|The new NZ eating guidelines.|
I realise I'm a bit behind the crowd here, but I'm finally joining the 'does clean even eating exist?' internet stoush. Liz and Kek both got right on it. *applause*
In my mad little mind, this question jigsaws with 'which matters: calories or content?' and 'are foods either 'good' or 'bad'?
What's the deal?
Do Calories Matter for Body Composition?
Yes. I've not found one scientific article that suggests otherwise.
1. On some nutrition plans and approaches you don't have to think about them so much because the plan naturally controls both calorie intake and appetite, usually through dictating content (Paleo, Vegan, Atkins, Low-Carb) and/or controlling portions and eating frequency (Zone, Body for Life, Intermittent Fasting).
2. Calories matter a LOT more if you are trying to get from 'average/normal' to 'lean'. It's those last 5kg's that will fight you, and I don't know many people that get from average to lean without putting some thought into calories, content and portion sizes.
3. Some people will overeat on any plan (yes, even a very 'clean', boring diet), usually because they are out of touch their true hunger level. People that use food to soothe their emotions will often have to become 'calorie aware' in order to establish a ballpark daily intake that is realistic to their goals and work on the emotional stuff.
As regards 'counting calories', that's a tricky business and, even weighing and measuring, you could be out by hundreds every day. For a start, the Atwater factors (4 cals per gram of carbs or protein, 9 cals per gram of fat) are averages. For example, not all types of carbohydrate yield 4 calories, but for the sake of convenience it's 'near enough'. Interestingly, a whole food diet may be harder to estimate the energy content of anyway - possibly because it contains more types of carbs/protein/fat. I think it's more important just to be calorie aware.
Calorie awareness means having an idea of where the things you eat lie in terms of 'higher' or 'lower' in calories. A.K.A 3 x banana = mars bar, or 1 x large chicken breast = 1 very small fatty steak, or 2 tbsp oil quadruples the energy content of your salad. Basic 'rules of thumb'.
What is "Clean Eating"?
Is this really an area of confusion? I asked around and, among my friends, the answer was unanimous.
'Clean Eating' is minimising processed food and additives/pesticides. You can be a 'clean eating' vegan or a junkfoody one. 'Clean' is 'as nature made it'.
Are there 'Good Foods' and 'Bad Foods'
Yes, but as Paracelsus muttered: "the dose makes the poison". It's pretty well established that trans-fats do awful things to your arteries and I'd say they are 'badbadbad' and would prefer they didn't exist. But, one slice of commercial fudge won't hurt you.
As for other foods, say refined sugar, well it all depends on where you are at and on your metabolism. A lean person running a marathon may benefit from intakes of glucose or sucrose that would lead a couch potato to fatty liver disease.
I avoid nightshades because they aggravate my arthritis, other people can eat them. I can eat foods now that used to cause me problems because I'm fitter and have put time into healing my health issues (e.g. leaky gut). If you develop a health problem, go through a period of stress or get yourself into a nutrient deficiency, it may require a temporary healing diet, supplementation or permanent diet change.
Therefore, not only does one diet not fit all people, but one diet doesn't even fit one person all the time. As you change, and you will, so do your nutritional requirements and tolerances.
So, instead of 'good and bad', I think an 'eat more of this, less of this' or 'everyday food / sometimes food' or 'not right now may be ok later' approach is more sane. I don't think many people become healthy enough to ditch veges and live on cake. Sorry. I think everyone can benefit from learning to love veges a bit more. Tastebuds can be trained like circus animals, even the most rebellious ones.
One type of food I 'do' think is bad for you? Any food you hate to eat, ate but wish you hadn't, or any food you are scared of, or that stresses you out. Let's not forget that humans aren't just a body. We have a psyche and a soul. The state of those affects physical health at least as much as what goes into the face-hole. Cake or an awesome salad eaten with a friend (even if that friend is your own bad self), at leisure, and fully enjoyed is a whole different beastie to cake bought secretly and eaten in haste to smother feelings of self-hate or salad stuffed down only because it's 'on your plan'. Very different.
The Problem with Research
I've noticed that part of the 'ideal diet / clean eating' problem is that people find a piece, or huge pile, of research that seems to support their stance, or refute someone else's, then try to beat everyone into submission with it. That's never going to work.
Nutrition research is inherently problematic (especially when investigating macronutrients) and almost never conclusive because of this little quirk:
You can't just manipulate one factor.
That is, if you lower carbs you must increase something else. If you don't, then you automatically decrease the energy content, and that in itself has an effect. Reduce gluten and you'll likely end up with a different mix of starches and sugars in addition to less gluten etc. etc. etc. Add in the fact that it's not usually feasible to lock people up in a controlled environment and you can see how complicated it gets.
So, arguing that there is or isn't enough research to prove this or that point is a bit.. pointless. Research indicates things, but it takes a LOT of diverse and expensive research to get a clear idea of cause and effect in nutrition.
What I think really matters
Gut health, a sane, flexible and enjoyable attitude toward food, basic calorie awareness, an individual approach and self-monitoring to see what works for you.