Clean Eating: my thoughts

BY ROSE LLOYD OWEN, Founder of Fare Healthy and Catering Company Peardrop London

This week I threw myself into the lions’ den and went to talk to Vanessa Feltz on Radio London and Victoria Derbyshire on BBC2 about my thoughts on clean eating.

(BBC RADIO LONDON INTERVIEW with Vanessa Feltz & Dr Giles Yeo. We're about 2.06 mins in, but the end is a good summary of the debate - from 22.25.30 to 2.32.00)

In both interviews I was pitted against Dr Giles Yeo, the geneticist responsible for the Horizon Documentary that aired on Thursday: “Clean Eating: The Dirty Truth.”

The term “Clean” first came into our parlance around 2 years ago, but it seems the only people who really use it now are the media.  They have taken the term and twisted it & muddied it, so that it’s completely lost sight of its original meaning, which quite simply meant food that was fresh, unprocessed & whole.

Calling food clean now comes with negative connotations.  As Ella says in the documentary "Clean now implies dirty and that's negative ... it's been taken so far from what it originally meant .. now it means diet, it means fad".  The term has been misunderstood to the extent that those who have actually been very pioneering with their recipes, are now being attacked.

For decades we’ve received often conflicting and contrasting dietary advice from the media, from health professionals, authors & public figures, so much of it that it becomes confusing.  When, a couple of years ago, a new wave of healthy eating advocates came to the fore, we paid attention.  At last they showed us attractive, inspiring & fun ways to eat better.

But in this country, the media loves to build something up only to tear it down.

Can I please ask if it has damaged us to learn that you are able to make spaghetti out of squash?  Or that sweet potatoes help sweeten chocolate brownies?

The bloggers are criticised for their cutting out certain food groups without any medical backing – but they have never asked to be taken literally. Don't we all know by now our diets should be balanced? Allergies & intolerance aside, that doesn’t have to be, nor should it be, “all-or-nothing”.

White, processed flour is not as high in nutrients as wholemeal or rye or spelt flour.  Fact.  But the latter ones still contain gluten.  The question of gluten is fairly simple – often foods that are higher in gluten, such as white bread & pizza, are less nutritious.  But, unless your body tells you otherwise, that categorically doesn’t make gluten itself bad for you. As the Hemsleys said last week:

 “People say, ‘Oh you are saying spaghetti is evil.’ Of course we aren’t.  We are just saying using a spiraliser, for example, is a really great way to get vegetables into your dishes.”

I do think that gluten has wrongly become Public Enemy Number One (from my perspective as a chef, so many recipes just don’t work without it) and that many of the bloggers have been taken too literally.  They never, ever said you “should” do anything and certainly not 100% of the time.

But if eating less gluten or less dairy makes people feel more content, then who are we to judge?  Nutritional Therapist Amelia Freer nails it when she says:

“I have to applaud a movement that’s elevated kale (traditionally a cattle feed) to almost cult-like status.”

 2016 saw a £175.6 million increase of fresh fruit & veg sales in the UK.  People are more conscious than ever about what they put in the their bodies and where it’s come from.  As Amelia goes on to say:

“Making everyday vegetables sexy is the holy grail of nutritional practice and clean eating has managed it in bucket loads.”

But the press seem to be fixated on negatives, instead of recognising positive influences like these.  Any movement that has great influence is ripe for misinterpretation, and now that misinterpretation has been paraded as truth with emotive and inflammatory headlines like  "Not just a fad: the dangerous reality of 'clean eating'" (The Spectator) and "Clean Eating was invented so dull people can feel special" (The Telegraph).

When I co-founded Fare Healthy a couple of years ago, my greatest ambition was to inspire, entertain and motivate people to eat, move, think and, as a result, feel better. I believe in a tolerant, inclusive and balanced attitude, which is why I have gathered together a really diverse mixture of voices and talents over the weekend.  But from Valentine Warner, to Skye Gyngell, Olia Hercules Ella Mills or Tom Hunt, I don’t think any of them would dispute the benefits of home cooking whole, unprocessed foods that are as close to nature as possible.

We’re lucky enough to live in a country where we have so much food at our fingertips with a wealth of choice, ranging from cheap to expensive.  So let’s let people make their own choices.  Like them or love them, let's stop this bitterness towards figures who are simply trying to help us live better.