Eating clean is good for you – no argument there. But since nutrient-dense isn’t exactly calorie-light, are you getting toomuch of the good stuff? Hass it even budged?


You’re feeling pretty smug right now. There
was the supergreen protein smoothie you
had for breakfast, the giant avocado and
quinoa salad for lunch and the rawbrownie
you whipped up last night for when the moment
strikes. All this clean eating has left you feeling
virtuous. Your skin glows, your digestion’s revving,
but your jeans are, well, a bit on the snug side…

How did this happen? Isn’t eating
clean, nutrient-dense food what
everyone – from the willowy
Deliciously Ella blogger Ella
Woodward to the thousands of
lithe, dewy-skinned instafoodies
– endorses? Isn’t that the healthy
narrative we’ve all been sold: eat
clean, get lean? Well, not exactly.
Clean eating, in case you missed
the memo, is not a diet (advocates
are more likely to post antioxidant
scores and mineral content than
calories or grams of fat). It’s a
lifestyle choice,
additives in
favour of ‘whole’,
unrefined food.
After decades of
low-calorie, lowfat
foods stuffed
with artificial
sweeteners and
bulking agents
that set our blood
sugar on a roller
coaster leaving us fuzzy-headed and
constantly looking for the next pickme-
up, clean eating seemed like the
sensible way to look after our bodies.
Until our bodies started to grow.

Smoothie operator
“All rawfoods that are unprocessed are
superfoods,” says food futurologist Dr
Morgaine Gaye. “But true superfoods
are high-potency food, which you
need very little of. Take chlorella for
example –¼tsp a day is plenty.”
The truth is clean eating doesn’t
mean free-fromor calorie-free – in
fact, in some cases, the calories are
higher with clean foods. And because
this new ‘healthy’ lifestyle doesn’t
come with any specificity of portion
sizes or RDAs; there is no manual to
follow. The result:
superfoods can end
up supersizing you.
“Of course you
can gain weight
eating too many
superfoods,” says
JulieMontagu, yoga
teacher and author
of vegan cookbook
Superfoods. A
blonde 5ft 7in
who does the splits on her kitchen
worktop in her size-6 jeans, ‘flexi
foodie’Montagu points the finger
squarely at the superfood smoothie.
“People just chuck things in – almond
butter, protein powder [which is
often ground-up nuts and seeds],
coconut oil, half an avocado. Once
it’s whizzed up in the Vitamix, you
can’t see what’s in it. You’ve basically
downed 700 calories before your
body has had time to register it,” she
says. “Smoothies are a great way of
hiding highly calorific foods. I see
them as a treat. I’llmake mine with
a coconut water base and only have
a small glass. I won’t walk around
with a supersize-me portion.”
Montagu’s rule of thumb is one
green juice and one superfood
powder (see box, right) a day. She
avoids highly calorific superfoods
such as olive oil and eats very few
nuts (Brazil nuts are the only plantbased
form of selenium, which
we need for thyroid health, but
three nuts a day is plenty, and well
over your RDA). She eats limited
amounts of fruit and gains her
good fats from half an avocado for
breakfast (that’s right, a whole one
mashed up on your morning toast
is way too much fat for one meal).
“Coconut oil is another one to be
wary of,” she adds. “It’s made with
medium-chain fatty acids, so digests
faster and is said to increase your
metabolism by up to 10%, but you
don’t need 2 tbsp in your superfood

smoothie – 1 tsp a day is enough.
I spread it on my rye toast.” Sweet
foods such as her black bean brownies
(high in iron, folate and magnesium
and made with 100g low-GI
unrefined coconut palm sugar – but
sugar nevertheless) are reserved for
treats a couple of times a week.
Recipe for success
Not all superfood sweet treats are
equal, so studying the recipe is
key to avoid piling on the pounds.
Even healthy fats or natural sugars,
which may contain extra nutrients,
can still end up on the hips. When
sugars and fats appear together in
high concentrations, the closer they
come to the ‘bliss point’ – the holy
grail of food manufacturers – and
the more we crave them (Pringles
have that one nailed).
Take raw peanut butter cups,
a vegan copy of the Reese’s
version. Yes, they may not contain
preservatives, but the ingredients are
pure fats (nut and coconut butter)
chocolate (cacao) and sugar (agave),
so you’ll inevitably be unable to
stop at just one. “Look for no more
than 10% ‘carbohydrates of which
sugars’ on the ingredients list,” says
nutritionist Daniel O’Shaughnessy*.
A Nakd raw Cashew Cookie bar,
for example has 14g sugar per
35g snack. He recommends a few
squares of Lindt Excellence 99%
chocolate (2g sugar per 100g).
Deliciously Ella’s famous vegan,
gluten-free sweet potato brownies,
which she describes as “the sweetest,
gooiest, softest, most moist,
chocolatey brownies ever”, are made
with two forms of sugar – 14 mejdool
dates and 3 tbsp maple syrup. No
wonder they’re so moreish! One
national newspaper journalist wrote
that his wife put on 3lb after a week
followingWoodward’s cookbook;
but she did admit to scoffing all the
brownies in a few hours. Like we
Balancing act
Eating superfoods doesn’t mean we
can ignore the other basic rules of
weight management – portion
control, limiting fats and maintaining
blood sugar balance by limiting
carbs, O’Shaughnessy says. Healthy
doesn’t mean you can eat twice as
much. “The best way to thrive on
a superfood diet is by eating lean
sources of protein –meat, fish, eggs,
yoghurt.Around 120g to 150g with
every meal should keep you full.
Fill the rest of your plate with
above-ground vegetables, which
have none of the starchy carbs.”
If this all sounds terribly depressing,
then take heart: clean versions of
sweet treats will be digestedmore
slowly than thosemade with refined
flour because – while both versions
are calorific and contain sugars –
the clean versions contain complex
carbs (sweet potato, black beans).
But when it comes to sugar, the
story’s a little more complex. Yes,
refined sugar is highly addictive
(“We know it has an effect on the
brain like cocaine,” Gaye says), but
natural sugars, especially agave, are
moreish in a different way because
of their high fructose content. “The
problemwith fructose is that your body
doesn’t tell you when you are full from
it, so you eat more,” O’Shaughnessy says.
“And it ismetabolised
directly by the liver
into fat,much
faster than actual
glucose (sugar).”
We overdo it
on the nuts, too,
because it’s easy
to snack on them
absent-mindedly –
they’re full of good
fats and protein, so
what’s the problem?
“People forget that while protein
and carbs have four calories per
gram, fat has nine calories and nuts
are 50-75% fat,” O’Shaughnessy says.
A handful of edamame beans, a hardboiled
egg or even pumpkin seeds are
a better snack option.
Mission control
That means portion control is key for
all of us, but especially for vegan clean
eaters (Beyoncé take note) whose
protein comes from greens, beans,
pulses and whole grains – which
can be high in carbs. “Especially on
a vegan diet, you need portion control,
and to combine foods very carefully,”
O’Shaughnessy says. If you’re having
protein from beans, for example, don’t
eat grains with them because that’s
extra carbs. Limit starchy vegetables
and avoid grazing on nuts or eating
more than half an avocado a day.
If you find yourself reaching
for the Dairy Milk at that time
of the month, it’s because you
crave magnesium, found in cacao,
Gaye says. “But if you had a handful
of cacao nibs – the highest plantbased
source of magnesium –
instead, that would remineralise
you and get you away from a potential
sugar crash cycle.
A handful is
pretty bitter, you
couldn’t overdo it.”
For Gaye, true
superfoods are
things you can’t
really stuff your
face with because
they “tend not
to be delicious”
(unless of course
they’re wrapped
up in sugars and fats). Think reishi
mushrooms, spirulina, chlorella,
cacao nibs. “If you are pigging out
on something you think is a health
food, it’s probably not. For a true
superfood, a small palm-sized
portion is plenty.”


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