Your body, your special diet
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik
Whether you’re a gluten-free gal, vegetarian, soy-sensitive guy, vegan or anyone who requires or has chosen a special diet, chances are you have heard this question:
But what do you eat?
People – family members, friends, that nosy coworker who won’t stop giving you her damn two cents – very often express concern over the idea of eliminating a common food item or ingredient from your diet, and they also like to make it their job to make sure you are getting proper food and nutrients into your diet.
And while the truth of the matter is maintaining a special diet is not about pleasing anyone but you, there are still a few things to consider when you do a switcheroo on your dietary habits. Eliminating an ingredient, like gluten, or entire food group(s) (in the case of vegetarians and vegans), is definitely not a task to be taken lightly. And although it’s frustrating as hell to hear sometimes, it is ultra-important we make sure we are getting the vitamins, minerals and calories we need.
Your personal Rx
Now, let’s get one thing straight: There is not a one-size-fits-all answer. All I know is the things that have worked for me throughout my process, including a number of them from the health experts I love and appreciate the most. And, yes, we should all consult physicians before making a dietary switch. But for the moments of confusion that follow, I offer you a few things that have been helpful to me:
1. Stop trying to replace meat. If you are opting for a vegetarian or vegan diet, you’ll want to listen up on this one. Sure, tofu is OK, and so are soy hot dogs or “chicken” nuggets made from wheat protein – if, of course, you are not gluten-free. But treat them like everything else – eat them in moderation and as a part of a well-rounded diet that includes tons of fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
2. Dairy is not the only source of calcium. Did you know 1 cup of calcium-fortified orange juice has the same amount of calcium as 1 cup of milk (300 milligrams)? Or that a cup of broccoli (178 milligrams) has more calcium than 1/4 cup of cottage cheese (120 milligrams)? The point is, you can get your calcium and keep those bones strong without the help of milk at all.
3. Repeat after me: I am a vegetarian/gluten-free eater/vegan/etc., and I pledge to not eat boring food. Whether you’re choosing a special diet or have just been given a diagnosis it’s time to cut some foods that are making you sick, I promise there are plenty of food options that are delicious and sometimes downright sinfully good. Vegetarians do not have to exist solely on pasta and cheese. (You’ve heard of veggies and fruit, right? Eat ’em.) On the contrary, gluten-free eaters have a multitude of bread, pasta and grain options available to them that do not include wheat, barley, rye or oats. Will it be an adjustment? Absolutely. Will you still enjoy your food? You bet!
4. You don’t have to take vitamins like crazy to make up for what you’re missing. Again, just like the earlier point about calcium, your foods can and should be your primary source of nutrients. Even in the case of a vegan diet, you can still get your iron – which seems to be a big concern for, oh, everyone. True story: A broiled sirloin steak has 0.9 milligrams of iron per 100 calories, while cooked lentils have 2.9 milligrams of iron per 100 calories. Spinach has 15.7 milligrams of iron per 100 calories! Remember Popeye? Yeah, he knew a thing or two about iron.
5. That being said, there are a few supplements worth considering. Even the healthiest of the health nuts can benefit from a few key supplements, like probiotics, vitamin D and B12. Should they take the place of real food? No. For the most part, you’ll get the good stuff from all of that healthy stuff you’ve been pumping into your bod. But a little boost won’t hurt and, in some cases, it could mean the difference between feeling energized and totally crappy. (Important: When choosing supplements, be sure to look for the label you require – i.e. vegan, gluten-free, etc.)
6. When in doubt, do a little research. Throughout the years, I have spent learning about healthy living and applying it to my life, books – and nowadays, the Internet – have been one of the most valuable resources I could get my hands on. Some of my favorites include: “The China Study” by T. Colin Campbell, “Clean Food: A Seasonal Guide to Eating Close to the Source with More Than 200 Recipes for a Healthy and Sustainable You” by Terry Walters and “Crazy Sexy Diet” by Kris Carr.
The bottom line? What works for you is simply that: what works for you. Don’t let anyone tell you any different.
Caroline Shannon-Karasik is the author of The Gluten-Free Revolution and a certified health coach. She is also the author of the popular gluten-free blog, sincerelycaroline.com. Her writing and recipe development has been featured in several publications, including, VegNews, Kiwi and REDBOOK magazines. Caroline lives with her husband Dan and four adopted cats in Pittsburgh, Penn. Caroline can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.