Do you know someone who is extremely sensitive to carbohydrates, but thrives on a ketogenic diet, like virtually all migraineurs? Or someone whose diet looks like the food pyramid turned upside down, who struggles to maintain a healthy body weight in spite of eating lots of calorie-dense, sugary foods? Or maybe you know a person who is severely allergic to peanuts?
A good diet is hard to define. It varies from person to person, based on the types of food they like to eat, what their bodies can absorb, and what reactions their bodies have to certain substances. One consideration that greatly impacts people’s food intake are allergies. Based on research findings, it is estimated that about 32 million Americans, including 5.6 million children under 18, have some type of food allergy. Allergy symptoms can range from mild (such as hives) to severe (such as anaphylactic shock, which requires a trip to the emergency room). The most prevalent severe allergies are to eight different food groups: egg, milk, fish, shellfish, wheat, soy, peanuts and tree nuts. Unfortunately, food sensitivities are steadily on the rise. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies in children increased by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. Allergies can also suddenly develop during adulthood.
As the number of food sensitivities increases, so does our scientific knowledge about nutrition in general and how even small adjustments can help us optimize our health. While you may not be allergic to gluten (a family of proteins found in grains like wheat, rye and barley), cutting it out of your diet can in fact help you get rid of minor digestive issues and be beneficial for your overall well-being. The wide availability of gluten-free products due to the rise in allergies also makes avoiding gluten much easier now.
Within my own small household of three humans and two felines, my husband and I have our own specific nutritional requirements: My husband strictly limits his sodium intake in order to control high blood pressure without medication. After an abdominal surgery that resulted in internal scar tissue strangling my small bowel, I have to monitor portion size, drink great quantities of carbonated beverages and avoid all fibrous fruits and vegetables, as well as and meat in order to prevent an ileus (that is, food particles getting stuck and causing nausea and vomiting). Not to mention a teenager with a dislike of tomatoes…
Of course, there are many considerations other than food sensitivities and illness-based adjustments that shape an individual’s optimal nutrition plan. In general, your diet should be based on the following:
- your daily caloric needs
- your ideal ratio of protein, carbohydrates and fats
- your ideal intake of micronutrients such as vitamins and electrolytes
- optimized hydration
Certainly, the optimal combination of these building blocks can vary greatly, based on different factors. If you exercise vigorously, you have to consume more calories, protein and electrolytes to fuel your muscles. If you are pregnant, you need increased amounts of micronutrients such as folic acid. If you try to fight off a cold, you should supplement with large doses of Vitamin C to boost your immune system. As you age, your nutritional needs will also change, for example, due to decreased activity levels. And we should not forget personal taste and preferences: An eating plan primarily based on foods you dislike will discourage you to stick with it and only set you up for failure.
Only one thing is constant and certain when it comes to nutrition: No size fits all!
So how can you find “the size that fits you” and incorporate your optimal nutrition plan in your daily life? Here are a few tips:
- If you have access to a nutritionist, take advantage of their help.
- If you have a food allergy, allergy-proof your kitchen and your diet to reduce any chance of encountering the allergen.
- Make it a habit to read all nutrition labels.
- Monitor your food intake with the help of a food diary. At the same time, record your overall well-being. See whether you can find a correlation between the two.
- Experiment with different meals and food combinations. For example, if you suffer from high blood pressure, note the sodium content of your meals and measure your blood pressure six times a day, to see how it fluctuates based on what you have eaten. If you are a migraineur following the Stanton Protocol, experimentation has already been done for you and you are fortunate enough to have guidelines concerning hydration, electrolytes and specific food groups.
- Reduce the number of times you eat out or order in, as you will not be able to control meal ingredients.
- Once you have figured out your family’s optimal eating plans, preparing meals for several household members with wildly different nutritional needs may seem like a very challenging task. However, there are a few tricks that can make life much easier:
Come up with a dozen “common denominator” meals that serve (with the addition or subtraction of a few ingredients) everyone’s needs.
Keep your pantry, fridge and freezer permanently stocked with the ingredients for these meals.
Keep a list of these meals at hand, so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel at mealtimes.
Rotate the meals on the list, so that your eating plan does not become too repetitive.
Every few months, re-evaluate your list. Does it still fit your family’s nutritional needs? Also, introduce a new recipe from time to time.
Creating an eating plan tailored to your needs may appear like a boring task, maybe even unnecessary if you are healthy. Nevertheless, when you optimize your nutrition to the size that fits you, you will certainly see improvements in your physical and mental well-being, and you are likely to prevent serious disease further down the road.
 Angela Stanton, “Ketogenic Diet and Migraine,” https://stantonmigraineprotocol.com/2016/11/07/ketogenic-diet-and-migraine/. For Stanton’s Facebook group “Ketogenic Diet for Migraines,” see https://www.facebook.com/groups/KetogenicDietforMigraines/
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