The clean

Is ‘clean eat­ing’ just an­other diet fad col­lect­ing ‘likes’ on so­cial me­dia?

Waikato Times - Your Weekend (Waikato Times) - - Feature -

For three years, Karen*, a teacher in her 40s, was a clean food devo­tee who shared photos of nearly ev­ery­thing she ate on so­cial me­dia and made judg­ments about the “dirty food” other peo­ple were eat­ing.

“‘Don’t put that nasty crap into your body!’” I’d post on my Face­book page,” she re­mem­bers. “‘Think about that jig­gling cel­lulite on your arse, and your ar­ter­ies clog­ging up. Kick that junk food to the curb! Do your­self a favour and ditch the dirty food for a whole­some, clean smoothie. You’ll glow with health and feel amaz­ing!’”

Ev­ery day be­gan with a smoothie made from veges, al­mond milk, superfood spices (turmeric and matcha) and pro­tein pow­ders. “It was gross, but I’d feel so vir­tu­ous scarf­ing that in the morn­ing, and take great de­light in shar­ing my recipes with my fol­low­ers. That smoothie con­tained my self-es­teem.”

Lunch and din­ners fea­tured “clean” pro­teins – free-range meats with lo­cally-grown, spray-free or­ganic sea­sonal veges. Snacks were nu­tri­ent-rich “su­per­foods” such as ac­ti­vated al­monds while sweet foods – even fruit – were banned. “I thought sugar was the devil and a guar­an­tee of can­cer.”

In Karen’s mind, and to many devo­tees of the clean eat­ing move­ment, dairy food was a “killer”, and grains would lead to di­a­betes or heart dis­ease.

In the space of about six months she went from happy diner to ob­sessed nib­bler. It was a mis­er­able jour­ney, but at the time she thought she was tak­ing the best pos­si­ble care of her­self. “I truly be­lieved the pa­leo way of clean eat­ing was pro­tect­ing me from ill­ness and can­cer, and get­ting fat,” says Karen.

“Ev­ery sin­gle food that passed my lips had to meet the hellishly strict cri­te­ria I had adopted, which meant I never stopped analysing and think­ing about food. It had taken over my life.” It seems like ev­ery­one’s an ex­pert on nu­tri­tion. On­line, thou­sands of wellness “war­riors” avidly pro­mote ev­ery­thing from go­ing gluten- and dairy-free to raw eat­ing, detox­ing with pota­toes and eat­ing only ba­nanas. A Google search on clean eat­ing in New Zealand turns up 4.67 mil­lion hits.

Sci­en­tific proof for many of these food fads can be shonky, or mis­con­strued. Be­com­ing gluten-free, for ex­am­ple, is fine for peo­ple with coeliac dis­ease and for those with gluten in­tol­er­ance, says Elaine Rush, pro­fes­sor of nu­tri­tion at AUT. “Of­ten when peo­ple say they cut out things like white bread and they feel much bet­ter, it’s be­cause they were eat­ing far too much of that, and not enough of the other things.

“It’s what we’re not eat­ing that’s caus­ing all the [di­ges­tive] prob­lems.”

Some food sen­si­tiv­i­ties can be at­trib­uted to get­ting older as our bod­ies lose re­silience. “Age is a sod.”

Good health comes from eat­ing whole­some foods, not too much and mainly plants, says Rush. “Eat food, real food, but look at what’s avail­able in your en­vi­ron­ment and what also costs the right price.”

Eat­ing a good va­ri­ety of foods most of the time, ex­er­cis­ing in mod­er­a­tion and rel­ish­ing what you eat are para­mount, she says.

“Food should be a plea­sure – we shouldn’t ob­sess about ev­ery lit­tle thing we put in our mouths.”

While the cult of clean eat­ing ap­pears to be los­ing trac­tion – in part due to the ex­po­sure of high-pro­file wellness per­son­al­i­ties such as Aus­tralian Belle Gibson, who claimed food cured her of can­cer when she never had the dis­ease – it still re­mains pop­u­lar, and po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous.

Defin­ing clean eat­ing is not easy, says di­eti­tian An­gela Ber­rill, who has no­ticed a move away from the ex­tremes of this style of re­stricted eat­ing.

The cross­over be­tween clean eat­ing and ex­pert rec­om­men­da­tions for healthy eat­ing are confusing, as both sing the praises of eat­ing more whole foods and re­duc­ing pro­cessed foods.

“There are some el­e­ments of clean eat­ing that are re­flec­tive of what we rec­om­mend as part of a healthy, bal­anced diet, es­pe­cially if some­one has pre­vi­ously eaten a diet that was based on highly-pro­cessed foods, with high car­bo­hy­drates, sat­u­rated fats and sug­ars,” says Ber­rill.

“Clean eat­ing is one of these things that de­pends on the in­di­vid­ual. It can vary greatly, de­pend­ing on who you talk to, but the com­mon el­e­ments are gen­er­ally fo­cus­ing on a whole food diet and elim­i­nat­ing pro­cessed foods.

“The de­gree of pro­cessed food is open for in­ter­pre­ta­tion. For some peo­ple it might mean they’re

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