Many of us have food we will never eat – myself included.
There are many reasons for not eating certain foods.
An allergy to a substance is one good reason. If we experience a physical reaction when we eat a specific food, of course we need to avoid it.
If we have a faith-based reason to avoid a food or ingredient, such as shellfish, pork or a stimulant like caffeine, then that is a strong reason to find substitutes for these items in our daily menus.
Other times we fear certain foods because we may have heard or read about something that scares us into a reaction. Whether the information is factual or sometimes doesn’t really come into question.
Will avoiding foods, even whole food groups, without a tangible reason have a negative impact on our health and well-being?
It can – – and sometimes does.
Food Intolerance Versus Allergies
Many people, when asked, will apply the term “allergic” to a variety of different foods and avoid them indefinitely. However, we may not be truly allergic but perhaps have had a reaction from an intolerance.
An allergy is an immune response to something in the environment, in this case a food. As many as 15 million people have food allergies, 6 million of whom are children, usually young children.
Allergies to foods can occur in a wide variety of different products but 90% of adverse responses occur from cow’s milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. In fact, despite the media attention, allergies to shellfish or Crustacea are the most common.
A food intolerance is not an immune reaction but actually an inability to digest specific foods often due to the absence of a necessary enzyme. The most common food intolerance is to lactose found in dairy.
Food intolerance is less serious than allergy, which can result in physical affects that are severe and even life threatening. A food intolerance generally only affects the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, as it impacts digestion, while a food allergy can cause a reaction in any part of the body.
Understand to be in Control
Being aware of what your body doesn’t tolerate and avoiding that will put you in control of your body and health.
Reading labels and asking questions of food preparers when you eat out, so that you don’t have to fear that the food you eat will hurt you, are important for anyone affected.
In the case of a food allergy or intolerance, there are specific items and their nutrients that can be substituted for in the meal pattern so that there won’t be any shortfalls in nutrition. For example, someone with a nut allergy or fish allergy can knowingly get proteins and other nutrients by eating other protein and vegetable sources.
The “NO” List
Many people who don’t have food allergies or intolerances avoid foods because they have some notion that it will be better for them if they stay away from them and have created long lists of foods they never consume.
- White food
- Artificial colors and food dyes
- Farm raised or caged animal products
- Food with eyes
- Processed foods
- Canned foods
- Sugar, high fructose corn syrup
- Artificial sweeteners
- Non-organic produce
- Butter or margarine
- Corn fed beef
Impacts of Your “NO” List
Avoiding so many foods based on a NO list can lead to a very restrictive nutritional intake. This shortfall is not always evident to the person restricting their diet. Eating a wide variety of foods in this case takes thought and attention to be sure all the nutritional bases are covered, especially for children in the family who need nutrients for growth and development.
There is research that shows that nutrients can be lost when foods are transported over long distances, when produce is grown in nutritionally depleted soil, or if animals aren’t fed with nutrient rich feeds.
Ingesting excessive calories, especially when other foods are severely restricted, no matter their source such as added sugars or fat, can be unhealthy or prevent you from successfully managing your weight and health.
Consistently eating overly processed, convenience, and fast foods will mean that your diet could be higher in calories, fats, sodium and lacking in other nutrients. This eating pattern can be harmful to your nutrition and may lead to chronic diseases.
Sometimes consumers take action steps with their eating based on hearsay and testimonials from people who have an ulterior motive. Perhaps they have a book to sell, a product for you to buy or a vested interest in your attention.
Science is the best source to dictate whether a food ingredient will cause us harm or eating a self-designated superfood will prevent disease. Getting our science facts straight from the source to be sure they are accurate and not accepting everything found in the media (professional or social) should be done before we spend energy, time and money on food or even lifestyle changes without evidence.
We don’t want to eat only those foods from the perimeter of the grocery store because that will leave out dried beans, whole grain foods, cereals, spices, nuts, seeds, oils, vinegar, anything found in the freezer, or low sodium canned foods.
Shopping only in the perimeter doesn’t take into account the fact that not everything found on the perimeter is healthy. One example is the bakery department on the perimeter which is filled with baked goods that aren’t always healthy. There are also many high fat, processed meats like hot dogs and bologna on the perimeter.
Consumers need to make optimal food choices for their health, no matter where the food is found in the supermarket.
And what about not eating anything white? Doesn’t that mean we won’t drink milk or eat white foods like cauliflower? Taking an all or none stance by avoiding all flour or flour containing foods because they are white may mean we don’t eat whole wheat flour either which puts us at risk for nutrient deficiencies when we exclude whole food groups rich in vitamins and minerals.
Plan to Fight Your Fear
Instead of restricting our menus without the data to back up the claims that lead us to fear certain foods, we should learn more. Knowledge is power, especially with our nutritional health!
Reading food labels, understanding science-based facts, not food fears, not accepting everything we read as truthful, seeking out experts who can share their expertise with us such as registered dietitians, and learning about farming methods directly from farmers will help us all live a healthier life.
We can enjoy foods in moderation, select foods at the grocery store or restaurant that fit into our personal health goals, and refrain from accepting false information that could harm us and others about foods that are really myths or urban legends.
Be aware of which foods contribute optimal nutrition to meet your personal and your family’s health objectives and choose wisely every time you shop and eat will help you achieve balance without fear.