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Restrictive diets - more harm than good?


It may seem like a good idea to cut certain food groups from our diets, but it is safe to do so?

Emily Condon
BSc (Hons) Biological Sciences

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Yesterday marked the beginning of Lent which continues until March 29th. Lent is a time in the Christian calendar marked by a period of fasting. Throughout the year, many people cut down on food types to try and improve their health. But is it safe to eliminate certain food groups entirely from our diet? 

Low-fat diets 

We all know that high levels of fat in the body (especially saturated fats), lead to raised cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of heart disease. Many people are eager to cut fat out of their diets to try and shift a few pounds. However, cutting fat completely from the diet can do more harm than good, as dietary fat is essential to keep the body healthy. Fat plays a wide range of roles in the body such as synthesising hormones, helping the absorption of key vitamins and helping to maintain body temperature. Essential fatty acids found in fats also aid blood coagulation, brain development and help manage inflammation. Knowing the difference between saturated fats (found in butter, cheeses, red meat and other animal-based foods) and unsaturated fats (found in oily fish, vegetable-based oils and nuts) is important when deciding which fats to cut out. Unsaturated fats protect the heart while saturated fats can increase the risk of heart damage and disease. So whilst it might be beneficial to reduce the intake of certain types of fats, cutting them out all together may not be advisable. 

Reducing alcohol intake 

After drinking alcohol, around 30% is absorbed straight into the blood through the stomach. Once in the blood, alcohol can move into nearly every tissue in the body. Because of this, alcohol is linked to more than 60 different medical conditions. Long-term heavy drinking can increase the risk of various cancer types such as mouth, throat and bowel cancer. Alcohol is also capable of lowering the body’s white blood cell count, which weakens the immune system. Of all the organs affected, the liver is particularly susceptible to alcohol-related injury because 90% of alcohol metabolism occurs here. If the liver is exposed to high alcohol levels, it is not able to break it down quickly enough, and the excess alcohol can cause damage to the liver. Over time high levels of alcohol can cause the accumulation of fat in the liver which increases inflammation and causes scar tissue to form. This can eventually lead to the development of liver disease. So we should all try to limit our alcohol intake throughout the year, not just for Lent. However even cutting down temporarily can re-set our habits for the rest of the year.

Because liver disease doesn't usually cause any major signs or symptoms until it's advanced, our liver check is a comprehensive examination of liver enzymes such as gamma GT (GGT), alanine transferase (ALT) and aspartate transferase (AST) which can be raised if the liver is damaged. Our Liver Check is the perfect test for those who want to find out if their lifestyle is damaging their liver. For a more comprehensive screen, our Well Man Ultravit and Well Woman Ultravit tests include a liver check along with tests for C-reactive protein, cholesterol status and vitamins D, B12 and folate. 

Low carbohydrate diets 

Another popular food type that many people try to reduce or cut from their diet is carbohydrates. The ketogenic diet encourages the elimination of carbohydrates for the body to produce small fuel molecules called ‘ketones’. These are produced by the liver from fat used as an alternative fuel for the body when sugar is in short supply. Because on a ketogenic diet, the body switches its fuel supply to run almost entirely on fat, many people believe this is an excellent way to burn excess body fat. Eating carbohydrates have a big impact on blood sugar and insulin levels and restricting carbohydrates helps to lower sugar levels and insulin needs. High sugar levels play a part in almost all chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, dementia, cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Although too much sugar is bad for our health, sugar is vital for the normal functioning of the body. Carbohydrates contain essential vitamins and minerals including calcium, vitamin C and iron as well as dietary fibre. Because carbohydrates can interfere with hormone production, in some women following a low carbohydrate diet can cause damaging side effects. Cutting carbohydrates from the diet can interrupt a woman’s menstrual cycle, disrupt the production of thyroid hormones over time, leading to fatigue, poor concentration and irritability. Although some people may see fast weight loss results upon following a ketogenic diet, cutting all carbohydrates out can be difficult to uphold over a long period which can lead to people regaining the weight they have lost. 

Check yourself!

Because cutting certain food types out of your diet may lead to deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals, it is important to check your health status when changing your diet. Our range of Diet and Lifestyle Checks are perfectly suited to check how your choices are affecting your health. Get insights into your liver and kidney function, cholesterol, diabetes risk, B vitamins and more. Take control of your health and order yours today.

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