of the highest protein levels offered in an elemental food.
How do I use it?
A standard serve of ElementGold Plus+ is 100g (4 scoops using the included scoop) of ElementGold powder mixed with 250 mL of water and shaken or blended until smooth. A 1Kg tub contains enough powder for 10 serves.
Each serve of ElementGold Plus+ provides you with balanced nutrition so the main factor for determining how many serves you need is the amount of energy (kilojoules or calories) you are looking to replace from your normal diet. A serve provides around 1580 kJ (378 kcal) of energy.
ElementGold Plus+ is food. Some days you may be more or less hungry and so as with other food you may want more or less serves. The amount of energy that each of us needs from food is different depending on factors such as gender, age, physical activity and if we are trying to gain or lose weight. Because of this there is not a standard figure for how many serves of ElementGold you need. However, as a rough guide; a daily food energy intake of 8700 kJ is 5 to 6 serves of ElementGold.
Ashton, J., Gavin, J., Beattie, R. M, Exclusive Enteral Nutrition in Adult Crohn’s Disease: Evidence and Practicalities Clin Nutr. 2019 Feb;38(1):80-89