Wednesday 28 January 2015

Can you be too healthy for your own good?

Obsession with health is an easy trap to fall into, writes nutritionist Elsa Jones

Nutritionist Elsa Jones
Cutting out food groups without the right medical guidance can lead to nutrient deficiencies and negative health consequences, such as infertility or hair loss. Photo by Thinkstock
Nutritionist Elsa Jones
Cutting out food groups without the right medical guidance can lead to nutrient deficiencies and negative health consequences, such as infertility or hair loss. Photo by Thinkstock
Kim Kardashian followed the Atkins diet to achieve her post-pregnancy weight loss. Photo by Getty Images
Excessive proten intake can lead to kidney damage and calcium deficiencies.
Vitamin and mineral supplements should be taken with caution

IF THERE was an organisation called 'Healthaholics Anonymous', it would probably be immensely popular. A growing number of people are becoming more than concerned about their health, they are becoming obsessed with it.

As a nutritionist, I'd be the first person to say that taking care of your health is a wonderful thing, especially when you consider that 18pc of people in Ireland are tipping the scales at obese levels and two-thirds of us are not doing enough exercise.

However, from what I can see, we are becoming more and more like our American counterparts in that we are adopting extreme approaches when it comes to our health, ie we're either 'super healthy' or 'super unhealthy'.

I can't help but wonder, whatever happened to good old-fashioned moderation? Have we lost sight of what a healthy balanced lifestyle really is?

We all know the risks of having an unhealthy lifestyle and the consequences are well documented. But what's less known is that taking your quest for good health too far can also be damaging and it's an easy trap to fall into. Below are several ways in which healthy intentions can go awry:

Eliminating food groups

In my profession, I'm seeing more and more people self diagnosing themselves with food intolerances and cutting out various food groups in a bid to improve their health or lose weight.

Of course, in certain circumstances, reducing or eliminating a particular food group can be very beneficial, as long as it's done under professional guidance.

However, the reality is that many people are choosing to eliminate entire food groups such as carbohydrates, red meat, dairy and all types of fat, without any awareness of the potential health consequences.

For example, if you cut out dairy and don't replace your calcium intake from plant sources such as green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, you could increase your risk of developing osteoporosis.

Ditch red meat without increasing your intake of vegetable sources of iron and you risk becoming anaemic. Take the low fat message too literally and you're likely to be deficient in essential fats, which could spell bad news for your brain, skin and joints.

In short, if you remove any food group without carefully managing your nutrient levels, you risk developing nutritional deficiencies that can have any number of health consequences, from infertility to hair loss.

Following fads

Every year, without fail, a new fad diet creates a media storm and every year I put my head in my hands and wonder are we ever going to learn. There has been the Atkins diet, the Paleo diet, the Dukan diet, and more recently 'intermittent fasting' appears to be the current diet du jour.

However, potential health consequences of fad diets are rarely highlighted. In addition, extreme dieting means the body sends itself into a starvation state, slowing the metabolism down, so when you return to normal eating patterns, you gain weight more easily than before.

Obsessing over purity

It goes without saying that we could all benefit from paying more attention to what's in our food, however, a small but growing number of people is becoming obsessed with the notion of a 'perfect diet'.

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