5 Things I’d Never Do as a Dietitian

Jake Newby

| 5 min read

We all set certain parameters for our diets. Are there certain foods you’d never eat or buy at a grocery store? Some of us won’t touch red meat, for our cholesterol’s sake. Others opt for organic food whenever possible. Some of us only believe in certain kinds of diets, like keto, low-carb or intermittent fasting.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Health and Wellness Spokesperson Shanthi Appelö has five things she’d never do as a dietitian. If these items align with habits you’d like to consider pivoting away from, this general guidance and some replacement ideas should help.

I would never eat ultra-processed meat more than twice a week.

Processed meats like bacon, ham, sausage and hot dogs are preserved either by smoking, curing, salting or through the addition of some kind of chemical preservative. Research shows these foods are associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
A 2019 study in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that people who ate red or processed meat four times a week had a 20% higher risk of colorectal cancer than those who consumed it less than twice a week.
“What was really interesting, too, in that study, is that they found for every 25-gram serving of processed meat, the risk rose 18%,” Appelö said.
Instead of surpassing that magic number of two, Appelö recommends swapping out lunch meats and processed meats in general here and there in favor of roasted chickpeas, hummus spread, grilled chicken, fish, flavored tuna packets or even tofu.

I would never do a juice cleanse.

While some juices do offer benefits, like those with turmeric that carry anti-inflammatory properties, the sort of quick fix promised by juice cleanses usually winds up being a broken one.
“These are single solutions that don’t require a lot of effort,” Appelö said. “If all I have to do for a few days is drink juice and that’s going to make me healthier, that sounds really attractive, right? So, I get why they’re popular. But the things is, they can do more harm than good.”
Appelö mentioned that some juice cleanses can cause electrolyte imbalances.
“Some juice haven’t even been pasteurized,” she added. “If someone is part of an at-risk population it can make them sick. They also aren’t regulated, so they could have potentially harmful ingredients.”
Between our kidneys’ ability to filter our blood and remove toxins from our urine to our liver’s ability to process nutrients and our lungs’ ability to remove airborne toxins, our bodies are designed to cleanses themselves. So instead of juice cleanses, your organs will thank you later if you avoid smoking cigarettes, limit your alcohol intake, get good, consistent sleep and stay hydrated.

I would never be too restrictive with what I eat.

Food is not only fuel, but it’s an enjoyable part of life. No one wants to be the one, lonely person at a restaurant table prohibited from sharing that yummy-looking appetizer.
“When you’re restrictive, it’s really not sustainable in the long-term and can prevent you from enjoying your life,” Appelö said. “A mindset of restriction can make people feel a restricted food, it can make you feel guilt and even shame, to the point you don’t enjoy that food.”
Appelö added that feeling food deprived could even lead to binge eating or overeating. Instead of being prohibitive, she suggested thinking about how diet and lifestyle changes should generally take place for multiple years, and being restrictive isn’t sustainable.
“We should look at behaviors and food choices over time for you to keep a healthy weight while allowing foods enjoyed with friends and family, going out to eat and traveling, and all the things life has to offer,” Appelö said.

I would never do a food sensitivity test.

Food sensitivity tests work similarly to allergy testing, which measure Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies produced by the immune system.
“The presence of IgE antibodies generally means your body has triggered an immune response,” Appelö said. “Food sensitivity tests look at IgG antibody presence, not IgE. Examining these IgG antibodies haven’t been shown in research to be reliable in detecting sensitivities.”
“What happens is, if people cut out foods based on IgG results, it could mean they are unnecessarily avoiding foods that are actually healthy for you,” Appelö explained.
You should reach out to your primary care provider if you think you have an issue, sensitivity or allergy to a certain food, so they can guide you in the right direction. Appelö also suggested keeping a food diary and giving an elimination diet a try.
“Keep track of what you’re consuming and how you feel after, so that you may be able to recognize what you are sensitive to,” she said. “Finally, elimination diets do work. They’re a lot of effort and can take a long time to nail down the problem. They are generally best done alongside a health professional.”

I would never avoid gluten unless it was medically necessary.

In the early to mid 2000s, gluten became a sort of nefarious buzzword when more and more food packaging and labels touted the fact that their product was gluten-free. Appelö advises against just assuming gluten will do harm to your body or diet.
“As a society we want to place blame on things that are easy to place blame on,” she said. “Gluten can be a really easy culprit to blame problems on, like weight.”
People with Celiac Disease should absolutely cut out gluten – as should those whose doctors have advised them to due to an allergy or sensitivity. But as Appelö states, there’s been no data to suggest that anyone void of these issues will benefit by saying goodbye to gluten.
“What happens when people cut out gluten is that sometimes they miss out on a lot of whole grains,” she said. “Whole grains have been linked with so many great health outcomes. They carry fiber, B vitamins and many nutrients that are really helpful in disease prevention and keeping us regular.”
“All in all, looking at your overall diet quality and improving it by including more fruits and vegetables is key,” Appelö said. “It likely isn’t going to be gluten unless you have one of these issues, or you doctor tells you to avoid gluten.”
Want more tips like these? Read more Appelö content here:
Photo credit: Getty Images
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