These days, adding extra veg to your plate doesn’t quite cut it for healthiness.
If you’re to follow the clean-eating gurus of our time, your life – and waistline – depend on avoiding carbs and sugar and dairy.
By that logic, the indulgent dinners over the Christmas period sound like a death wish.
In actual fact, there is not much evidence underpinning these fads, points out Dr Aaron Carroll, a nutritionist and physician at Indiana University.
He has written a book called the Bad Food Bible, urging people to see why it is good for your health to eat what you want.
The reaction, however, has been steely.
‘The first time I wrote about artificial sweeteners [in his New York Times column], one reader asked why my children hadn’t been taken away from me because I let my kids drink diet soda once in a while,’ Dr Carroll told Daily Mail Online.
Stop eating clean: Dr Aaron Carroll, a nutritionist and physician at Indiana University, warns there is little evidence to support the gluten-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free fads
‘People feel very passionately that food is either magic or poison, and these days everyone seems very concerned about what we eat.
‘The problem is cherry-picking of research. The World Health Organization says everything causes cancer. If someone says something is bad for us, we go overboard. And fear sells – people will take those messages seriously. But if you cherry-pick you will find research to support almost anything.’
Perhaps the most popular fad diet in the last decade is gluten-free. For a minority,
The first time Dr Carroll wrote about artificial sugar, he said he let his kids have diet soda once in a while. A reader asked why his kids hadn’t been taken away from him
these alternatives are life-savers: celiac disease (an allergy to gluten) triggers a cripplingly uncomfortably digestive reaction. For the vast majority, gluten may not inspire weight loss, but it certainly isn’t poison.
‘There just isn’t the evidence to support the idea that going gluten-free does any good for people who do not have celiac disease,’ Dr Carroll explains.
‘It really is just a “nocebo” effect, the opposite of the placebo effect, where they believe that if they eliminate something the harm goes away. That’s about it.’
HOW TO EAT SINFULLY: FOUR OF DR CARROLL’S TOP TIPS
Not-so-earth-shatteringly, Dr Carroll says you should allow yourself everything, just in moderation.
‘Food is something to enjoy, not to worry about,’ he insists.
MYTH: SUGAR IS POISON
FACT: ALL IS FINE IN MODERATION
As Dr Carroll explains, a drizzle of honey or a spoonful of sugar will not make the difference between life and death.
Try to stay within the limit of 25g (six teaspoons) of added sugar a day, as per the American Heart Association – though that is easy to exceed.
If you do exceed it, do not panic. A day of indulgence is not the end of the world, as long as you return to your balanced healthy eating pattern and don’t spiral into a binge.
MYTH: MILK IS GOOD FOR YOU
FACT: IT IS A DESSERT
While Dr Carroll has garnered readers fascinated by his acceptance of so-called ‘bad’ foods, he also takes an unorthodox approach when it comes to certain ‘good’ ingredients.
‘There is money and power in this industry – a lot used to tell you what not to eat. But there is also money in telling you what you should eat.
Dr Carroll has written a book called the Bad Food Bible, urging people to see why it is good for your health to eat what you want
‘We have been led to believe that milk is good for your bones. And if we hear something is good for us, sometimes we go overboard and have too much of it.
‘If you actually look at it, while milk has a high calcium content, it has many down sides similar to a dessert, so you should treat it like that and certainly shouldn’t push yourself to drink it every day.’
MYTH: COFFEE IS CANCEROUS
FACT: IT ISN’T
‘We need to really have a look at how we categorize what is dangerous and what is not,’ Dr Carroll fumes.
‘The World Health Organization says coffee causes cancer. That has to be one of the stupidest they’ve said. Obviously coffee is not as dangerous as smoking.
‘The sun causes cancer, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go outside.
‘In fact, evidence suggests coffee is good for you.’
FACT THAT IS A FACT: AVOID PROCESSED FOODS
‘Ultimately, we need to just try to eat fresh food in a balanced way. That involves cutting out processes that humans created to make it easier to consume foods,’ Dr Carroll says.
‘Apple juice is a processed food. We were meant to eat the apple – not drink it’s pressed juice.
‘Bread is a processed food, and junk food obviously.
‘As I said, everything is fine in moderation, but if you aim to cut out anything, make it processed foods, not an ingredient that you don’t have an allergy to.’