When I was growing up, I didn’t know many people with dietary restrictions. My paternal grandmother had diabetes and I remember that she couldn’t eat many desserts but I don’t remember her restricting other carbs. I believe that since a lot of foods were rationed or scarce in my native country, there was not much choice in determining a dietary lifestyle of one’s choosing.
When I started living in USA, I was introduced to a lot of people who for one reason or another had decided to diet. Some did it on a short term basis to lose weight, while for some others it was more of a lifestyle. I have always been curious about these dietary lifestyles and the reasons why.
Full disclosure, in my immediate family we don’t have any food allergies or follow a specific diet, we try to eat a balanced diet with mostly fresh food and home cooked meals. However, we do have a lot of friends and family members who don’t eat certain ingredients or a whole food group, so I’m always paying attention to my recipes if they are gluten free, vegetarian, keto friendly, plant based etc for when we have company over. As a hostess, I want to make sure I have enough food for everyone and lots of choices for everyone.
Last year, we did my son’s birthday in his school. I thought a school birthday should be easy, right? Just order pizza and cupcakes!! Well, I ended picking up cupcakes in two different locations and pizza in 2 different locations. Some kids couldn’t have regular cupcakes because they couldn’t have gluten and some couldn’t have dairy. Same with the pizza. I’m glad I did all those different pickups though because all the kids were included in the party and no one felt excluded from the celebrations.
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Throughout the years, I made a list of all these different eating lifestyles and occasionally I check what I cook and see if it is adaptable to one of these lifestyles. For example, the cheese breads I serve as a snack in play-dates are gluten free, the potato salad is vegetarian and gluten free and so on. See below my list of different eating lifestyles. I’m not advocating for the benefits or drawbacks of any of the below lifestyles, I am merely listing a personal basic understanding of each. I try to be a good host and have my friends enjoy food at my house. Be aware of what others eat or don’t, modifications are not hard. A small effort on your end, will make your guests feel so much more appreciated.
The vegetarian lifestyle eliminates meat, fish and poultry from one’s diet. The reasons for this diet vary from health, ethics, religion etc. Vegetarians can eat fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, eggs, dairy etc. There are subsets in this category like pescatarians of flexitarians. Pescatarians will eat fish but not meat or poultry while flexitarians are in a way not committed to being a vegetarian 100% of the time.
Veganism is similar to the vegetarian lifestyle, however it goes even further. Besides excluding meat, fish and poultry from the diet, it also excludes eggs, dairy and other animal by products. A vegan diet is rich in grains, beans, fruits, vegetables etc.
Keto and low carb lifestyles
Keto diet consists of eliminating or reducing the amount of carbohydrates in one’s diet. Our bodies use carbohydrates as fuel. However, when carbohydrates supply is very low, then our body starts breaking down fat for energy. This diet results in weight loss and people on this diet claim to be less hungry, more alert and focused. Usually people on keto diet eliminate foods like bread, rice, pasta, sugar, some fruits etc and they load up on fatty foods like meats, bacon, avocados, salmon and they add lots of vegetables to their meals. Starchy vegetables are also eliminated.
Paleo diet (caveman diet) encourages people to eat and exercise like people did back in ancient times, thus eating foods that can be hunted or gathered. People on paleo diet avoid processed foods. The emphasis of paleo is whole foods. Paleo lifestyle avoids foods loaded in sugar, HFCS, artificial sweeteners, breads, processed foods and encourages people to eat more meats, fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables, potatoes, nuts etc. Dairy seems to be a big debate for the Paleo followers, some eliminate it and some don’t.
Whole Food Plant Based Lifestyle
For awhile I had a hard time distinguishing between vegan diet and plant based diet. A very good friend of mine practices whole food plant based nutrition and she explained the differences to me. While vegan diet focuses on eliminating the use of any animal products & by-products, the plant based diet focuses on whole foods nutrition based mostly on plants. The plant based way of living reduces the use of animal products, but doesn’t eliminate them completely. It mostly emphasizes a healthy way of living while being conscientious about the environment and our footprint. The whole food plant based eliminates sugars, artificial foods, oils and fats and really focuses on plant based nutrients.
Gluten Free Diet
Gluten is a protein found mostly in grains, the most common wheat, rye and barley. People with Celiac disease have to eliminate all gluten from their diet. There are other people that eliminate gluten because of health reasons. When you have to exclude gluten from everything you eat, you have to pay close attention to all food labels because it is very easy for certain foods to have gluten. There are also people who are gluten sensitive and others who eliminate gluten for weight-loss reasons. Whichever the reasons your guests have for eliminating gluten, be careful with food labels so you don’t recommend something as gluten free when it actually contains gluten.
Dairy Free Diet
Vegans, lactose intolerant people and people with dairy allergies tend to eliminate all dairy from their diets. There are also people who will partially eliminate dairy products like milk and yogurt but would still eat cheese & butter. Since dairy by products are essential to most desserts, it is important to know if any of the guests you are hosting practices a dairy free lifestyle so you can add a small dairy free dessert to your menu.
Kosher lifestyle is mostly a way of eating practiced by Jewish people. There are rules on which animals and by products you are allowed to eat, as well as rules on how to handle meats, dairy, eggs, plants etc. It might sound complicated, especially for a non-Jewish. However, if we are going to have my Jewish friends over, I make sure to not prepare any pork meat. I do ask about the rest of the dishes if they are compliant or not and try to purchase meats in a kosher store. Back in college I had friends who didn’t eat pork but would eat meat & dairy simultaneously while others didn’t mix meats & dairy. If you are planning to serve a meat dish and some salad with feta cheese on top, maybe leave the feta on the side just in case your guests do not mix meats and dairy.
Intermittent Fasting doesn’t eliminate certain foods from the diet. It is a way of eating between certain hours in the day. The rest of the day, you have to fast and can only drink water. Most of my friends who practice Intermittent Fasting do it on a 16-8 hours interval, meaning they fast for 16 hours and eat during a range of 8 hours. If you have friends on this diet, try to host an early dinner so they have time to eat and not stretch their eating hours into their fasting hours. I also know a lot of people who fast for religious reasons. So as long as you are aware of the circumstances, you can accommodate everyone in your guest list.
I know people that have food allergies like peanuts, eggs, grains etc. There are so many food allergies out there that is impossible to list them all in one post. Food allergies can be dangerous. The food restrictions because of food allergies are not a lifestyle choice, they are mandatory. We should all be accommodating to friends and family that have food allergies. Be especially careful with kids on play-dates because kids will share food with each other and you might not catch it on time. Usually if we are hosting an event where I know that there will be a child with a known allergy, I try to avoid having that food at all at home that day.
Challenges like 21 Day Challenge or Whole30 Diet
These challenges are a way to lose 5-10 lbs in a predetermined amount of time by combining exercise and diet. Usually the challenges require elimination of certain food groups. These diets give results but are hard and require strong will. If you’re cooking for any friends on these diets, ask what they can or cannot eat. It is easy to prepare few extra salads or more protein to make sure everyone in the guest list has enough options.
Short term diets like Atkins, South Beach, Mediterranean Diets
Diets like Atkins, South Beach and Mediterranean are some of the most famous diets out there. People following these lifestyles usually don’t eat carbs, or eat more protein, or eat more fatty foods etc. It is nice to be aware on what people following these diets can eat or not. I love cooking with phyllo dough but if a friend of mine who is on Atkins diet comes over, I won’t serve her a phyllo dough pie because I know she can’t have carbs.