With the passing of the New Year, it’s not uncommon to hear people say they’re cutting out a certain food or food group in the pursuit of optimal health. Some people may even go as far as to call certain foods ‘toxic’, but are they really? Here are some of the most common foods to be labelled as ‘toxic’:
There are people who genuinely require a wheat- or gluten-free diet, such as those with a wheat allergy or celiac disease. Other than these individuals, wheat and gluten can be incorporated as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Many wheat- and gluten- containing foods are also good sources of fibre and B-vitamins, plus gluten-free products (such as gluten free bread) often have extra sugar, fat, and salt added to them to make them more palatable.
So what about people who feel better after going gluten-free? Firstly, if you think you have a sensitivity to wheat or gluten - talk to your physician. It is important to first rule out potential food allergy, celiac disease, or another underlying health condition (such as irritable bowel syndrome [IBS]) before self-diagnosing and restricting your diet. After these investigations have been done, a registered dietitian can help you follow a diet that keeps you healthy and free of any potential food allergies or intolerances.
Dairy is another popular food group to eliminate in the hopes of optimal health or reduced inflammation. Sometimes, dairy is eliminated due to a self-diagnosed lactose intolerance. However, dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese are good sources of protein, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. Additionally, dairy products are actually thought to be anti-inflammatory instead of pro-inflammatory. Therefore, eliminating dairy should not be done haphazardly. Always consult with your healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, to see if eliminating dairy is right for you and what foods you can substitute in to ensure you are getting enough of these nutrients.
Soy products, such as soy milk, tofu, and tempeh, are made from soybeans and are good vegetarian sources of protein, B-vitamins, iron, omega-3 essential fatty acids, calcium, and vitamin D. Despite their nutritive value, soy products have a reputation for being unhealthy. Soy products naturally contain compounds called isoflavones, which resemble the hormone estrogen, also known as phytoestrogens. This has sparked concern over their potential effect on both men and women alike. However, this concern has been debunked by scientific evidence. 2-3 servings a day of soy products can be safely included in a healthy, balanced diet for both women and men! In fact, consumption of soy products may lower your risk of certain cancers (such as breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers), and help lower cholesterol, among other health benefits.
Eggs have had a bad reputation for years over their cholesterol content, but Health Canada notes that scientific evidence shows dietary cholesterol is not a major factor influencing cholesterol levels or risk of cardiovascular disease. Eggs are a fantastic source of protein, iron, vitamin D, and vitamin A. So feel free to enjoy eggs again!
Nightshades are a large family of plants, most of which are inedible. However, some common foods also belong to the nightshade family, such as: potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers. Some are concerned that nightshades contain a compound called solanine, which has pro-inflammatory properties. Some individuals, such as those with arthritis, claim that consuming nightshades exacerbates their arthritis pain. However, there is no scientific evidence linking consumption of nightshades with inflammation. To make it even more confusing, nightshades even have anti-inflammatory compounds, such as lycopene, in them! In conclusion, there is no need to avoid nightshade vegetables if you’ve never had a problem eating them before. If you find consuming nightshade vegetables causes inflammation (such as arthritis pain), it is unlikely that you are sensitive to all nightshade vegetables. You can work with a registered dietitian to determine which, if any, nightshade vegetables to avoid as well as other strategies for fighting inflammation!
Over the years, fat has gotten a bad reputation for worsening health. However, this reputation isn’t well-deserved. Fat is one of the 3 macronutrients (the other 2 being carbohydrates and protein), and is essential for good health. Fat is used by the body as a source of energy, to absorb certain nutrients (such as fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K), protect organs, help keep the body warm, cell growth, hormone functions, and many other roles. Fats also add delicious flavour and texture to food, and helps to keep you feeling full. As such, there is no need to fear fat!
When choosing fats, choose more unsaturated fats than saturated fats. This means choosing foods such as fatty fish, nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil more often. Try to avoid, or at least limit, trans fats. Fortunately, as of September 17, 2018, Canada has banned the addition of industry-made trans fats to food!
Over the past couple of years, carbohydrates and, especially, sugar have come into the hot seat. Many people have shifted the blame from fat to carbs for health deterioration. Keep in mind, however, that carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of fuel and can be good sources of fibre and B-vitamins.
It’s important to keep in mind that not all carbohydrates are created equal. Simple carbohydrates, such as table sugar, are quick to be digested and absorbed by the body. Complex carbohydrates are longer chains of carbohydrates that contain fibre, they are slower to be digested and absorbed by the body. Complex carbohydrates can be found in fruit, whole grains, oats, legumes, potatoes, and other foods.
Try to choose complex carbohydrates (think high fibre!) more often to slow digestion and absorption, increase satiety, keep bowel movements regular, and reduce your risk of chronic disease. You may also want to consider reducing the amount of added sugars in your diet. Common sources of added sugars are: table sugar, pop, fruit juice, baked treats, and breakfast cereals. You can also pair your carbohydrates with a protein or a fat to help with satiety and slowing down digestion/absorption. For example, instead of having a plain piece of multigrain toast - pair it with natural peanut butter.