The cult of clean eating has never been more popular. If the 40m posts on Instagram using the hashtag aren’t proof enough, a 2016 report by Nielsen showed that the number of people adopting a supposed ‘healthy’ diet has climbed 42 per cent.
However, clean eating isn’t always an aid to weight loss – nor necessarily good for you. As this food fad comes under fire, we asked Shona Wilkinson, a qualified nutritionist at Superfood UK, to take eating clean, well, to the cleaners.
The cornerstone of any Instagram-friendly meal, the avocado has become one of the most popular choices for a clean diet. But it’s also one of the most calorific.
“Avocados are full of amazing antioxidants and healthy fats,” says Wilkinson. “However, a full avocado can contain anywhere between 250 and 400 calories, so adjust your intake accordingly to account for this.”
Swapping crisps for nuts may seem like a smart move, but it’ll still be heavy on the waistline. “When it comes to nuts, almonds can be moreish. It’s easy to polish off a small 100g bag as a ‘healthy’ substitute, but you’re raking in nearly 600 calories.”
It isn’t all bad news, though. As almonds contain a massive dose of protein, vitamin E and manganese. For optimum portion control, go for nothing more than a handful.
Feasting on fresh fruit provides high doses of vitamins and nutrients, but the dried variety comes packing excessive sugar, which is one of the top causes of weight gain.
“Dried fruits are a highly concentrated source of sugar. To give an example: fresh strawberries contain 6g of sugar per 100g, but dried strawberries contain 60g. That’s more than double the amount of sugar found in ice cream.”
Don’t be seduced by the adverts with alpine settings and beautiful blue skies – muesli is a foodstuff cloudier than a Great British summer.
“Not all muesli products are the same, so ensure you read the label. Many are laden with high amounts of added sugar and salt that can turn a nutritious breakfast unhealthy.”
According to research by the University of Chicago’s Coeliac Disease Centre, only one in 133 people suffer gluten intolerance. The majority of those on a gluten-free diet opt in for the supposed health benefits, but it’s just not that simple.
“Rice cakes are a great example of how low-fat, gluten-free foods are thought to be healthy. Most are made from white refined rice, resulting in a [high] glycemic, which means the food breaks down into sugar rapidly.”
Low-fat foods have long been a dietary myth, so it comes as little surprise that yoghurt of the same variety is just as bad. “Low-fat yoghurt can contain up to eight teaspoons of added refined sugar, often being the highest ingredient after milk.”
“This type of yoghurt boasts a high glycemic index that’ll release more insulin to deal with the quick rise of glucose, stimulating fat storage hormones.”
A liquid lunch (of the boozeless kind) can seem like the healthiest of meals. But it can also be one of the most fattening.
“Soup can be interpreted as a light and satisfying meal, but you must check the ingredients. Many contain […] glucose syrup that’ll cause a rise in blood sugars and an increase of insulin – and that means the potential for more fat.”
Organic or otherwise, the very idea of peanut butter as a clean food is redundant. “It’s rare to find a jar of peanut butter without added salt, sugar or unhealthy fats, let alone one that contains few pesticide residues.”
What’s worse, there’s a small chance peanut butter can contain fungi called aflatoxins according to Wilkinson. These pose a host of health problems that are more dangerous to children, but in very serious (and rare) cases, aflatoxins have been linked to cancer among adults.