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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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House Call: Certain diets are just what doctor ordered

Dr. Alisa Hideg

Many of my friends are on some type of specialty diet for a specific health condition: glycemic index for diabetes, gluten-free for Celiac disease, dairy-free for lactose intolerance and low-sodium for high blood pressure. Variations of these diets (more than 100 currently listed at WebMD) often crop up in popular media supported by products available on grocery shelves. They seem to be anointed as the latest, greatest thing that may solve all of your health woes.

One current popular specialty diet is called gluten-free. If you have Celiac disease or gluten allergies, following this diet will improve your health. Some people believe they are gluten intolerant. This is being studied, but as yet, it’s not a diagnosable condition. Most people can digest gluten just fine, but if you decide to go gluten-free because of a health condition or to ease digestive discomfort, do so carefully so that you still include foods with important nutrients and fiber.

Eating gluten-free means not consuming foods made with wheat, rye or barley. Many foods are labeled as gluten-free, but read other food labels carefully as it can be surprising what contains gluten. Beer, soy sauce, vitamins and pre-grated cheese are examples of things with gluten in them. “Hidden” gluten may be listed as modified food starch, malt and hydrolyzed vegetable protein.

Another diet gaining popularity is the raw foods diet. This doesn’t address a health condition, but is based on the belief that cooking destroys most of food’s nutritional value. While cooking degrades some nutrients, this is balanced in cooked foods by consuming a broad selection of different proteins, fruits, nuts and vegetables. In fact, nutrients like beta-carotene and lycopene are actually boosted by cooking. And cooking foods at appropriate temperatures kills illness-causing bacteria.

A raw diet consists mostly of uncooked fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and sprouted grains. Some people also eat unpasteurized dairy foods and raw eggs, meat and fish, which may expose them to illness-causing bacteria.

Going vegan part- or full-time is becoming popular, too. Part-time vegan usually means eating anything at one meal daily (usually supper) and then eating strictly vegan for all other meals. A food writer developed this plan after his doctor advised him to go vegan for health reasons. He did not think he could adhere to a vegan diet 24/7, but thought he could manage it for most of each day.

A vegan diet consists mostly of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and beans. Because a diet that eliminates dairy, eggs, meat and fish makes it difficult to get adequate B vitamins and vitamin D, some people take a supplement. Part time vegans, who eat anything they want for one meal (meat, cheese, sweets, etc.), are less likely to miss out on any essential nutrients since no foods are completely eliminated all the time.

Adjusting to any diet change takes time and effort. But if your health requires a special diet, then follow it. I recommend getting help from a certified dietitian if possible. It is good that there are many choices on grocery shelves for gluten free, lactose free and low sodium diets. Otherwise, a healthy diet means eating lots of fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, some whole grains, some dairy; limiting meats (especially beef and pork) to only a couple times a week; limiting salt; cooking with olive, canola or other healthy oils and avoiding processed and packaged foods. Avoiding alcohol and processed sugars as much as possible is also a good idea.

There is not anything special about making those changes, but making the effort to do it can help all of us to feel better and live longer.

Dr. Alisa Hideg is a family medicine physician at Group Health’s Riverfront Medical Center in Spokane. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Today section.
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