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Stop the food shaming: Why there isn’t one “right” way to eat healthy

Stop the food shaming: Why there isn’t one “right” way to eat healthy

This fall, you may have noticed that we’re highlighting the nutritional benefits of protein-rich beef, pork and poultry to launch Iowa Farm Bureau’s new “Real farmers. Real food. Real meat.” campaign.

I recently received an email from a reader who explained that, for her own personal health reasons, she isn’t able to eat (or digest) red meat, even though she would very much like to.

She said we should celebrate the diversity of foods that farmers produce – not just meat and eggs but also corn- and soy-derived foods, which are also a product of Iowa’s great agricultural system.

I think she makes an excellent point. As nutrition experts stress, there is no “right” way to eat healthy. What works for me – a high protein diet that includes eggs, dairy and red meat - may not work for someone else.

Everyone has their own individual needs, tastes, cultural preferences and genetic makeup. And you know what? That’s OK.

Healthy eating isn’t about eliminating food choices. It’s about eating a wide variety of foods. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend the “My Plate” healthy eating plan: Fill one-half your plate with fruits and vegetables; one-quarter of your plate with protein, either animal-based or plant-based; and one-quarter of your plate with whole grains, plus a serving of dairy or soy milk.

However, it’s important to know that if you choose to eliminate certain foods from your diet – such as real meat or dairy, there may be unintended health consequences.

While we’re seeing more plant-based burgers and beverages in grocery stores and on restaurant menus, these imitators don’t compare nutritionally to real meat and dairy, dietitians say.

That’s why people who choose not to eat animal-based proteins need to plan their meals carefully. Animal-based proteins provide essential micronutrients, such as iron, zinc and vitamin B12, that are difficult to get from plant-based proteins.

So if you choose to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet – or maybe a trendy diet such as the keto diet, schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need.

In addition, if you suspect that you have a food allergy or a health condition that may benefit from a change in your diet, talk to your doctor.

Many wellness coaches now offer food sensitivity tests to supposedly determine whether your body may be “intolerant” to a certain food – say, gluten or dairy.

Yet nutrition experts caution that these tests are unproven and not based on science. The only way to confirm if you have an actual food allergy is to get tested by an allergist.

We are fortunate to have so many food choices available to us today. However, it doesn’t do us any good to food shame another person’s choices – whether we choose to eat meat or not.

People are different, and a healthy diet can look different. Let’s make our food choices based on sound nutritional advice, not the latest diet fads.