The case against “Clean eating”

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Leading dental hygienist Rachel Pointer makes the case against so-called “Clean eating

The term "clean eating" was initially used to describe a plan that eliminated anything processed or refined. However, it gradually – in some quarters – morphed into a fad that vilifies entire food groups. A BBC documentary in early 2017 investigated how the tide was turning, due in part to the unproven claims made by certain high-profile clean eating gurus [1].

Going gluten-free without a medical diagnosis of coeliac disease may do more harm than good [2]. Eliminating dairy, as part of a vegan diet or by choosing to go dairy-/lactose-free without an official diagnosis of allergy or intolerance, may lead to a lack of calcium. Dairy is not the only source, of course – green, leafy vegetables, nuts and soya beans also contain calcium.

But calcium can help prevent rickets in children, which has been making a resurgence [3]. A dairy-/lactose-free diet must be properly managed – with the help of health and dental practitioners – to ensure that the individual does not miss out on essential vitamins and minerals. Adults following this kind of plan must ensure that their children do not suffer because of their own lifestyle choices. Young children might not be so willing to replace dairy with broccoli and cabbage just because their parents choose to. Some sweetened brands of soya milk are high in sugar too.

Any eating plan for the sake of "wellness" rather than medical conditions should generally be viewed with caution. Orthorexia is not currently a recognised clinical diagnosis, but it refers to an obsessive fixation on healthy eating that eventually leads to a person making choices that are restrictive in variety and calories. As a side note, the number of boys being treated for eating disorders has risen by a third in England [4]. Not always linked directly to body image, but rather a combination of factors, mixed messages about what the body needs will not help.

Good dental health and a balanced diet are intrinsically linked, and it is up to dental teams to take this message to patients. Whereas we should limit sugar and saturated fat, an enjoyment of a variety of food will nourish both body and mind. A balanced diet and healthy lifestyle has been proven to help people manage stress. A beaming smile will release endorphins, reduce anxiety and lower blood pressure [5]. People should be advised to eat well, and practice effective, daily oral cleaning with high-quality tools, such as the brushes and adjunctive products from Tandex.

Many proponents are now distancing themselves from the term clean eating; chefs and food writers are joining the scientific community to criticise it as a route to health. An approach to eating that is about long-term balance rather than the latest food revolution should be advocated – your patients will enjoy all the benefits that it will give to their oral health, as well as to their body and mind.

Rachel Pointer qualified from Guys Hospital as a dental hygienist and began work in general dental practice in Hertfordshire. After working as staff hygienist for Professor Naylor she was appointed tutor dental hygienist at Guys Hospital before working in Australia.

Rachel has experience in hospital, specialist periodontal practice and in the private sector as well as setting up a PDU within a cerebral palsy home in Essex. Working for 10 years for the British Dental Hygienists Association as their information officer plus membership and careers co-ordinator she presently works at Addenbrookes Hospital and in general dental practice and a few year ago branched out to teach in a Montessori school setting.

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1] Clean Eating: The Dirty Truth: 7 myths busted. The Telegraph, 19 January 2017. Found at:  (accessed May 2017).
2] BMJ 2017; 357: j1892
3] Rickets on the rise. NHS Choices, 22 January 2010. Found at:  (accessed May 2017).
4] Boys treated for eating disorders up by more than a third in a year, latest figures reveal. Independent, 4 May 2017. Click HERE. (accessed May 2017).
5] What’s the science behind a smile? British Council, 2 April 2014. Found at:  (accessed May 2017).

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