Dietary Detective

Dietary fads used to come and go every decade or so. The ’60s were all about Weight Watchers and the Macrobiotic Diet, until the Grapefruit and Scarsdale diets took over in the ’70s. These were replaced by the Cabbage Soup and Liquid diets in the ’80s until the Low Fat and Zone trends ruled over the ’90s.

Today, diet crazes turn over so frequently it’s hard to keep track of their fashionable names, never mind what you’re actually supposed to be putting in your mouth. The plethora of popular diets that people swear by right now include Keto, Paleo, FODMAP, Intermittent Fasting, Anti-Inflammatory and Carb Cycling just to name a few.

All make similar claims of weight loss, decreased inflammation, increased physical energy and mental clarity, enticing you to try one or a few to see which your body responds to best. While I highly encourage everyone to eat well, try new recipes and thoroughly enjoy their food, I have a growing concern.

In my nutrition practice, I’m seeing more clients with disabilities and chronic health conditions jumping onto these trendy food bandwagons without doing any homework about how an excess or deficit of specific nutrients may affect them and, in some cases, potentially make their condition worse. Here are a couple of cases to demonstrate:

Detoxifying diets are currently very in vogue. An individual with a spinal cord injury who was dealing with a pressure sore put himself on a long term “detox” eating plan that he’d read about on the internet. This diet involved only eating fruits, vegetables and a small selection and quantity of nuts and seeds. It is recommended that individuals with spinal cord injuries who have pressure wounds increase their calorie and protein consumption in order to support the healing process. To the contrary, this particular “detox” diet was severely limiting the critical macronutrients he needed to help heal his pressure sore.

The ketogenic diet, which is also all the rage right now, was actually developed in the 1920s to help reduce seizures in children who had resistance to epileptic medications. The keto diet, which involves a high intake of healthy fats with moderate protein and limited carbohydrate consumption, causes the body to burn fat instead of glucose. This process, known as ketosis, is what inhibits seizure activity.

Studies have shown that the ketogenic diet can decrease seizure activity by as much as 50% in some individuals, though the diet has most recently gained popularity for its ability to help people lose weight quickly. While this diet has proven to be safe and effective in treating a serious medical condition, it can be risky depending on the situation.

For example, an individual living with Type 2 diabetes who uses insulin to control her blood sugar levels was eager to lose weight and put herself on a ketogenic diet. While this low carbohydrate diet may seem like an ideal plan to lose weight and also manage blood sugar levels, for this person, when followed alongside her insulin regime, it led to low blood sugar, which contributed to severe headaches.

Another individual living with both epilepsy and a serous kidney condition also tried the ketogenic diet in hopes of minimizing her seizures. For this woman, the diet, in combination with her kidney dysfunction, triggered a dangerous condition called ketoacidosis — when burning fat causes blood to become too acidic. Ketoacidosis can damage the liver, kidneys and brain.

I too tried keto, as I like to try all diets before recommending them to my clients, and I experienced what is known as “keto flu.” This is a collection of flu-like symptoms that occur as the body adapts to burning fat as its fuel source. While I was aware of this potential side effect, I must admit I was surprised at the intensity of the muscle cramps and lethargy. Luckily, because I was aware of what was causing my symptoms, I was able to take steps to alleviate them.

I write this as a caution that not all diets are for everyone, particularly if you are living with a chronic health condition. I strongly urge you to be your own dietary detective and research your own condition, specific nutritional needs and always consult with your physician or health care provider before starting any hot new diet plan.

Some of the fun in doing this kind of detective work is finding delicious new recipes — this is a fantastic summer dish I recently found and wanted to share!

No-Tuna Salad Sandwich

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1 large can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tbsp. pure maple syrup
¼ cup red onion, diced
¼ cup pickle, diced
3 tbsp. fresh dill, chopped
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
1 tsp. capers, drained
1 pinch sea salt and pepper

1. Mash chick peas in bowl with fork. Mix in all other ingredients.

2. Serve on a bed of greens or mashed up on whole grain bread.

Joanne Smith is a nutritionist and co-author of Eat Well Live Well with SCI and Other Neurological Conditions. For more information on nutrition for neurological injuries, go to

** This post was originally published on

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