The Problem with Diet Restriction Lists

You don’t have to go far on the internet to find a diet restriction list. They can be helpful, but can also lead to over restriction and fear about eating. In this article, we will explore how to use the lists without getting caught up in them.

Food is composed of many different naturally occurring compounds. The most common compounds that clients ask about are: histamine, salicylates, benzoates and oxalates.

Two things are necessary for a practical dietary restriction.

First, good techniques to measure the compound must be developed through substantial research. Second, research to demonstrate the compound negatively impacts health. The gluten-free diet is an example that meets these criteria. There is clear evidence that gluten can affect health (in susceptible people, moderate gluten is okay for most people) and there have been thousands of research studies to develop a reliable method to measure gluten in food. However, most other restrictions (e.g. histamine, salicylates, oxalates, benzoates) do not meet these criteria. There has been no (or very little) research to develop reliable methods to measure these compounds, and the connection with symptoms has largely grown out of speculation on the internet.

Another reason why definitive lists are not possible is that the amount of these compounds in food varies dramatically, even within the same food. For example, histamine levels rise as a food starts to spoil. You may be able to eat ground chicken most of the time, but the occasional batch of ground chicken may be processed and stored unhygienically, so bacteria grows and histamine develops. Another theoretical example would be the level of salicylates in fruit, such as apple. Several factors may influence the levels – such as, type of apple, growing conditions and transportation. Normally, the salicylate levels may be low and tolerable, but the occasional apple may have higher levels. Coming back to the gluten comparison, gluten levels are fairly consistent in the same food (for example a slice of bread has about 5 grams of gluten).

In my practice, I have seen problems result from these lists:

Clients get frustrated, because they cannot find exact answers about what foods to avoid. There are many variations of each list on the internet, which makes sense, because they are largely based on speculation. Clients often want to know specific details. For example, “Which is lower in salicylates- white potatoes or sweet potatoes?” In most cases, these questions are impossible to answer, because this research has not been done.

The lists may lead to limited diets, because clients get the impression that these compounds are “bad” and need to be avoided. A common reason why clients end up on very restricted diets, is trying to follow several different restrictions at the same time. I have talked with many clients that want to know what they can eat on a low histamine, salicylate and oxalate diet. There’s not much left! If this sounds like you, book and appointment LINK with me and I can help you expand your diet.

Practitioners suggest clients follow restricted diets, without considering the long-term impact. Counselling clients with mysterious symptoms is very challenging. Practitioners often turn to diet restrictions (which can be helpful). The problem is that clients often get different restrictions from several practitioners along the way.

If someone finds a restriction helpful, and a food bothers them, they assume the food is high in that compound. This is how most of the restricted diet lists have grown. For example, someone finds a low histamine diet helpful. Blueberries bother them (I picked a random food) and they assume blueberries are high in histamine or releases histamine. If this gets discussed on the internet, blueberries may be added to one or more of the low histamine diet lists.

Approach dietary restriction lists with these tips:

Accept the list as a guideline. For example, there are many different low-histamine diet lists and clients spend a lot of time trying to figure out which one is best. It’s a futile search, so pick one list to start with.

Work toward finding “your best” diet. It is rare to find a diet list that fits perfectly. Most people find their own best diet through experimentation. Also, there is no “perfect diet”.

Determine if a restriction is helping or not. It’s common for people to follow a restriction – on and off, and never figure out if it is truly helping. If you are considering a restriction (e.g. low salicylate), choose a list and follow it closely for a time (e.g. three weeks). At the end of the time, decide if it has helped. If you are not sure, it probably has not made enough difference to justify the restriction.

Try one restriction (or treatment) at a time. Following more than one restriction is difficult because: 1) your diet will be very limited, 2) if you notice a benefit, you won’t know what restriction was helpful. Clients often start a low histamine diet and antihistamine medications at the same time. If they feel better, they don’t know which one helped.

If a restriction is helpful, experiment to find your individual tolerances. If you ask ten people on a low histamine diet about their individual tolerances, you will get ten different answers. Everyone has individual tolerances, so experiment to find yours. Don’t restrict a food just because it is on a list.

Not sure what to eat? I can help you sort through the confusing information and make a meal plan.

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