Throughout January we are usually all inundated with the latest short term diet fixes, dramatic resolutions and lists of the new health “no-goes”. However, it seems that this year the ultimate new taboo is Clean Eating. The “Clean” revolution that has swept social media, print and marketing over the last couple of years has lost it’s gloss and the mudslinging is now coming from all angles.
Although no clinical or official definition of Clean Eating exists, originally it encouraged reducing fast and highly processed foods within one’s diet. It promoted nutrient rich, minimally refined and plant-based foods, home cooking and ample fresh vegetables. Nothing about this is particularly controversial and it shares many of the core principles that our public health bodies advise. However, in the world of fad diets, attention grabbing headlines and instant uproar, this modest advice seems to have been polluted and misinterpreted during the health boom of the last couple of years. Clean Eating definitions also seem to vary between individuals, leading to further confusion and frustration. Some associate it with a vegan diet, some with paleo or alkaline, while many have traditionally focused on rules and restrictions.
With the dramatic changes within our diets over the last couple of generations and our current abundance of highly processed, refined foods that are high in sugars, saturated fat and salts; Clean Eating, when stripped back to it’s basic principles, is not such a negative message and in fact encourages a healthy, varied diet.
It seems that the issue with Clean Eating can be considered in it’s delivery and the misinterpretation of it’s values. The word ‘clean’ implies ultimately that the opposite is “dirty”. Along with words associated with food habits, like “naughty” and “cheat”, it creates fear, shame and mistrust around eating and should not be used around food. These emotive associations evoke moral issues and seniority. The portrayal of Clean Eating is also often seen as exclusive, expensive and unrealistic. To add further to the muddied waters, the backlash to the Clean Eating movement includes accusations of dangerous habits and bad science, with those who have promoted restrictive diets now distancing themselves from the negative connotations and creating more confusion and apprehension towards eating.
While no style of eating or “diet” suits everyone, we should put this into perspective. Good nutrition is vital to provide our bodies with sufficient fuel for energy and the nutrients we need to function. In a country where we face an obesity epidemic in the next ten years and chronic illness on the rise, healthier lifestyle and diet changes are advised and supported by appropriate, evidence – based scientific research. A diet of fresh, minimally processed or refined, foods from varied sources does support good health.
It is important to remember that what rises, falls. In the last couple of years we have seen an unprecedented boom of the wellness and health food industry, along with increased availability of health foods, renewed interest in home cooking, more allergy friendly, health conscious offerings and an increased general consciousness of the impact of diet on health. All of which are hugely positive.
It was inevitable at some point that this bubble of popularity would burst. But healthy eating should not be seen as a craze, instead it is time to take the concept of Healthy Eating back to basics. This means promoting; minimally processed, fresh ingredients, cooked from scratch and with the understanding that enjoying eating healthily doesn’t make you part of the fad.