Even former “clean-eating” champions are backing away. That, and five others, make the list of words nutritionist Carrie Dennett calls “almost profane.”
Words have power, and that’s no less true with certain food words. These six nutrition words have become tainted with meanings that make them almost profane — unfairly so.
Clean. The concept of clean eating has gone so off the rails that some of the original clean-eating gurus are backing away from it. In the 2017 BBC documentary “Clean Eating — The Dirty Truth,” Ella Mills of Deliciously Ella says “Clean now implies dirty and that’s negative … as far as I understood it when I first read the term, it meant natural, kind of unprocessed, and now it doesn’t mean that at all. It means diet — it means fad.” Clean eating should expand your food world, but clean eating teeters on the brink of orthorexia — an unhealthy obsession with eating healthfully — when it leads to strictly avoiding any food not deemed “pure,” including foods that contain …
Chemicals (and anything unpronounceable). The fear of chemicals and “anything a third-grader can’t pronounce” has been whipped to a frenzy by social-media darlings with no training in — and little understanding of — science. Statements like, “There is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever” are meaningless when you consider that we should be ingesting dihydrogen monoxide (aka H2O, or water) every day, and most likely ingest acetic acid (aka vinegar) every time we eat a salad. As for the unpronounceable part, plenty of adults still struggle to pronounce quinoa (keen-Wah) and I never remember how to say açaí (ah-sah-EE).
Fat. The low-fat era is over, with everyone from researchers to dietitians to food bloggers now singing the praises of sources of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — including nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil and fish. However, two out of three respondents in a 2016 survey by the California Walnut Commission agreed with the statement “fat is my enemy.” In the International Food Information Council’s Food & Health Survey, 39 percent of respondents said they were trying to avoid fats and oils, with 30 percent specifically trying to avoid the (heart healthy) unsaturated fats.
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Carbs. Carb-phobia also persists — even when people don’t know exactly what a “carb” is. Bread, grains, baked goods and potatoes take the rap, even though beans, lentils, fruit, vegetables and some dairy foods are carbs. The truth is that while a low-fat diet high in processed carbohydrates isn’t a recipe for health or a healthy weight, a wealth of research supports the healthfulness of a diet with moderate amounts of whole, fiber-rich carbohydrates — along with protein and healthful fats.
Gluten. About 92 percent of people have no medical reason to avoid gluten, but going gluten-free is as trendy as ever, even though it’s not a magic bullet for weight loss or health. Despite the gluten-free diet’s health halo, it can be unhealthy — even for people who truly need to avoid gluten — because what you do eat is just as important as what you don’t. As with clean eating, avoiding gluten without reason is sometimes a gateway to orthorexia.
White. How many times have you heard the phrase, “Avoid white at night”? Sure, certain white foods — namely white flour and refined sugar — don’t do our health any favors, but many white, beige or otherwise pale foods are low in calories and rich in nutrients, including cauliflower, mushrooms and the allium family (garlic, onions, leeks, etc.). Other nutritious pale foods include bananas, pears, white peaches, nectarines, jicama, parsnips, ginger and even the much-maligned potato.