Avoiding Dogmatic Diets

If I were to sum up the diet trends of the past few decades, it would be something like this, with all apologies to Michael Pollan: eat more vegetables, eat less meat, eat whole foods instead of processed foods.

Pretty simple, and it’s a philosophy I practice (almost) every meal. I don’t like dogmatic approaches to diet — I mean, except the part where no gluten will ever be part of any meal I eat. That’s not so much dogmatism as it is keeping me healthy and alive.

You’ll notice that advocates of certain diets — Paleo! Whole30! — buy wholesale into the “rules” surrounding these eating regimens. The problem with restrictive diets is they don’t take into account how real people eat in the real world. These diets say they’re solving a certain problem or addressing a certain issue, but they can also cause other problems.

For example, the Whole30 diet says to strip certain foods completely from your diet. In this case, sugar, grains, dairy, and legumes. Okay, it’s only 30 days, but what you’re really doing is reducing carbohydrates, vitamins, including B vitamins, calcium, and protein plus loads of nutrients. When I look at a highly-touted diet from that perspective, it bothers me. My first question is: how are those nutrients being replaced?

Yes, I firmly believe in cutting as many added sugars as possible from our diets; we are becoming an increasingly obese world (not just nation) because of what and how we eat. I am less sanguine about the other foods. The Whole30 website suggests that following the diet can help you address a long list of health issues, and I’ve mentioned that following a gluten-free diet can help with reducing inflammation (provided you don’t replace the eliminated gluten-based food with something just as bad).

I do not doubt that people who follow the diet for 30 days will feel certain benefits, including weight loss. What I doubt is that most people will truly stick to the diet, and I doubt that certain issues, such as fertility, are magically cured by eliminating dairy and grains. I worry when advocates of certain eating programs suggest they can cure more than they help.

Yes, following this diet will lower your blood sugar, which could help with staving off diabetes. Likewise, there are many good aspects of the Paleo diet, things I practice myself. I simply balance the good with common sense. I don’t eat a lot of dairy, but I don’t avoid dairy. I am healthy despite this daring move on my part. My body seems to tolerate it in smallish amounts without an issue.

My point is there is a lot of good in these diets, which also includes Atkins, the Mediterrean diet, and so forth. There is also a lot of dogmatism, and there are a lot of questionable health claims made. For example, if you are dealing with the inflammation that comes along with rheumatoid arthritis, diet absolutely helps…but you’re not actually addressing the underlying illness. Which means you’re applying a temporary fix to a larger problem.

Eat lots of vegetables. Eat less meat. Eat whole foods instead of processed foods. This last one, for those of us who are gluten free, makes all the difference in the world. Who doesn’t want a diet that reduces the amount of time we spend squinting at package labels, trying to figure out ingredients?

Tip of the Week

If you’ve gone through the gluten-free journey, you know that your body tries to communicate issues the best way it can. Pay attention to what you eat and how you feel. If a food doesn’t work for you and your body, don’t eat it.

Gluten-Free Meal of the Week

I recently had some friends over for a birthday party, and, drum roll!, for fun, I baked a gluten-free cake. It featured almond flour, oranges, and tons of coconut. Plus, ahem, lots of sugar. It was delicious, but incredibly, incredibly rich. Especially coming after a meal of grilled steak — where my husband and I enjoyed much smaller portions than we would have in the past — veggie-forward salads, and grilled vegetables.

Though the cake was a huge hit (recipe linked below), the surprise star of the meal was a riced cauliflower salad featuring sliced almonds, dried apricots, grilled onions, lots of herbs, and, yes, cauliflower. I made a huge bowl, hoping for leftovers. There were none to be had. This salad will be a staple in our menu.

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