Many people often tell me that they are avoiding a certain food (or an entire food group, or multiple food groups). I often wonder, “why be so restrictive with your daily food choices when there are so many delicious and nutritious foods to eat?” Many of these restrictions are often unfounded, based on little evidence (or no evidence at all) and many times, reflect the fear-inducing messaging often seen in headlines. Additionally, nutrition recommendations are highly individualized and not one-size-fits-all, so it’s difficult to say whether it’s appropriate or beneficial for someone who is not under my care to eliminate a particular food or food group. As a dietitian who specializes in digestive health, I work with many individuals who, oftentimes, need to avoid certain foods due to medical necessity or symptom management. Additionally, many clients come to meet me for the first time with a long list of foods that they have already eliminated due to suspected intolerance. In my practice, I like to say that I focus on repairing gut health and food relationships, because, as those suffering from GI symptoms already know, it can be difficult to rebuild that trust with food once you have been dealing with symptoms from who-knows-what dietary trigger.
Balance and Variety
Balance and variety within the diet are paramount when considering overall health. I work with individuals to improve their health through nutrition, which is often done by focusing on foods that we can add into someone’s diet, rather than focusing on foods to exclude. This is where my all foods fit mentality comes into play – if we are embarking on some form – any form - of an elimination diet (or even a modified version of an elimination diet) for symptom management, we need to make sure that there are plenty of options available for you to choose from.
Alternatives and Recipe Modifications
So, when I first meet with clients, one question that I typically ask is, “what are your favorite foods?” I then strive to provide suitable alternatives and recipes with modifications so clients can get excited about food again while avoiding possible dietary triggers and still consuming their favorite foods. This means that if the client loves cookies, I’ll be providing a suitable recipe for cookies and most likely some brands that offer options to meet their individual needs (whether that may be gluten free, dairy free, low FODMAP, you name it). If the client loves tacos, I’m going to be providing a recipe and ideas for a taco night that will meet their needs. If they love pasta but can’t eat gluten, I’ll be providing a list of gluten free pasta brands that can help them to enjoy their favorite food.
What many people may not consider is that avoiding more food groups can increase the likelihood of possible nutrient deficiencies. While this is not ideal for anyone, it is especially concerning in the presence of possible intake or absorption issues, which may be the case with digestive health conditions. The ultimate goal of most elimination diets for symptom management is to reintroduce certain foods and liberalize the diet while continuing to manage symptoms. So, instead of overly restricting your diet, I recommend working with a professional who can help you to create an individualized plan that includes a variety of food options that work for you.
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