The start of a new year calls for more exercise, drinking more water and eating healthily. But is the new fad of “clean” eating really good for you? And is it backed up by science? Ellen Daugherty reports

21 year old studying Biological Sciences, Science & Tech online editor. Especially interested in anything to do with zoology or anthropology, and an aspiration to be the next David Attenborough.
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It’s January, which means a new year and a new you… right? Many of you will have heard of eating clean, which generally means consuming only organic, non-GMO, natural, and often raw ingredients. It is a lifestyle change that has been highly advertised by online personalities, and has been suggested to encourage weight loss and boost energy.

Raw before Four

This is one of the many dieting suggestions that have emerged from the clean eating epidemic. It suggests that only eating raw food before 4 in the afternoon, without calorie restrictions, will enable weight loss. However, it has been warned by dietician that such a large quantity of raw food, especially if it is exclusively plant matter, is extremely harsh on the digestive system. People with IBS, or other digestive conditions, are at particular harm if they choose to do Raw before Four, as their gut cannot handle the excessive pressure put on it by this change of diet.

It has been argued that cooking food releases nutrients that would otherwise be inaccessible to the body if eaten raw

It has been argued that cooking food releases nutrients that would otherwise be inaccessible to the body if eaten raw. There is no scientific evidence that suggests this type of clean eating has any noticeable health benefits.

Non-GMO Foods

GMO foods are usually crop species that have had their DNA modified to allow plants to grow quicker and at a higher yield, and not to be susceptible to certain infections. For instance, it has been used in some tomato species to resist frost, meaning they can be grown in a larger variety of climates. There has been mass scaremongering over GMOs, much of which has prompted the clean eating movement. However, time and time again it has been proven by scientists that the biotechnology behind genetically modifying food is not harmful to health. It is used only to create higher yielding food sources which is desperately needed for the planet’s continually growing population. The World Health Organisation and many other highly respected scientific organisations have reassured the public that consuming GMO foods has no health risk.

Cutting out processed foods

Another stand of clean eating is the removal of processed foods from the diet. Processed foods are often high in added sugar, salt and fats. However, they are often consumed due for convenience, compared to whole foods which usually have to be prepared, rather than just thrown in the oven. Cutting down on processed foods is certainly not a bad thing, and will enable you to limit saturated fats, sugar and salt in your diet which can reduce the risk of certain cancers and heart disease. The NHS still suggests that there is no need to completely cut out processed foods from your diet, and simply by checking the nutritional information on the packaging you can keep an eye on what you are putting into your body.

Orthorexia nervosa

Orthorexia nervosa is an eating disorder linked with an obsessive interest with eating healthy foods, which in extreme cases can lead to malnutrition. It is important to note that this is not, as of yet, a recognised mental disorder, and has only been used to describe the possible mental effects associated with clean eating. It suggests that having an obsession with healthy foods, can actually be incredibly unhealthy for your physical and mental health.

It is important not to let healthy eating become an obsession

There is still a huge debate around clean eating, and there is still little known about the psychology behind the dieting fad. It is clear that this trend is over-the-top, and although promoting a healthy lifestyle is a good thing and increasingly needed in society today, it is important not to let healthy eating become an obsession.

So this January, especially as students, don’t let “clean” eating stress you out too much – we have enough of that with deadlines and exams. Ensuring a balanced diet with everything in moderation, is crucial, and important to staying healthy this new year.