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Blessed with normal metabolism and a robust digestive system? Then read no further. This is for people who are plagued with intolerances and have strong preferences and are willing to cut various food groups out from their diet. But do the benefits really outweigh the risks? Will they lose out on essential nutrients? Better Health gets nutritionist Stephanie Karl to answer some of the frequently asked questions

Dairy dilemma
How important a food group is dairy?
Dairy is a fantastic food group if you are able to digest and absorb it for its wonderful range of nutrients. I think it is the go-to food group for many reasons.
Milk is the starting product and it can be sweetened and thickened as in sauces and ice cream; it can be split by acid or enzymes into curds and whey; it can be isolated into specific proteins and also have the lactose sugar removed; and it can have the fat removed to make yet another great product.
The downside is that some ethnic groups cannot tolerate some of these fragments of milk due to their historical adaptation. Through the Mediterranean, Middle East and Asia where milk could not be stored for long, it was quickly converted to curd and was consumed as such, which is low in lactose. Their genetics adapted to stop producing lactase, the digestive enzyme that breaks down lactose and this is probably why so many people are lactose intolerant but can take curd and cheese.
In colder regions of the world, all parts of milk are better tolerated and that is because it stayed around for longer especially in the winter months. There is less dairy intolerance in these areas.

Who should go dairy-free?
Dairy is the number-one growth factor for mammals, hence we give it to our babies for six months. It is a good source of protein and calcium as well as it boosts the immune system in the first few weeks after birth.
I recommend anyone with hormone issues such as PCOS and acne go completely dairy-free to see if it reduces testosterone as well as anyone who has tested positive to lactose intolerance through IgG or allergy IgE.
It is recommended that children with autism spectrum go dairy-free because 90 per cent have high intestinal yeast and a compromised digestive system. If the gut lining is letting dairy proteins through into the system, it can have a disruptive effect on behaviour and anxiety.

What are the alternative sources of calcium?
Dairy is the richest source of calcium and it is recommended that everyone should be aware of calcium alternatives and to ensure their vitamin D is adequate. Vitamin D is essential to calcium absorption.
Calcium is available in some vegetables such as celery, squash and kale, nuts and seeds, chickpeas and beans, and a little in figs and orange.

Clueless about gluten?
Is gluten bad for ME?
I don’t believe all gluten is bad for you if you can process it and you don’t have any unpleasant symptoms. Gluten-containing grains are rye, barley and wheat. However, the amount of gluten and the types of gluten differ. That is why you can have varying sensitivity to gluten grains.

Should everyone go gluten-free?
No, I don’t think anyone should go gluten-free unless it is of benefit, but what is highly desirable is to avoid genetically modified grains as the proteins have been altered to make a more hardy, desirable and cost-effective product, which is not well supported in human digestion.

Then who should go gluten- free?
Anyone who is coeliac must go gluten-free and probably dairy-free as the gut lining invariably has some damage and this also does not help with dairy breakdown and absorption.
I would also take out gluten wherever there are gastro-intestinal issues such as in autoimmune conditions — thyroid, MS, lupus, rosacea, fibromyalgia, inflammatory bowel disease and if you suspect gluten doesn’t suit you.

What about populations that have lived off gluten for generations?
There is old-fashion gluten and there is a new modern, mass-produced and high-yield gluten. It is this source that is causing the problem.
Traditionally, the old-fashion wheat was milled and consumed with all of the grain included in the meal and was not stored for any length of time. All of this added to the digestibility and also slowed down absorption, so it wasn’t so glycaemic. Now we mill the endosperm (energy part), refine it further and bleach it. This is stored for some time, which requires preservatives to minimise mould.
Genetically modified wheat grain is grown in such large volumes that it is stored for up to two years involving anti-fumigants and anti-mould gases. The new protein in GM wheat is called zonulin and it is associated with the breakdown of the tight junctions of the intestinal membrane.
In addition, wheat types differ — pasta and chapattis are made from durum atta wheat, which is hard wheat and bread is made from soft all-purpose wheat. This wheat during preparation is developed
by kneading and incorporating raising agents so that it can trap air and form a springy elastic dough. The protein that is developed is elastin and it is probably this protein that digestion also struggles to break down.

Can you go gluten-free and then afterwards become gluten-intolerant because the body gets rid of the antibodies that help digest gluten?
I would probably agree that the body may well get a little lazy at producing the enzymes to breakdown gluten if it is not routinely there. It might be better to add wheat back into the diet slowly or in a four-day rotation and in small amounts if that is what you want to do.

Veganism for vigour

Does being vegan ensure good diet and health?
Vegan diets can suit some people and it is probably more suitable for those who are genetically predisposed to a slower metabolism and slow oxidiser.
There are a few essential nutrients to watch out for such as iron, zinc, vitamin B12, and getting the full complement of amino acids from protein foods can be a challenge.
It is also cholesterol-free, which isn’t necessarily the best for absorbing vitamin D from the sun as our bodies need cholesterol.
Vegan diets are all of plant food origin, which makes it predominantly carbohydrate-rich along with fats from nuts and seeds.

Should you go vegan because you believe in the philosophy or for health purposes?
For whichever reason you choose to go vegan, and both are valid, you must be well informed as you can stunt your growth if you are not yet fully grown and you can become very low in B12 and iron. Most people are well aware of this. A mother of child-bearing age should also ensure that she is well nourished as the unborn baby will be affected by the mother’s nutrition status and insufficiencies at birth will not be adequately supported with only breastmilk.

What are the challenges vegans face in terms of nutritional deficiencies and how can they overcome those?
As discussed above, it is well advised that nutritional status is discussed with a medical practitioner and nutritionist.
It might give you peace of mind to boost protein with a vegan protein shake. There are some good quality ones available, which are also enriched with a wide range of nutrients. In addition, a good quality multi-vitamin might be a booster during growth spurts and when health is challenged over winter.
A vegan diet that allows people to thrive, and have high energy and performance is a good diet.