Eliminating foods you love is much harder than enjoying them in the right amount

Why Elimination Diets Don’t Work


Given all the restrictive food fads that have come and gone over the years – no fat, no wheat, raw food, only liquids – it’s time to acknowledge that they do not work long term. More importantly, they don’t help people adopt better eating habits. When I meet with a client who has tried to avoid eating a particular food or beverage as a way to lose weight or improve their health, they often confess their abstinence didn’t last very long. They then tell me that once they ate the “forbidden” food again they felt so guilty about their “failure” they lost hope of ever improving their diet, and ended up eating more carelessly. It’s a story that gets repeated over and over.

Unfortunately, many people believe weight management is about having the willpower to give up certain foods, but research has shown deprivation does not yield results. The calories in everything we eat and drink count, so learning to balance them all is what matters most. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states, “In studies that have held total calorie intake constant, there is little evidence that any individual food groups or beverages have a unique impact on body weight.”


Dietary change and compliance are easier when we keep the familiar and favorite foods and beverages on the table. It is also a misconception that food elimination is necessary for good health. Unless someone has a medical reason to omit a specific food or ingredient, such as a diagnosis of celiac disease requiring the avoidance of gluten, every other food and beverage imaginable can be included in a balanced diet. The goal is to establish healthy and sustainable eating habits, and that requires adjustments in the amounts and types of foods you eat and how often you eat them, not removal of any specific food. These modifications are the key to having an eating plan you can live with for life.

Planning your meals in this more inclusive way has many advantages. The most important of all is that it accommodates the many generational and cultural food traditions that are part of our diverse population. I can’t imagine asking a family of Mexican heritage to stop making flan because it contains too much sugar or telling a woman of Indian descent that the Masala Chia she serves with pride is too sweet. And for my clients who enjoy a soda now and then because it’s what they grew up drinking, it means they don’t have to give it up altogether.


It’s important to balance all of our food and beverage choices to best meet our nutritional needs. This may mean decreasing certain foods and increasing others, but eliminating all sugar, red meat or cheese does not solve anyone’s weight maintenance challenges. The Dietary Guidelines also state “a healthy eating pattern is not a rigid prescription, but an array of options that can accommodate cultural, ethnic, traditional, and personal preferences and food cost and availability. Americans have flexibility in making choices to create a healthy eating pattern that meets nutrient needs and stays within calorie limits.”

In the end it helps to ask yourself what makes more sense: never having that piece of cake (can of soda, order of fries, whatever) again for the rest of your life, or enjoying it once in a while as part of a balanced diet. I choose the cake!

Shiny red apple sitting on top of a book

Nutrition Education vs Healthy Eating Habits

This post was written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the original post here.


Americans have received a lot more nutrition education than is evident by looking at what we eat. Thanks to a number of successful campaigns by the food industry and government-issued healthy eating guidelines, we have had the chance to learn what’s in our food and why it’s good for us, even if we don’t always put it into practice.

Please take this little quiz to help make my point:

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t know milk is rich in calcium and calcium is good for our bones?

  1. Can you name a food high in vitamin C?
  2. Where does most of the iron we eat end up in our bodies?
  3. Why do we need protein in our diets?
  4. What makes our blood pressure go up?

(You can find the correct answers below.) If you got them right, that’s proof the marketing about these food-nutrient-function connections stuck. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean you have healthy eating habits.

What’s Missing From Nutrition Education?

Associating individual nutrients with individual foods is an easy way to get a message across, but there are unintended consequences. The biggest one is that we tend to lose sight of the synergy of a mixed diet and the way nutrients work together to keep us healthy.

For example, teaching people which foods have the highest level of this nutrient or that overlooks the fact those nutrients are of little value to us until they are absorbed. As it turns out, one of the best ways to enhance absorption is to consume different types of food together, not single foods.

Then there is the danger of believing the only nutritional value of a food is the one nutrient you associate with it, such as the calcium in milk. This narrow view can result in your thinking something as complex as milk can be replaced by a single dietary supplement, such as calcium. If that happens, you’ll end up cheating yourself out of the 10 other vitamins, minerals and protein found in milk.

And finally, there is the problem of not knowing about the other foods-nutrients-functions that haven’t had their own advertising blitz yet. So until someone launches a “Get Your Potassium From Produce” promotion or “Go Nuts for Magnesium” movement, we’ve got to include as much variety in our diets as possible to cover all the bases.

Eat What You Know

At the end of the day, healthy eating habits aren’t measured by what we know about food and nutrition. They’re reflected in what we eat. I believe most people know enough, they just have to eat what they know.

(Answers: Orange juice, blood, build muscles, sodium)

Study finds restrictive diets and nutrition advice for elderly may not apply

Are Special Diets and Nutrition Guidelines Forever?

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Family Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read my original blog here.


Have you ever wondered what the upper age limit is for dietary advice? I’m not talking about headline grabbing food fads, but the diet and nutrition guidelines issued periodically by the government and health organizations that tell us what we should be eating more of and what we should eat less of to maintain health and prevent disease.

It’s something worth thinking about if you’re approaching the upper age limit for advice on nutrition.

Food intake requirements are based on several age categories for those younger than 19 years to address the special nutritional needs of growing infants, children and adolescents. The only other special categories are for pregnant and lactating women. The rest of us are lumped into three big groups for anyone 19-30, 31-50 and 51 -70 years of age.

But what about all those people living into their 80s and beyond? Could they possibly expect the same benefits from following a therapeutic diet as a 55 year old? New research suggests the answer is no. In fact, there may actually be survival benefits to being overweight or slightly obese as we age.

Be prepared to take back some of the dietary do’s and don’ts you may have issued to your aging parents.

Researchers at Penn State University and the Geisinger Healthcare System have been tracking the diet and health outcomes of more than 20,000 older people for more than a decade. The findings published in the January issue of the Journal of Nutrition Health and Aging focused on 449 individuals who were 76 years of age or older at the start of the study and followed for five years.

Using information collected in a series of 24-hour diet recalls obtained by telephone, the participants were categorized as having one of three different dietary patterns:

  • Sweets and Dairy – largest proportion of energy from baked goods, milk, sweetened coffee and tea, and dairy-based desserts, and the lowest intakes of poultry
  • Health-Conscious – higher intakes of pasta, rice, whole fruit, poultry, nuts, fish and vegetables, with lower intakes of fried vegetables, processed meats and soft drinks
  • Western – higher intakes of breads, eggs, fats, fried vegetables, alcohol and soft drinks, with the lowest intakes of milk and whole fruit

The researchers then used the subjects’ electronic medical records to identify whether they developed cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension and metabolic syndrome during the five year period. They found no relationship between any of the dietary patterns and cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome or mortality, but did see an increased risk of hypertension among those with the Sweets and Dairy pattern of eating.

Gordon Jensen, one of the authors and Head of Nutritional Science at Penn State University, said, “The results suggest that if you live to be this old, then there may be little to support the use of overly restrictive dietary prescriptions, especially where food intake may already be inadequate.”

This does not mean that people who have been following all the right diet rules can now abandon them. They can actually look forward to the best health outcomes of all. But for the rest of the over 70 crowd whose diets and nutrition habits have not been perfect, there may be no need to keep worrying about what you eat.

There are many ways to substitute whole grains for refined grains

15 Stealth Health Tips With Whole Grains

This blog was written as a guest post for the Bell Institute for Nutrition and health. You can read the original post here.

The message to eat more whole grains is now a familiar piece of nutrition advice to most Americans. It has been reinforced in each update of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans since the year 2000 and is prominently featured in the new MyPlate food plan. The food industry has also done its part by offering a wide assortment of whole grains choices to cover everything from cereals to snacks and side dishes.

The only challenge left is helping consumers incorporate more of these whole grain foods into their everyday meals.

The top 3 reasons I have heard from my clients for not eating enough whole grains are:

  • They’re not always available when eating out
  • I don’t always have a grain food with my meals
  • I don’t like the taste and texture of whole grains foods

While nothing could be easier than eating a serving of whole grain cereal for breakfast, a sandwich made on whole wheat bread for lunch and a stir fry over brown rice for dinner to get 4-5 servings of whole grains in one day, that menu doesn’t work every day of the week.

For those situations, some stealth solutions are needed. That means making simple substitutions in how food is prepared at home to make whole grains available at every meal and snack to increase their consumption throughout the week. What makes them stealth solutions is that they look and taste as good as the foods they’re replacing and can save money, too!

15 Stealth Solutions to Boost Whole Grain Intake

  1. Cube whole wheat or rye bread, brush with olive oil, season, and bake for crunchy croutons
  2. Crumble stale cornbread to make a country-style poultry stuffing
  3. Save whole wheat bread crusts and ends in the freezer, then use to make bread crumbs
  4. Slice day-old whole wheat baguettes, spray with olive oil, and bake for use with hummus and other spreads
  5. Prepare individualized pizzas using whole wheat pitas as the crust
  6. Cut corn tortillas into 6 pieces and crisp in a hot oven to enjoy with salsa
  7. Replace bread crumbs with rolled oats in meatloaf and meatballs
  8. Crush leftover whole grain cereal flakes and nuggets to stir into muffin batters instead of some flour or nuts
  9. Combine whole grain pretzel and cracker crumbs to use as a coating for fish and poultry
  10. Use white whole wheat bread to make French toast, and make extra to freeze
  11. Stretch tuna and chicken salad by adding some chilled brown rice
  12. Create a mixed-grain pilaf using brown rice, barley, and wild rice
  13. Use whole wheat couscous in place of noodles in soups
  14. Make risotto from barley instead of short-grained round rice for its creamy, chewy texture
  15. Mix cornmeal or oat flour into pancake batter for added flavor
It’s not just what you eat on the Mediterranean Diet plan, but how you eat it

The Mediterranean Diet Plan is About More Than the Food

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the original blog here.


What makes the Mediterranean diet plan so special? The cuisines of Spain, France, Italy, Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Malta, Tunisia, Turkey, Algeria, Albania, Greece, Israel, Croatia, Libya and Lebanon – all countries that have a border on the Mediterranean – certainly are not all the same. Some use rice as a staple, others rely on wheat. Some feature pork, while for others it’s forbidden. Some drink wine every day, yet some abstain completely.

Could the health benefits be due to something other than the food?

What Foods Make the Mediterranean Diet Special?

In the 1960s researchers first reported longer lifespans and less chronic disease among people in Spain, southern Italy, and Greece compared to the US, Japan and several European countries. The scientists attributed the health and longevity of the people living along the Mediterranean to their diet.

After 50 years of continuing study into what they were eating, a Mediterranean Diet Pyramid was published in 1995 (we had Food Pyramids before we got My Plate), then updated in 2008.

The current version includes foods recommended for every meal in the first tier: fruits, vegetables, grains (mostly whole), nuts, legumes, seeds, olives, olive oil, herbs and spices. The next level adds fish and seafood, to be eaten at least twice a week. The third tier introduces moderate amounts of poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt, either daily or weekly. Then the top and final space is for sweets and meats, both to be eaten sparingly. Water and wine are the only beverages called for.

The major distinctions from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are the emphasis on foods from plant sources at every meal, using olive oil as the primary fat, choosing minimally processed food, and eating very little red meat. But that’s not all that’s different.

What Else Makes the Mediterranean Diet Special?

As it turns out, the way people eat is as important as what they eat. For folks living the good life along the Mediterranean, mealtimes are social occasions enjoyed in the company of family and friends. That does not mean they eat off their best china at every meal, but rather, they spend time at the table savoring their food without the distractions of their jobs or beeping electronic gadgets.

And that just might be the best way to begin your journey towards a more Mediterranean diet. Yes, the whole wheat couscous, Kalamata olives and fresh fish are important, but who knows what else might happen if you come to the table ready to sit down, log off, and tune in to one another?

How are you going to celebrate National Mediterranean Diet Month this May?

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