Sunday, 16 November 2014

Should you really be cutting foods from your diet?

There's been a lot of lively debate in the nutrition-sphere recently- both publicly and privately. And while I'm not going to open that can of worms here (as it's a complex topic and one which I can both agree and disagree with), I would like to discuss something else which I have seen quietly spring up alongside many of these new suggested ways of eating: dietary restrictions. And by this I mean the whole spectrum of 'free's'- dairy free, gluten free, sugar free, fructose free, fruit free, grain free, and so on and so forth…

Now, don't get me wrong, there are several health conditions that require the exclusion or reduction of food groups to prevent, manage or treat their symptoms- food allergies and intolerances being the most obvious ones. And even when there hasn't been a diagnosed nutrition issue or reason for diet manipulation, sometimes people just feel better when they don't eat something. Fair enough. We are the masters of our own bodies and we tend to pick up on the signals they're sending us better than anyone else.

But where the waters get a little murky is when you introduce outside influencers to this decision making process. I'm talking about media (new and old), the stories of friends of friends, various interpretations of new research (yes, believe it or not facts can be interpreted very differently by different people) by health professionals or celebrities that pull us along for the ride when there really was no issue in the first place. New diets can seem bright and shiny (like a new toy, perhaps?) and are sold to us with such fervour that we get washed up in the excitement of it all.

Before you know it we're doing our research on what foods to add to, and which ones to cut from, our trolleys, buying fancy kitchen equipment and shaking up our old recipe rut. This can be great! It can renew excitement in wholesome fresh foods and home cooking, reduce reliance of processed and packaged foods and get us more in touch with nature.

Unfortunately it doesn't always lead to a great, lifelong improvement in diet and overall health. What happens when you start having to cook separate meals for the rest of the family because they don't understand why they can't have good ol' spag bol anymore? Or you have to turn down social events because they're based around meals at restaurants which you know won't be able to cater to your special dietary requirements? Or you fall into a cooking rut because you don't really have time to make your own stock or ferment your own foods and you end up falling back on a few key meals that you know are on the 'good' list. Or the grocery bills start piling up because if you do buy anything packaged it must be organic and gluten free and dairy free and low in FODMAPs and no added sugar and no more than 3 ingredients, and not only does the shopping process take a lot longer, but these products always seem to cost a mint! And then you have to forgo that weekend away just to keep on top of it all. And worse still is that secretly, you don't think you really feel any different.

Now, I know this may seem like an over exaggeration to many, but these are the kinds of problems that CAN face normal people simply trying to follow the latest health advice. So MY advice is this: if you feel better by cutting back on carbs or excluding dairy or whatever, and you can happily and easily make these changes to your life, then enjoy! All the more power to you! But if you find yourself losing pleasure in food, or putting strain on your friendships or the hip pocket, then maybe you've taken it a little too far. Eat healthy, wholesome foods most of the time and that one slice of cake or bowl of pasta won't kill you, but it will make life more enjoyable. And isn't that important, too?

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