These days it’s not really a diet until you had to eliminate something: carbs or dairy or wheat or gluten – or even all of the above.
But what are the nutritional consequences of eliminating food groups in your diet?
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And how do you replace “forbidden” foods to make sure you don’t miss out on something the body needs?
Here are some tips on how to balance your food intake.
The first thing we usually think of with milk and other dairy products is their calcium content.
But dairy products are also a rich natural source of magnesium, vitamin B12, phosphorus, protein, and vitamins D and A, all of which can be affected over time if dairy products are eliminated from the diet.
Because dairy products are such a rich natural source of calcium, it’s very difficult for adults to get the 800-1000 mg of calcium they need every day for healthy bones without dairy in their diet.
While nut milks and soy products can be fortified with calcium, it’s rarely in the amounts found in the equivalent of three servings of dairy products per day.
There are also a number of popular plant-based milk substitutes that contain little or no added calcium, meaning you may still be consuming what you think is “milk” with little of the nutritional benefits offered. by real milk.
The problem with low calcium intake is that potential side effects – including bone brittleness – may not be seen for a number of years, after which it’s too late to address them.
If you want to eliminate dairy from your diet, be sure to choose calcium-fortified grain or nut milks, or take a calcium supplement regularly to get the 800 to 1000 mg of calcium needed per day. day.
You may choose not to include red meat in your diet for a number of reasons.
But, nutritionally, the key issue is that you’re also eliminating one of nature’s richest sources of iron.
Although white meat, eggs, whole grains, and leafy greens contain iron, the reality is that iron is relatively poorly absorbed compared to that found in red meat.
Low iron levels are common, with up to 25% of Australian women struggling with low iron levels – which can lead to fatigue, shortness of breath and weak immunity.
While vegetarians adapt over time and become more efficient at absorbing their iron from plant foods, they are usually those who occasionally consume red meat, or still include fish or chicken in their diet. , who are more at risk of developing iron deficiency because their body is accustomed to absorbing iron from animal sources.
To achieve adequate dietary iron without including red meat, special attention should be paid to including iron-rich foods with every meal and snack, to approach the 9–15 mg of iron that adult women need. each day.
White meat, including chicken and turkey, while relatively lean and high in protein, does not offer the nutrient density of some other protein-rich foods.
You should be aware, if you choose not to eat poultry, that your meals still contain good quality protein.
Eggs are an extremely nutritious food, containing over 20 essential vitamins and minerals, including good quality protein, good fats, vitamins A and E.
As such, they make a nutrient-dense addition to any diet.
Although the nutrients in eggs are important, most of what we get from eggs can be obtained from other foods.
An exception to this is selenium, a powerful antioxidant that plays a key role in cell health and is found in very few foods, including eggs and Brazil nuts.
A single egg provides at least a quarter of your daily selenium needs.
Eggs are also a good source of vitamin D, another nutrient that may be low in our overall diet.
So pay a little more attention to the good fats in your diet if eggs aren’t on the menu.
Fish and seafood
Seafood, including all fish as well as shellfish, is extremely good for us.
High in protein and relatively low in calories, it’s a nutrient-dense addition to any diet.
The two main nutrients found specifically in fish that you are missing are omega 3 fatty acids and zinc from shellfish.
While omega 3s are only found in a small number of fatty fish – including salmon, sardines and fresh tuna – fatty fish is one of the very few naturally occurring foods that offer this important nutrient.
This means that skipping oily fish altogether will make it nearly impossible to get the amount of omega 3s you need in your diet, without supplementation.
Zinc is another nutrient that we can lack.
But shellfish, especially oysters and mussels, are packed with zinc which is crucial for hormone production, immune function and good skin.
Iodine is the other less frequently mentioned nutrient Australians get from our seafood – low iodine levels are linked to impaired thyroid function over the long term.
This means that if fish and shellfish aren’t your thing, a dietary supplement may be warranted.
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