So sugar promotes belly fat, dairy causes acne and gluten is doing god knows what to my gut? Is this really what I’m reading these days? I was under the impression that these items were okay in moderation (barring a legitimate health concern), but due to the extreme popularity of “elimination diets,” it seems like the world is slowly turning against them.
Elimination diets are super restrictive diets that require intense willpower and unyielding commitment. But what exactly are they? The concept is simple: you eliminate a certain food group from your diet and monitor how your body responds. Gwyneth Paltrow, Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian have all hyped various forms of the elimination diet leaving the rest of us wondering as some point, “Should I be doing that?”
I’ve enlisted the help of Lauren Florian – Registered Dietitian, licensed nutritionist and badass foodie – to help me understand why sugar, gluten and dairy are being shamed and if we all should be cutting them out (to check out more on Lauren’s background, read her advice on when it’s ok to diet.)
Is gluten really harming me?
If you do not have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, then most likely gluten is not harming you. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, malt and brewer’s yeast. Back in the day, a gluten free diet would be mostly veggies and fruit – however with the intense popularity – you can find almost anything, from muffins to pretzel without gluten. This is what can be alarming, those who choose to go gluten free and enjoy these modified products can actually see weight gain because these altered products are often more caloric. Yes, it is very important for those with gluten sensitivity and celiac disease to avoid gluten, but for everyone else it’s ok to have gluten!
Bye Bye Bye dairy?
Hands down, if you have a lactose intolerance – you should avoid dairy. This may be harder than it seems; yes, we all know dairy comes in the form of cheese on our deep dish pizza and a protein packed Greek yogurt, but did you know dairy can sneak up in such places like energy bars and sausage? It’s important to read the labels to determine exactly what you are about to consume. For the average person, try it out. Remove dairy from your diet for 21 days and see if you notice a difference and feel better without it. Some have reported clearer skin (hormones in milk can trigger a production in oils that clog pores) and less belly bloat. But remember – dairy is a great source of protein, calcium and vitamin D, so if you are looking to replace dairy, look for an alternative source that has just as much bang for your buck.
So you’re saying my addiction to Sour Patch Kids is bad?
Well, sugar is not really that “bad,” as long as you are eating sugar from good sources and in the appropriate amounts. For example, downing a bag of sour patch kids may not be a good habit (writers note: damn). However, it’s ok to eat some sugar! Sugars occur naturally in fruits, vegetables and dairy products, which are very good foods to keep in your eating regimen. Avoiding added sugar, which is sugar that has been added to food products, is the tricky part. You can do this by checking out the labels; but you’ll need to look for more than just the word “sugar;” look for corn syrup, dried cane syrup, evaporated cane juice, invert sugar, molasses, sucrose (or any word ending in “-ose”), brown rice syrup, honey, agave and maple syrup on food labels.
Try eating unprocessed foods to help cut out these added sugars. Remember, the less packaging, the better. So why not try and kick (or reduce) those sugar cravings? Try simple swaps to help satisfy your sweet tooth, but also limit the calories and pick the right type of sugar. When you feel a sweet craving coming on, try eating a piece of fruit, yogurt, a mint tea latte, frozen grapes (trust me!) or a small piece of dark chocolate.
Bottom line, if you’re looking for a way to improve how you feel, try to eliminate certain foods or aspects of your diet. Just realize that it isn’t just about what you’re taking out of your diet, it’s about what you’re replacing it with as well. Just because something says it’s dairy-, gluten- or sugar-free, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better for you.