Susie Burrell

‘your food, your body, your life’

What happens when you take whole food groups out of your diet.

In this day and age it is not a diet until you have eliminated something – carbs, or dairy or wheat or gluten, or even all of the above. A question rarely addressed in these circumstances is what are the nutritional consequences of eliminating entire food groups from your regular diet? And as such what we need to replace the banned foods with to ensure we are not missing out on something the body really needs to keep it healthy long term.

1. Dairy

The first thing we generally think when we think of milk and other dairy foods is their calcium content, but dairy foods are also a rich natural source of magnesium, Vitamin B12, phosphorus, protein, Vitamin D and Vitamin A, all which can be impacted over time when dairy foods are completely eliminated from the diet. As dairy is such a rich natural source of calcium, it is very difficult for adults to get the 800-1000mg of calcium they need each day for healthy bones without any dairy in the diet. While nut milks and soy products may be fortified with calcium, it is rarely in the amounts found in the equivalent to three serves of dairy each day. There are also a number of popular plant based milk alternatives that contain little to no added calcium which means you may be still be consuming what you think is ‘’milk’ with very few of the nutritional benefits real milk offers. 

The issue with a low intake of calcium is that the potential side effects including brittle bones may not be seen for a number of years, by which time it is too late to do much about it. For this reason if you want to ditch dairy completely from your diet, make sure you are choosing nut or grain based milks that are fortified with calcium or take a calcium supplement regularly so you get the 800-1000mg of calcium you need every day. 

2. Red meat

You may choose to not include red meat in your diet for a number of different reasons but nutritionally the key issue is that you also eliminate one of the richest natural sources of iron from the diet. While white meat, eggs, wholegrains and leafy greens do contain some iron, the reality is that this iron is relatively poorly absorbed compared to that found in red meat. Low iron levels are common, with up to 25% of Australian women battling low iron levels which can leave you feeling fatigued, breathless and dealing with low immunity.

While vegetarians adapt over time and become more efficient at absorbing their iron from plant foods, it tends to be those who consume red meat occasionally, or still include fish or chicken in their diet who are at higher risk of developing iron deficiency, as their body is used to absorbing iron from animal sources. To get adequate dietary iron without including red meat in the diet particular attention needs to be paid to include iron rich foods at each meal and snack to get even close to getting the 18mg of iron adult females require each day. 

3. Poultry

White meat including chicken and turkey, whilst relatively lean and protein rich does not contain the nutrient density of that in lean red meat. You get some Vitamin B6, phosphorus, selenium and Vitamin B12 in chicken and turkey and the only concern for intake of these key nutrients was if your diet was vegan. If you still including eggs and / or dairy you would be getting enough of these vitamins and minerals. Keep in mind though that lean chicken and turkey meat are protein rich and extremely lean meats and can be a valuble addition to the diet. 

4. Eggs

Eggs are an extremely nutritious food containing more than 20 essential vitamins and minerals include good quality protein, good fats, Vitamins A and E and as such make a nutrient rich addition to any diet. While the nutrients in eggs are all important for our health, with the exception of a couple of micronutrients most of what we do get from eggs we can get from other foods. One exception is selenium, a powerful antioxidant that plays a key role in cell health and that is found in very few foods including eggs and Brazil nuts. A single egg offers at least ¼ of your daily selenium requirement. Eggs are also a good source of Vitamin D, another nutrient that can be low in our diet overall, so again pay a little more attention to the good fats in your diet if eggs are off the menu.  

5. Fish & seafood

Seafood, including all fish as well as shellfish is extremely good for us. High in protein and relatively low in calories it is a nutrient rich addition to any diet. The two key nutrients that are specifically found in fish that you stand to miss out on are the omega 3 fats and zinc from shellfish. While omega 3’s are only in a small number of oily fish including salmon, sardines and fresh tuna, oily fish are one of the very few natural foods which offer this important nutrient. This means that skipping oily fish altogether will make it almost impossible to get the amount if omega 3 you ideally need in your diet without supplementation. Zinc is another nutrient we do not get a lot of but shellfish, in particular oysters and mussels are packed full of zinc which is crucial for hormone production, immune function and good skin. The other less frequently mentioned nutrient Aussies get from our seafood is iodine – notoriously low in Australian soil, low iodine is linked to impaired thyroid functioning long term. This means if fish and shellfish are not your thing, a dietary supplement may be warranted.