I feel I must defend the ‘clean eating’ advocates – the Hemsley sisters, Ella Mills and so on. Do they need any help, you might ask, given that they have massive Instagram followings and sell cookbooks by the shedload? Perhaps not, but, they have been getting it in the neck recently, accused of offering unsubstantiated nutritional advice and even promoting unhealthy eating.
Admittedly few, if any, have serious nutritional credentials. Further criticism is that with their covetable good looks, these super-slim, stylish women promote an unrealistic, unattainable lifestyle – even eating disorders. And critics take issue with the word ‘clean’, with its underlying, unconscious implication that other food is therefore ‘dirty’.
When it comes to nutrition, we’ve been encouraged to defer to our elders in white coats, not young women. Arguably, though, our eating habits went seriously wrong when we started paying too much attention to the so-called experts, rather than following the wise advice of our mothers and grandmothers. Twenty-five years of writing about food and health has taught me to be deeply sceptical about official nutrition gospel, even if it comes from a host of professors on a scientific committee. Similar authorities once told us that it was dangerous to consume more than two eggs a week, and advocated eating spreads that turned out to contain artery-clogging trans fats.
Now, the dietetic community is riven by infighting as high-profile medics challenge the current public health eating guidelines. While they slug it out, clean eaters have performed at least one public service: encouraging us to avoid processed food with additives and engineered ingredients, and to cook instead with food that is as natural and close to its origins as possible. They have also aired the increasingly credible idea that industrialised food is making us fat and sick. I applaud them for this, and for urging us to let good food be our first and foremost medical remedy.
Back to basics
And isn’t it useful that clean eating writers have gone back to square one with ingredients? Surely the drive to ask, ‘Is there a more nutritious ingredient that I can use instead?’ is progressive? I used to make millionaire’s shortbread with condensed milk, plain flour, lots of sugar, and so on. But now I much prefer my cleaner lookalike recipe that uses oats, dates, peanut butter, raw cacao and coconut oil. Of course, I can’t endorse every idea the clean eaters come up with. Some of them strike me as being more sensible than others. So as in everything to do with advice on food and eating habits, I use my common sense and listen selectively to what they have to say.