In Children, diets, Eating Disorders, Empowerment, Family, Inspirational, obesity, weight loss, Women

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These days, there are as many diets as there are types of breakfast cereals (read: too many!). Unfortunately, most diets create a false connotation of the word diet, incorporating some aspect of restriction, food/nutrient avoidance or fasting. However, the original definition of diet was simply “habitual nourishment” (Webster’s Dictionary). Any time one avoids or restricts food intake in any way, there is risk of missing out on key nutrients that are essential for health. The best diet is one that includes a variety of all foods in moderation (unless of course medical reasons prohibit one from doing so). Read on to find out the downfalls to some of today’s most popular diets.

Gluten Free
There is nothing inherently wrong with gluten, which is found in wheat, rye and barley. Yet recently it’s gotten a bad rap and has become the latest food group to avoid. For those with Celiac Disease, gluten damages the lining of the intestine causing malabsorption and a slew of other symptoms. Those with an allergy to gluten can have a variety of reactions, some of which are life threatening. For folks in these two camps, it is imperative that these individuals completely avoid gluten. Others, however, choose to eat gluten free (GF) for a variety of other anecdotal reasons. Unfortunately, those following the diet, no matter the reasons behind it, are at risk of many nutrient deficiencies.

Gluten free products are known to be low in nutrients that are typically found in whole grain, wheat-based products, such as B vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and fiber. Wheat based products (i.e. bread, cereals, crackers, etc.) are mandated by law to be enriched with many of the aforementioned nutrients while GF products do not fall under such regulations. Therefore, a diet made up of mostly GF pre-packaged items will provide less nutrients than their wheat based counterparts. This is especially important for children and adolescents following a GF diet who are still growing and developing.

In addition, a lot of GF products are made with added sugars and are higher in cholesterol, calories and fat. So a 1:1 switch from gluten-containing to GF products will not necessarily bring about improved health, except when medically necessary.

Therefore, any individual on a GF diet should seek counsel from a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist in order to ensure that their new intake pattern provides all the necessary nutrients required for optimal health.

Low Carb Diets
Low carbohydrate diets have become the go-to approach for improving health and losing weight. There are many different low carb diets out there. The premise is generally the same – reduced carb intake, increased protein/fat intake. Proponents of the low carb diets claim that carbs cause weight gain and therefore should be limited and/or avoided. Unfortunately, the science just isn’t that simple and more current research is debunking the myth that carbs are “bad.” Like it or not, carbs are essential for every bodily cell’s proper function. The brain can only use carbohydrate for energy and if you’ve ever followed a low carb diet, your brain has taken notice. Many low carb dieters complain of brain fog, headaches, blurred vision, difficulty concentrating and reduced cognitive abilities. Newsflash – it’s because the brain is in need of more carbohydrates! In addition, carbohydrates provide necessary energy to the muscles during exercise and many grain-based carbohydrate foods are excellent sources of other vitamins and minerals that one misses out on when reducing carb consumption.

This isn’t to say one should consume carbs like they’re going out of style – our culture’s portion sizes have certainly led to carb overconsumption. However completely eliminating carbs or entire food groups, such as grains, altogether isn’t the ideal response. Carbs should be present at each meal & snack (again, think about feeding the brain), yet moderation is key. Choosing high-quality, fiber-rich carbs such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables will provide required nutrients and lasting energy to help you get through your day. Low carb diet followers often weight-cycle after repeated bouts of carb-avoidance and falling off the wagon. Research and years of client testimonials prove that low carb eating is extremely difficult to sustain life-long.

Cleanses & Detoxifying Diets
Typically these diets consist of mainly liquids and promise to bring about quick weight loss and flush toxins out of the body. Many believe it is necessary to cleanse the body and clean out the gut in order to lose weight and feel better. Cleanse and detox diets provide inadequate protein, fat and carbs, which means followers of these diets are typically miserable during the process (see above about feeding the brain). Like the low carb diets, these types of regimens are also not sustainable and any weight lost is typically regained as soon as regular food intake is resumed. In addition, the claims of flushing toxins out of the body are unsupported by research.

Vegan
Regardless of one’s reasons for going vegan, this diet presents a number of nutrition risks. It’s vitally important to be aware of the nutrient deficiencies inherent in this diet so as to properly compensate for them. Often, vegans fall short in their protein, B-12, calcium, iron, omega-3 and vitamin D intake. Because most of these nutrients are most abundantly available in animal products, it can be incredibly difficult to meet one’s daily needs through plant-based foods and grains. It takes a lot of pre-planning and finesse to ensure that all nutrients are represented. Therefore, vegans should be seen by a physician to monitor vitamin and mineral levels in addition to seeking the assistance of a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist.

 

By Kate Grefenstette, RD

 

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