What you eat may be as important as what you don’t

Today’s consumers are taking a closer look at how their food choices might be impacting their health. Nutritionists and food manufacturers have taken note of this trend, responding with an overload of information about which food ingredients consumers should avoid and a wealth of new products claiming to be free from certain ingredients.

While avoiding certain ingredients may have benefits and can be critical for anyone with food allergies, just eliminating specific ingredients or entire food groups may not be the entire solution. Whether your choice is based on a food allergy or sensitivity, an effort to lose weight or a plan to eat healthier, it may be just as important to consider what you’re eating in place of the foods you’ve eliminated.

What can I eat?

Consumers faced with an immediate to need to eliminate a particular ingredient or food group, such as someone diagnosed with a serious food allergy, often head to the nearest grocery store in a panicked state, wondering what they will be able to eat. They scour the aisles in search of “safe” food options and are often relieved to find products labeled as being free from certain known allergens.

Unfortunately, many of these products are processed, ready-made meals and snacks with little nutritional value. While there are plenty of good choices out there, food manufacturers have latched on to consumers’ fears of no longer being able to eat some of their favorite foods and are increasingly introducing lines of products, such as breads, cakes, cookies, pizza and pasta, that are free from certain ingredients consumers are most likely to avoid.

While it may be comforting to know that food manufacturers are becoming more aware of the increase in food allergies and sensitivities, many of these products are loaded with sugar and unhealthy fats. Consumers that choose to replace the majority of the foods they eat with these over-processed alternatives may unknowingly be doing more harm than good.

A better choice

Eating a balanced diet that is rich in fresh, unprocessed fruits and vegetables and healthy fats is important for good overall health.

Instead of heading to the processed food aisles and loading up on empty calorie foods, opt for more cooking at home with healthy ingredients. This is the easiest way to ensure the foods you eat do not contain any ingredients you need to avoid. It’s also the easiest and least expensive way to ensure you’re consuming natural, healthy ingredients that aren’t processed with chemicals and preservatives.

What to avoid

Many conventionally produced foods contain ingredients derived from genetically modified organisms (GMO) and can increase your exposure to toxins such as pesticides, added hormones and antibiotics, the full effects of which are uncertain. To reduce unnecessary exposure, avoid processed foods whenever possible and reduce consumption of sugar, trans fats, processed vegetable oils and any GMO foods.

What to eat

A healthy diet should include as much fresh produce as possible. But be sure to choose organically produced foods whenever you can. Foods grown using certified organic methods can have less toxins and higher antioxidant, vitamin and mineral levels.

Foods that contain monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, such as olive oil, tree nuts, flaxseed, salmon and peanut butter, are also an important part of a healthy diet, as they can protect your heart, improve cholesterol and support your overall mental wellbeing.

There are plenty of healthy and safe options available to those on a restricted diet. But anyone that has concerns over what fresh foods best suit their dietary restrictions should consult with their physician or a trusted nutrition expert.

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