Clean eating. Does it really mean vigorously washing your food?

When it comes to the subject of fitness, wellness and health, nutrition is easily the most overwhelming topic to dig into. 

Wonderful looking smoothie bowl
Smoothie bowls, plant-forward, 'clean' eating - what do you know to be true about food?

Questions like these come up all the time:

  • What should you eat?
  • When should you eat? 
  • How much? How little? 
  • Do you need to count calories? 
  • Does “clean eating” just mean vigorously washing your food? 

So many questions, seemingly no straightforward answers. 

Even amongst the most well educated on the topic, there are still areas that are the focus of never- ending debate. 

In today’s digital world, there’s a vast amount of information ready for us to consume. 

With so many people voicing their opinions on nutrition, it’s easy to succumb to what’s known as “analysis paralysis”.

Ever become so overwhelmed with conflicting information and options that you’re unable to make a clear decision? That’s analysis paralysis, friends. 

Hopefully, we can help clear up some of the confusion.

We may not be able to put the nutrition world to rights completely, but we're going to make a start with five myths that we think need a bit of debunking. 

1. “Small, frequent meals boosts metabolism”

Green salad
A delicious-looking #notasaddesklunch!

Let’s kick things off with the nutrition myth that seems to be older than time itself.

This myth came about due to the fact that in order for our bodies to process the food we eat into usable energy, we have to burn calories. This is known as the Thermic Effect of Feeding/Food or TEF for short. 

The assumption was made that if we eat more regularly, our body will be burning more calories more often, in order to digest our food. 

To be fair, this seems logical, but the scientific research shows us it’s not the case. 

Studies have shown that it is the total number of calories consumed in a day that affects our metabolism (alongside other factors, including gender, weight, age, activity levels, muscle mass) and not the number of meals. 

Basically, if you eat 3,000 calories in a day, you will get the same overall thermic effect if you split this up into 6 x 500 calories meals, or 2 x 1,500 calorie meals. 

2. “You need protein immediately after your workout”

Woman drinking protein shake
Protein is essential - but when you consume it is slightly less so!

Despite what you may have read in fitness magazines, or heard from the most muscle bound guy at the gym, gulping down a protein shake as soon as you complete that final rep isn’t vital to building muscle. 

Protein does play an important role in building and repairing muscle of course, but the urgency at which you need to consume it post-workout has been greatly exaggerated. 

In fact, The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition Studies found no clear evidence to suggest that consuming protein immediately after a workout provided any additional benefit to building muscle. 

Consuming 20-40g of protein within 3 hours of exercising has been shown to be just as effective. 

Whilst a pre-workout protein shake won’t do you any harm, there’s no reason to stress about the “anabolic window”. 

So, don’t worry if you miss it. Your muscles won't waste away, promise. 

3. “Clean eating helps you “detox” your body!”

Preparing fruit and veg
Is it a cake? Is it a smoothie? Is it a salad?! We may never know...

Sipping on nothing but a low calorie shake or green tea may seem like a simple and quick way to drop a few pounds and flush your body clear of any “toxins”. 

We hate to burst your bubble, but things like detox ‘flat tummy teas’ are actually a big fat scam. Ever noticed how these companies never actually tell you what toxins you are supposedly removing? 

Thankfully, your body already does all the necessary detoxing for you. 

Your body is pretty clever when it comes to keeping you running properly! Our liver, skin, kidneys and even lungs all play a massive part in removing any nasties from our system. 

Instead of buying a detox product, the best thing we can do is just aim to be healthy from the get go. Drink plenty of water, eat an abundance of fruit and vegetables and make sure you get enough fibre daily. 

Your body will take care of the rest - no clean eating detoz nonsense needed.

4. “You don’t need to count calories”

Protein and greens
Protein and greens!

So this one is a semi-myth.

It’s true, you don’t have to count calories. But, just because you don’t count calories, doesn’t mean your body doesn’t.  We need to at least be aware of what role calories play. 

Your body works on a ‘calories in vs calories out’ basis. 

Essentially this means that if you eat more calories than you expend, you will gain weight (calorie surplus). Eat less calories than you expend, and you’ll lose weight (calorie deficit).

With that said, calories aren’t everything. You could technically be in a deficit by eating nothing but Oreos (other delicious biscuits are available) but of course, this wouldn’t be great for your health. That's one clean eating concept we can actually get behind.

Though calories determine whether or not you’ll lose or gain weight, the nutritional value that comes with the calories is what determines your health.

Weight and health are not the same thing.

5. “Fat makes you fat!” Clean eating

Nuts and trail mix
Did you know that almonds are one of the most calorie-dense foods out there? Great for hikes, snacks, and flicking at your friends...

The idea that fat makes you fat comes down to a simple misunderstanding - that dietary fat and body fat are the same thing. 

The fat we eat however is just another macronutrient, like protein and carbohydrates. It’s also an essential part of our diets. 

Body fat (AKA adipose tissue) is your body's way of storing excess energy that it gets from all the above nutrients, not just fat.   

So why does fat get the blame for weight gain? 

Well, it’s because of its caloric density: 9 calories per gram, compared to 4 for protein and carbs. 

As mentioned above, weight gain (and weight loss) is dependent on the number of calories that you consume, in relation to the number you burn. 

Fat contains more than double the calories. That means that the more it contributes to your overall macronutrient intake, the easier it is to creep into a calorie surplus. 

Whilst the consumption of fat doesn’t make you automatically gain weight, it may make weight gain more likely if you don’t keep an eye on those extra calories!

What are some of the strangest food fads or myths you’ve ever seen?

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