Despite these relatively small numbers, gluten and dairy have been labeled as bad or dirty by diet trends such as “clean eating.”
In general, a clean diet is cutting back or eliminating gluten, dairy, processed foods, and refined sugars.
These fad diets are particularly popular with young people, especially women. This year, the Food Standard’s Agency’s Food and You survey found that 46% of people 16 to 24 said they had a bad reaction to milk, which could be part of the reason for trying a clean diet.
However, what many people think is a healthy choice could be doing more harm than good.
The National Osteoporosis Society has said that cutting out milk could be leaving thousands of young adults with weaker bones because they’re not getting enough calcium. The society says it is a “ticking time bomb” for developing permanent bone problems like osteoporosis, because bones generally stop developing once you hit 30.
Osteoporosis currently affects about 3 million people in the UK. Although losing bone density is part of growing older, if this trend continues, more young people could end up in similar conditions.
The risks of ‘clean eating’
Food bloggers and Instagram chefs promote clean-eating diets as healthy. They can be if you get all the necessary nutrients elsewhere, such as calcium from leafy greens and nuts. However, it often doesn’t work out in reality.
Young people who don’t have the budget to afford nutritionists or expensive health foods look to social media stars for advice on what they could cut out. Instead of making them healthier, these diets can end up being restrictive.
Clean eating has faced a backlash in the past couple of years by critics who say it promotes an unhealthy body image and makes people, particularly young people, feel bad about enjoying all types of food. Nigella Lawson, for example, has spoken out against the diet, saying people can use it as a way to hide eating disorders.
Ella Mills, the star behind the Deliciously Ella food blog, used to be part of the clean-eating trend but has since stepped back. However, she has claimed that milk can cause calcium loss in bones, a myth that repeatedly crops up on food blogs and healthy-eating websites.
The NOS’s warning isn’t the first time clean-eating diets have been described as potentially dangerous. In 2016, experts said restrictive diets were a noticeable route to eating disorders for people at risk.
An NOS survey found that four in 10 people aged 18 to 24 had tried a clean-eating diet, and one in five had reduced how much dairy they consumed. According to the NOS, the issue isn’t necessarily about choosing to be healthier — it’s following the advice of people who have no authority to talk about nutrition.
“There’s nothing wrong with the concept, but I think there is very much a focus for young people to cut out dairy,” Susan Lanham-New, an adviser to the NOS and the head of nutritional sciences at the University of Surrey, told “Today” on BBC Radio 4. “Social media is rife with people who are talking, quite frankly, about subjects where they don’t know what they’re talking about.
“The foundations for good bone health are very much laid down in the early years, up to the late 20s,” she added. “If you have a prolonged time of low calcium intake, that will put you at risk of osteoporotic fracture in later life, and it will put you at greater risk of stress fractures in earlier life.”
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