Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Our Diet - In Black And White [And Clean]

Did you watch Horizon last week? Dr Giles Yeo, a Cambridge biochemist [originally from San Francisco, gaining his Masters at Berkeley] investigated the current craze for "Clean Eating". He demonstrated that although the 'stars' of this movement tend, on the whole, to be attractive young women [Ella Mills-nee-Woodward, the Hemsley sisters, Natasha Corrett, Amelia Freer etc] many of them developed their ideas from work done by 'gurus' who all seem to be middle aged/elderly men in the USA.

It was rather alarming to hear stories of quacks [some had rather questionable medical qualifications] who put people on gluten free, alkaline, or other types exclusion diets. These men not only charged them loads of money, but promised cures for cancer and a lot more besides. And some of their customers died - and some of these men have been prosecuted for malpractice.
Sadly the doctors didn't seem to see a problem. Nor were they willing to accept that their hokum did not stand up to rigorous scientific scrutiny.
The young women - who still appear to be healthy and attractive - have, for the most part, withdrawn any endorsements they may have given these guys in the past.
“What even is clean eating after all? I never said I was clean! I’m about purity, not eating clean!” ...When the Hemsley sisters spoke out against clean eating at the launch of their pop-up shop in Selfridges recently earlier this month, they denied all links “It is a media-coined term,” Jasmine insisted “We have never, ever used the phrase ‘clean eating’.”
Which is all a bit sad really- I have very few problems with this chart

I cannot claim to have eliminated all refined sugar and processed food from my diet - but I eat far less than I ever used to. And I think I am more of a 3-4 medium meals a day rather than 5-6 small ones.
But more whole foods, fruit and veg, and a balanced diet are definitely on the menu for us. I like the definition on the BBC Good Food page

What really bothers me - and it was unfortunate that Dr Yeo [what a polite and cheerful chappy he was!] did not have time to cover this - is the effect that these 'clean' diets are having on so many people [particularly young women] Ruby Tandoh wrote an excellent piece in the Guardian.
If you declare some foods 'clean' - you must therefore be defining others as unclean/dirty. And the inevitable result of this is the development of "orthorexia" - an eating disorder where people only allow themselves to eat the 'right' foodstuffs. These best selling books with glowing fresh faced girls on the covers, carefully avoid the word 'diet'. But H&H say "All our recipes are gluten, grain and refined sugar free" Natasha promises "52 exclusive vegetarian and gluten-free recipes" Ella's trademark is "simple yet tempting plant-based, dairy-free and gluten-free recipes"
As Yeo pointed out, the proportion of genuine coeliacs is very low - and they usually know who they are. There is no significant benefit to cutting out gluten for the majority of people. I have good friends who have been vegan/vegetarian for years, before this crowd were weaned - and they ensure their diets are balanced with adequate complementary proteins. I respect their reasons for their food choices - some for moral, ethical reasons, others for genuine health issues. But I am really worried about impressionable young girls who are excluding a significant number of foodstuffs from their diet in the belief that they will become poster-girls overnight.
Yes, obesity is a massive problem in the UK, almost as bad as in the USA - but so is the continued rise in anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders. My heart goes out to those who suffer at both ends of the weight spectrum, and to their families who are desperate to help them. 
I am not denying that many of the recipes in these latest books are delicious - I love a good, crisp salad, fresh sweet fruit is a joy, a bowl of comforting vegetable soup is a glorious lunch on a cold foggy day. However they don't paint the whole picture. I also love to go to the Bakehouse in Ringwood for a sourdough roll spread with creamy butter, and  accompanied by a cup of well made coffee...or enjoy a roast chicken dinner prepared by Liz or Steph.
This has been a bit of a rant. Sorry. I wonder what I shall be fed when I am in Albania? I suspect the women there do not have the luxury of eschewing bread, meat and milk in favour of chewing chia seeds, quinoa and coconut milk.


  1. Well said. We are people of great privilege, and we indulge it with fad.

  2. As close to natural as possible is probably best, but everything in moderation, surely?


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