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Why The Clean vs Dirty Food Debate Is Complete Nonsense


Recently I've been destroying diet protocols left, right and centre. So I may as well look into one of the oldest dieting debates that has rumbled on for the longest time; should you avoid anything that isn’t considered a ‘clean food?’

For those who don't know what a 'clean' food is, it refers to anything that is ‘natural’, i.e. foods that cavemen would have had access to. So you should avoid any food that has been refined, mass-produced, processed or made in a lab.

On paper this seems like a sensible idea right? I mean I constantly preach the message here in this blog to eat mostly single ingredient whole foods. Things that grew in the ground, are picked from a tree, swum in the ocean etc.

Yes – but the key ingredient here is to mostly eat these foods. I said nothing about only sticking to single ingredient whole foods.

So today, I not only want to dispel certain myths on why only eating 'clean' is unnecessary, I'll go through some of the most common questions which revolve around this entire topic of clean vs dirty food and give you my interpretation of why they are complete nonsense.

Dirty foods have loads of chemicals in them and so your body cannot properly process them.

This is probably the biggest issue I see and why so many of my clients report being scared of eating treats and tasty things. They are scared that eating something man made or mass-produced is going to kill them because of the bad chemicals or something.

Funnily enough, everything is a chemical. You are made of chemicals. Water is made of chemicals. Your phone is all chemicals. Apples are made of chemicals.

Actually - a fun fact about apples. One of the chemicals present in an apple seed is cyanide. A chemical poisonous to the human body. So if you accidentally ate too many apple seeds you could possibly kill yourself!

Try not to the let the irrational fear that something made is bad for you. If a guy in a white lab coat makes vitamin B12 and sticks it in a pill; it’s the same as the vitamin B12 in that chicken salad you’ve just scoffed down.

Not only that, you body is an exceptional filtering machine. We have so many stages of the digestion process that self-regulates what stays and what goes. That small insignificant portion of your daily calorie intake will be 'mopped up' by your body. That's why we've lasted this long. That's why we'll continue to last.

If you consume foods high in sugar (fizzy drinks, chocolate bars, sweets, biscuits, cakes) they will spike your insulin, make you fat, sick and should be avoided at all costs.

There is some validity to certain parts of this statement, but it is not a complete reflection of the truth. Thus a wider look at a persons diet needs to be taken into consideration here.

I’ll happily back up the fact that these types of foods have a few problems, but it has nothing to do with the fact that they are high in sugar, or spiking your insulin.

The problem with this particular sub-group is that they have zero nutritional benefits. They are not particularly filling and they are extremely easy to over-consume. Not only that, chocolate bars, cakes and pastries are packed with dietary fat, and dietary fat can be highly calorific. If you eat a diet that is overly calorific…. Well you know what can happen.

To favour a diet in chocolate and crisps over fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, grains nuts and seeds will mean your vitamin, mineral and fibre levels will all suffer. So I'd happily sit here and tell you to be wary of this sub-group of foods for the above reasons. As long as you understood the proper reasons why.

Remember, sugar intake has gradually been on the decline since 1999. Obesity rates have been increasing regardless.

Dirty foods are not meant to be consumed when you are dieting for fat loss. You need to eat foods like chicken, broccoli, rice and oats.

Why can’t you eat treats on a diet? If you consume around 1,800 calories on your diet and have 200 calories left for the day, assuming you’ve eaten your body weight in vegetables and nutrients then a couple of scoops of ice cream will not be detrimental to your progress.

In fact it will likely be a beneficial psychological factor because you have allowed yourself to enjoy foods that you like. The key to big picture dietary adherence is opting for nutrient dense foods that increase satiety and stop excessive hunger levels, whilst at the same time creating an environment of variety, flexible decision making and enjoyment.

In one of my recent seminar talks, I asked the following question to the audience;

If you needed to eat 1,800 calories per day to burn fat and you only had the choice to eat 1,900 calories of broccoli or 1,700 calories of Mars Bars; which diet will result in fat loss?

Regardless of whether the food is 'clean' or 'dirty', the Mars Bar diet will win.

But it goes directly against the first two points of a long term sustainable diet. You will quite clearly lack sufficient nutrients (which would also be the case only eating broccoli but that’s beside the point) and you will almost conclusively fail the diet because 1,700 calories of Mars Bars is not satiating in the slightest.

To say you can't have treats on a diet is a one way ticket to dieting failure. So I'll continue to use this approach and my clients will continue to reach their goals.

Summary

Every diet consumed should be looked at within context. It would be a complete fallacy to mock a persons dieting efforts because you see them eating a few baby bells in the office on their lunch break, when you don’t even know what the other 95% of their diet looks like for the day.

If they are 100% on track to hit their protein targets, their fibre targets, their vitamin and mineral targets anyway, what’s the big deal?

Focus the main bulk of your diet on eating single nutrient dense foods. Sprinkle in some treats to keep you sane.

Should you avoid dirty foods at all? Yes – if 100% of your diet is made up of Doritoes and Mars Bars!

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