Whether you choose to eat vegan, Paleo, gluten free or low sugar, ultimately, the decision of what you put into your body is up to you. Indeed each and every one of these dietary preferences has come across my desk in clinic and I have devised a nutritionally balanced, nutritionally complete food plan to match my client’s food preferences and goals. As a dietitian it is not my job to tell people what to eat. Rather to ensure that no matter what their dietary preference is that their nutrient intake is adequate and ideally optimal. The more restrictive the diet, the more likely it is that certain nutrients will be lacking. Vegans for example have to work pretty hard to tick all of their nutritional boxes. This is not a debate. This is a scientific fact. It is not saying you cannot do. It is not saying it is dangerous. It is saying that when you consume a very limited group of foods by choice you are likely to have to work pretty hard to make sure all your micronutrients are achieved via these limited range of foods. And eliminating whole food groups also tends to eliminate significant proportions of key nutrients or sees them replaced with other foods which may not be that great nutritionally either. So, in case your dietary preference skews towards one of these regimes, here are the key nutrients and/ or alternatives you do need to pay attention to.
Long term vegans and even vegetarians tend to be pretty good at absorbing their iron from legumes and grains. More important is calcium, which is much lower in nut milks than it is in dairy and not overly well absorbed from plant sources. For this reason keeping an eye on bone health is important the longer you have eaten vegan. Aiming to get 600-800mg of calcium via fortified milks is a good starting point which will also help to ensure your B12 intake is adequate as a number of these soy and nut products are fortified with B12.
The two key nutrient groups that take the brunt of strict Paleo regimes are calcium and fibre. For Paleo fans who pack their plates with vegetables at both lunch and dinner this is less likely to be a problem but if you are also avoiding fruit due to the sugar content; and are one of the many who find a good dose of wheat fibre via bran or grain helps to keep the bowel healthy, you may struggle on Paleo. One option is to be a little lenient and include some legumes or wholegrain like brown rice or quinoa occasionally to bump up your fibre intake. Calcium too is extremely difficult to get via a Paleo regime, with dietary modelling showing a strict Paleo diet giving just 200-300mg of calcium largely via nut milks. Again keep a close eye on your bone health and be open to supplementation if you are keen to keep your Paleo regime strict, as you don’t want brittle bones in 20 years’ time.
With more individuals battling autoimmune disease and with 1 in 70 Aussies who actually need to eat gluten free, we will only see more and more gluten free foods on the market. Carb intake can suffer on a gluten free diet as they are either eliminated or replaced with highly processed, high GI carb options based on rice and other refined flours. Keep your gluten free diet balanced by looking for wholegrain gluten free options where possible and snack on nuts, seeds, fruit and dairy rather than processed gluten free snacks.
The definitions of sugar free are wide and varied with some regimes allowing fruit, or brown rice malt syrup while honey and all processed carbs are strictly forbidden. If your diet is based around vegetables, protein and little processed food, chances are that your sugar intake is relatively low anyway. And simply replacing your snacks with homemade options that are packed with coconut oil, rice malt syrup, dates and coconut milk is not a low sugar or low calorie snack anyway. Keep away from processed foods and you will be on the right track with this one and remember that some Greek yoghurt with fruit and a little honey is not the reason you are gaining weight. Much more likely is the excessive snacking; binge eating on weekends and lack of activity which effects many of us in modern life.