“Cleaning eating” is a fitness buzzword, meant to represent a movement that focuses on healthy, nourishing wholesome food. At first glance, there seems to be nothing wrong with the trend, after all -- health and fitness are positive attributes in an increasingly unhealthy world. A closer look at the trend, however, reveals a darker, more sinister side.

People who don’t eat “clean” are increasingly targeted, with the trend-following populace accusing them of being “unhealthy”, “lazy”, and even “unethical.” Surya Sehgal (name changed on request) had adopted the “clean eating” trend a while ago. She had moved almost entirely to a vegan, plant-based diet composed entirely of unprocessed foods, had given up gluten, dairy and sugar, and joined the so-called “health bandwagon.”

About six months ago, Surya was diagnosed with a number of deficiencies, as clearly -- her diet lacked the necessary nutrients. Now while many can eat a wholesome diet that devoid of most carbs, sugar, dairy and even gluten, Surya was clearly struggling. She chose to incorporate wider varieties of food into her diet, and made the announcement that she was moving to a different diet on an Instagram post. Within seconds, Surya was flooded with angry comments. “So you’ll just give up; what a great role model (note sarcasm)” said one. “Great way to go back to an unhealthy lifestyle,” said another. “Instead of eating a more balanced clean diet, you were quick to surrender,” said a third. “What a joke,” added another. Surya was stunned. All she had done was announced that she would be eating a more diverse variety of food, and she was attacked from every corner. She tried to argue with her critics. “I’m adding healthy food to my diet, not giving in to junk food or overloading my diet with non-nutritious desserts,” she tried to reason.

What Surya didn’t realise is that “clean eating” is not just a diet, it’s a fad. And like most fads, its followers are extremely judgemental of those who are not part of the clique. “Clean eating” has become more about the ability to boast that you follow a restrictive diet plan, rather than any sound nutritional benefits or science.

“Clean eating, like any other restrictive diet, has a ton of problems,” says nutritionist Swati Joshi. “It is not based on any kind of science. There is no evidence to prove that gluten or dairy free foods are healthier, or have additional health benefits, with the sole exception being people who have a gluten or dairy intolerance. In fact, today it is fashionable to say you have a gluten or dairy intolerance, when in reality, a very small proportion of the population actually has these intolerances. The entire clean eating industry, however, is predicated on various intolerances -- much of the gyaan espoused by the proponents of the trend is lapped up by gullible consumers. Very little of it is based in science.”

The worst part of the “clean eating” trend is the bullying. Those who follow the trend tend to think they are better, healthier, more concerned about their bodies because of the effort they put into avoiding certain kinds of food. The fact that a lot of the food these diets avoid is nutritious and essential to our wellbeing is entirely overlooked. Sugar, gluten, dairy and some kinds of protein are considered the enemy, with little science to back up that claim. For instance, the American Heart Association took on the “clean eating” bandwagon, when it clarified that coconut oil (a “clean eating” favourite) actually had “no known offsetting favourable effects”, and that consuming it could result in higher LDL cholesterol. A BBC documentary examined the scientific evidence for different schools of clean eating, and found everything from dubious science to serious malpractice.

There is nothing wrong with choosing to eat “whole” or “unprocessed” foods, but there’s also nothing wrong with having some room for processed foods in your diet. Like any good diet, balance is key.

Logic aside, the “clean eating” trend is going strong. In the west, avocados are outselling fruits such as oranges and apples. Walk into any store and you’ll see cookbooks propounding the benefits of “clean eating.” Sign into instagram and be flooded with health and wellness accounts that focus on the trend.

In a culture obsessed with “clean eating”, followed by aggressive figures who are quick to jump you lest you adopt a strict, clean diet, it’s hard to talk about the benefits of food. Food isn’t the enemy, and a balanced diet -- which includes dairy, gluten, sugar, protein, carbohydrates, fats, etc etc -- is essential to good health. Don’t give into the hype!