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Planning Retirement Online

Special Diets for Visitors and Guests

December 2013

I was chatting to a friend the other day who had just stepped off a plane from Hong Kong, and he mentioned all the special diets that the airline offers both to passengers and to their crew. I was impressed and also surprised – I hadn’t realised quite how many different recognised diets there are today concerning types of food that one can eat.

The range of diets my friend mentioned included ones I knew about such as gluten free, high fibre and low protein/potassium diets, but also some that didn’t really mean a lot to me – I guessed a lactose/ovo diet would be something to do with milk and eggs but beyond that I was lost!

With Christmas coming up, and all the lovely celebratory meals that will be on offer, it seemed a good time to check out what it means when a relation or friend warns you they are on a special diet.

Vegetarian diets
Probably the main diet most of us will come into contact with is a vegetarian diet. But this is not straightforward and has lots of variations.

Basically a vegetarian diet is one which excludes meat. Some vegetarians also avoid food containing by-products of animals, such as animal derived gelatin.

Sub groups under the vegetarian umbrella include lacto vegetarianism, which is a vegetarian diet that includes some dairy but excludes eggs or any food which contains animal rennet; lacto-ovo vegetarianism which includes eggs and dairy; and a vegan diet. This has been growing in popularity in recent years and means the person following this diet will not eat anything produced by animals including eggs, dairy products and honey.

There are semi-vegetarian diets as well; such as a pescetarian diet which includes fish but not meat; and a flexitarian diet which is predominantly a vegetarian diet but when meat can sometimes be eaten.

Low-carbohydrate diets
These are very specialised diets based around the concept of a low intake of carbohydrates, as the name suggests. The most famous is the Atkins diet. This is usually undertaken to lose weight and is based on the theory that drastically restricting carbohydrates in a diet will cause the body to go into a state of ketosis, where it burns its own fat for fuel. 

The Dukan diet has also had quite a substantial uptake, again mainly for weight loss. Here, the dieter eats mainly nothing but lean protein. This can include unlimited amounts of beef, fish, chicken, eggs, soy and cottage cheese  and also some non starchy vegetables. No carbohydrates are allowed.

Both diets are similar but there are differencies and if you have a relation visiting who is on one of these diets, it is worthwhile checking out the exact restrictions on the web etc. before they arrive.

High-starch diets
In complete contract are the high starch diets. The McDougall’s Starch diet is a high calorie, high fibre low fat diet based on starches such as potatoes, rice and beans. It excludes all animal foods and items such as vegetable oils. John A McDougall developed this after historical observation on how many civilizations around the world throughout time have thrived on high starch foods.

Low Calorie and Weight Watchers Diet
Less dramatic but in some ways more complicated are the low-calorie diets. These are wide and varied but generally are aimed at restricting overall calorie intake in order to lose weight.

A Weight Watchers diet is one of the most  popular and comprises of a number of points given to each food. Dieters can eat any food with a points value providing they stay within their daily points limit. No food groups are off limits, but some foods have more points than others so it might be worth checking with any guest on a Weight Watcher programme what foods they prefer to avoid.

There are numerous other low calorie diets around but generally they include cutting down on many of the special treats we love at Christmas!  Good news is that turkey is usually very acceptable in low calorie diets, but cream with a Christmas pudding would probably be off limits.

Low potassium diet

People with kidney problems are advised to avoid potassium rich foods.

This is a tricky one as red meat, chicken, and fish such as salmon and sardines are all strong sources of potassium. Soy products and also veggie burgers also contain potassium, so do broccoli, peas, tomatoes, potatoes, and even citrus fruits, bananas and prunes as well as milk and yoghurt.

Potassium intake has to be carefully managed as too low a level can cause a number of serious problems and if your visitor is on a low potassium diet, then it is important you speak to them about what they are allowed to eat so that you can plan well ahead of their visit.

Gluten free diet.

This is advised for a small range of conditions such as celiac disease, and for people on certain medications. Some people also have allergic reactions to gluten products. It is a diet that excludes any food containing gluten and the biggest impact is that no wheat products can be eaten. It is amazing how many products contain wheat, for instance, it is often used as a stabilizing agent or thickener in products such as ice cream and ketchup. However, with a bit of planning and adaptation, a visitor on a gluten free diet shouldn’t cause too many problems in your catering arrangements.

Religious diets
Then there are various diets that are adhered to because of religious convictions.
Strict Muslims usually follow a diet consisting solely of food that is halal - ie permissible under Islamic law. Non halal food is termed as haraam and includes alcohol, pork (including bacon) and meat from any animal not killed through the Islamic method of ritual slaughter.
Kosher diets are followed by people in the Jewish faith and are quite complex. Not only is there a restriction on certain foods, but some food combinations are not allowed, such as meat and dairy together, and food that is Kosher can become non-Kosher if it is not prepared in accordance with Kashrut, or the Jewish dietary laws.
Many Buddhists practice vegetarianism based on a strict interpretation of the first of their Five Precepts.
Hinduism and Jainism
Followers of Hinduism and Jainism often follow lacto-vegetarian diets, based on the principle of Ahimsa (non-harming philosophy).

Of course, if you are on a special diet, the courteous thing is to let your host know in good time and offer some advice about what you can and can’t eat. Thanks to the range of products now available in the shops, special diets shouldn’t cause a problem - as long as there is advanced warning!!


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