Can Your Diet Be Too Clean?

Cutting entire food groups is certainly en vogue, but it might do more dietary harm than good.

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Elimination diets can serve an important purpose for those prone to food allergies. They can also help you kick off a short-term cleanse. But cutting categories of food—be it gluten, dairy, sugar, corn, or soy—in a quest for better health or a leaner physique may actually be counterproductive.

“Cutting food groups has become a popular dietary tactic because it sounds simple and it’s easy to visualize. Plus it’s a clear-cut rule, which is appealing,” says Precision Nutrition coach Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD, CSCS. “People can’t always visualize the idea of moderation, but eliminating a food group like dairy is easily visually represented. There goes milk, ice cream, butter, cheese, and cream in your coffee.”

It also works quickly to lean the body out. “It forces a calorie reduction that causes weight loss. Anytime you make drastic changes to your intake, you see rapid results,” says St. Pierre. The caveat: This limited way of eating is not necessarily sustainable long-term—unless you have a true intolerance.

For example with gluten, celiac disease in North America is estimated at about 1% of the population and gluten sensitivities at about 10%. In those cases, you’re better off eliminating it. Though even gluten, it turns out, has its benefits. It’s been shown to act as an angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor, like many blood pressure drugs, is rich in glutamine, an important amino acid, and wheat itself contains pre-biotic fructans, which may improve GI health, notes St. Pierre.

By that same token, careful consideration should be given before you drop everything. Here, St. Pierre offers up reasons to re-think eliminating food groups at will: