There could be as many as 19 million people in the UK who are restricting their diet unnecessarily
HAVE you thought about ditching dairy? Or giving up gluten? You’re not alone. New research has revealed that nearly half of UK adults have cut out a food group in the hope of improving their health.
The study from nutrition company DNAFit discovered that 45 per cent of the people surveyed believed they had a food allergy. However, in reality only 15 per cent had an actual intolerance and would have benefited from cutting out a particular food group.
This means there could be as many as 19 million people in the UK who are restricting their diet unnecessarily.
But while missing out on your favourite pizza or pasta might not sound dangerous, nutrition experts warn that faddy diets could be the cause of a new health epidemic.
There is an epidemic of people – especially women – cutting out foods from their diet without needing to
Nutritionist Toral Shah
“There is an epidemic of people – especially women – cutting out foods from their diet without needing to,” says nutritionist Toral Shah from The Urban Kitchen (theurbankitchen.co.uk).
“It’s a huge problem. A lot of people aren’t getting the nutrients they need because they don’t replace the foods they’re cutting out with suitable alternatives.”
Not only could this lead to vitamin deficiencies in the short term, it could cause lasting damage to long-term health too.
“It can lead to serious health problems,” says Toral. “A lot of people are cutting out carbs, which means they’re not eating wholegrains. This means they don’t eat the fibre they need, which puts them at risk of heart disease.
“In fact, women are now more likely to suffer from heart disease than men and one of the contributing factors is dietary change.”
What’s more, cutting out foods such as oats could lead to high cholesterol, which is also on the rise in women. And popular vegan diets could lead to a lack of vitamin B12, which can cause lasting nerve damage.
“Some of the early symptoms of B12 deficiency such as tiredness and lethargy are easy to write off but, if left untreated, it can lead to depression, anxiety and nerve damage,” says Sophie Medlin, lecturer in nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London.
THE popularity of celebrity diets and rise of so-called wellness experts on social media have been blamed for this worrying trend.
DNAFit found that 22 per cent of people who restricted their diet did so because they identified with symptoms described by a celebrity and decided to cut out the same foods.
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Other common reasons were recommendations from a friend or family member or taking health advice from online clean-eating gurus.
And while the most common age group to be affected was 25 to 35, it is a problem which affects people of all ages.
In fact, some of the people surveyed had cut out a food group for more than 20 years, only to find out they were in no better health because of it.
Sophie believes the prevalence of online diet advice is a cause for concern. “I think it’s really dangerous when we look at the rise of certain diet trends, especially in young adults,” she says.
Experts warn that faddy diets could be the cause of a new health epidemic
“For many people their main source of information about diet is bloggers and online wellness gurus. It’s an un-regulated world.
“I think we need to see much better governance over who can give out health advice online.”
Toral agrees. “People often aspire to be like celebrities or wellness gurus because they look good and they assume that looking good means they’re healthy too.
“But most of these people look good because they’re in their 20s and should be in their prime anyway. Health and aesthetics are two very different things.”
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For people considering cutting out a food group, Toral advises caution. “Ask yourself why you’re giving it up. If it’s to lose weight, think about whether it’s really worth it in the long term,” she says.
“If you look at long-term studies, being leaner is definitely better for you but that doesn’t mean if you’re carrying a few extra pounds that you’re not healthy.”
If you’re convinced you have a food intolerance, Sophie recommends keeping a journal. “If you’re experiencing symptoms of food intolerance or allergy, the best thing to do is keep a food and symptom diary,” she says.
“It may be helpful to try cutting out a certain food for a short period of time but always do this under the supervision of a trained professional, such as a dietitian.”
If you’re convinced you have a food intolerance, Sophie recommends keeping a journal
My Obsession with cutting out gluten made me feel dreadful
Haley Wallbank,57, is a teacher who lives in Brighton
WHEN I read that 45 per cent of Britons believe they have a food intolerance, I wasn’t surprised. I spent three years on a gluten-free diet because I believed it would make me slimmer, more energised and less sluggish.
But in truth it isolated me from family and friends and left me feeling weak and unable to concentrate. Looking back now, I can see obsessive I became.
I first cut out gluten in 2014 after reading advice from the actress Gwyneth Paltrow. In her book It’s All Good, Gwyneth explained that giving up gluten and dairy can make people feel better so that’s what I decided to do.
I immediately stopped eating anything that contained gluten and restricted my dairy intake significantly.
It had an immediate effect on my social life. I was used to three times a week but going gluten-free made that much harder. Over time I stopped going out with friends altogether.
I also became a terrible bore and was always trying to persuade other people to follow the same diet.
I tried to convince myself I felt better but in fact I felt terrible. Friends and family were worried about me and eventually I went to my GP.
After running some tests the doctor told me the symptoms I had been trying to cure by changing my diet were in fact caused by the menopause.
I started taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and over a few months introduced foods such as pasta back into my diet. As a result, my energy levels soared. I had no idea my symptoms were caused by the menopause.
I definitely wouldn’t advise diagnosing yourself with a food intolerance without taking proper advice.
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WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU EAT…
GLUTEN FREE Many gluten-free foods are higher in sugar and fat than their wheat-based alternatives. You may also miss out on prebiotics and fibre, which are good for gut health and digestion.
DAIRY FREE There are nine key nutrients in dairy products that are difficult to find elsewhere, including calcium and vitamin D. Both are essential for healthy bones.
VEGAN Eating more fruit and veg is great but a completely vegan diet is very restrictive. If you do go vegan, it is essential to supplement your diet with vitamin B12, which helps maintain healthy blood and nerve cells.
RAW There are some nutrients that are much more difficult to absorb on a raw food diet, such as vitamin A which is essential for eye health.
NO CARB Cutting out carbs means you miss out on fibre and protein from foods such as oats and wheat. This could lead to heart disease.
Read more here: Daily Express :: Health Feedhappy wheels
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