In this day and age, it’s not really diet until you have to eliminate something: carbs or dairy or wheat or gluten – or even all of the above.
But what are the nutritional consequences of eliminating the whole? food groups of your diet?
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And how do we replace ‘banned’ foods to ensure we don’t miss something our bodies need?
Here are some top tips on how to balance your food intake.
The first thing we usually think of with milk and other dairy foods is the calcium content.
But milk is also a naturally rich source of magnesium, Vitamin B12, phosphorus, protein, and vitamins D and A, all of which can be affected over time if milk is removed from the diet.
Since milk is a rich natural source of calcium, it is very difficult for adults to get the 800-1000mg of calcium they need daily for bone health without dairy products in the diet.
While nut milk and soy products can be fortified with calcium, it is rarely found in the equivalent of three servings of milk each day.
There are also a number of popular plant-based milk alternatives that contain little or no added calcium, meaning you may still be consuming what you consider ‘milk’ with little of the nutritional benefits that real milk has to offer.
The problem with low calcium intake is that potential side effects — including brittle bones — may not be apparent for several years, and by then it’s too late to do much.
If you want to eliminate dairy products from your diet, make sure you opt for calcium-fortified nut or grain-based milk, or take calcium supplements regularly so that you get the 800-1000mg daily calcium you need.
You can choose not to include red meat in your diet for a number of reasons.
But, nutritionally, the main problem is that you’re also depriving yourself of one of the richest natural sources of iron.
While white meats, eggs, whole grains and leafy greens do contain some iron, the truth is that this iron is relatively less absorbed than that found in red meat.
Low iron levels are common, with up to 25 per cent of Australian women battling low iron levels – which can lead to fatigue, shortness of breath and low immunity.
While vegetarians adapt over time and become more efficient at absorbing their iron from plant foods, it’s likely those who eat red meat occasionally, or still include fish or chicken in their diet, who are at a higher risk of iron deficiency, because their bodies used to absorb iron from animal sources.
To get sufficient dietary iron without including red meat, special care needs to be taken to include iron-rich foods at every meal and snack, to get even close to the 9-15mg of iron that adult women need each day.
White meats including chicken and turkey, while relatively lean and rich in protein, don’t offer the nutrient density that some other protein-rich foods do.
You need to be careful, if you choose not to eat poultry, that your diet still contains good quality protein.
Eggs are a highly nutritious food, containing more than 20 essential vitamins and minerals including good quality protein, good fats, Vitamins A and E.
As such, they make a nutrient-rich addition to any diet.
While the nutrients in eggs are important, most of what we get from eggs can be obtained from other foods.
One exception to this is selenium, a powerful antioxidant that plays a key role in cellular health and which is found in very few foods, including eggs and Brazil nuts.
One egg offers at least a quarter of your daily selenium needs.
Eggs are also a good source of Vitamin D, another nutrient that can be low in our overall diet.
So, pay attention to more good fats in your diet if eggs are not included in the menu.
Fish and seafood
Seafood, including all fish and shellfish, is very good for us.
High in protein and relatively low in calories, it is a nutrient-rich addition to any diet.
The two main nutrients specifically found in fish you’re missing are omega 3 fats and zinc from shellfish.
While omega 3 is only present in small amounts of oily fish — including salmon, sardines, and fresh tuna — oily fish is one of the few natural foods that offers this important nutrient.
This means that skipping oily fish altogether would make it nearly impossible to get the amount of omega 3 you need in your diet, without supplements.
Zinc is another nutrient that we can be deficient in.
But shellfish, particularly oysters and mussels, are packed full of zinc which is essential for hormone production, immune function and good skin.
Another nutrient that Australians rarely mention getting from our seafood is iodine – low iodine is linked to long-term impaired thyroid function.
This means if fish and shellfish are not your thing, dietary supplements may be necessary.
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