I heard a lot of talk about a recent BBC documentary, ‘Clean Eating’s Dirty Secrets’ which was presented by blogger Grace Victory, who sought to disprove some of the circulating health claims and find out what a healthy diet actually means. So I decided to watch it and thought I’d share my thoughts on it.
First of all, I hate the term ‘clean eating’. To me it implies that all of the food that doesn’t fit this category is ‘dirty’ and makes it seem like a fad rather than a lifestyle choice. I prefer the term ‘healthy eating’ which I believe includes ‘dirty foods’ in moderate amounts, because balance is the key to health.
The first thing that occurred to me was that, in my opinion, the best way of having a healthy diet is to make sure that it’s balanced and varied. There is no ‘correct’ diet to have because health means different things to different people. Grace said that while trialling a vegan diet, she missed eggs. To me, this implies that it is restrictive because eggs are a fantastic source of protein and healthy fats, and simply avoiding them because you feel that you should is deprivation and it seems wrong. Please note that I am not necessarily saying that veganism is restrictive; if you enjoy being a vegan and don’t feel that you’re missing out, then perhaps it is not restrictive. All I’m saying is that, if you’re cutting something beneficial out purely because you think you should rather than because you want to, then it’s restrictive. This is why I take an all-inclusive approach to my diet. I eat dairy, I eat meat, I eat fish, I eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and this is what works for me. I include treats because otherwise it would be unsustainable. It’s not just about what you are eating; it all comes down to moderation.
Then there’s the whole ‘gluten is bad’ claim. In spite of large numbers of health bloggers promoting this claim, the fact remains that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that gluten is harmful to anyone who is not coeliac (severely gluten-intolerant). As it happens, only 1% of the population is coeliac and yet, at a guess, a much higher percentage have cut it out. As dietician Dr Sarah Schenker pointed out, we have been eating gluten for years and our genetics haven’t changed in any way that would alter our ability to digest gluten (although I would argue that excessive consumption of gluten could, but that’s the same for many things). I was definitely guilty of falling into this trap – I gave up gluten for a while because that was what all the health bloggers I followed seemed to recommend. Now I eat it again and I’m absolutely fine. (Also, I’m happier!)
Something else that I found very interesting was when Natasha Corrett, an advocate of the alkaline diet and co-author of the Honestly Healthy cook book range, refused to respond to the following statement made by Grace: “I spoke to a doctor and he basically said to me that your food won’t affect your pH.” And yet the alkaline diet is based on the idea that we need to eat certain foods to control our body pH. As Dr Schenker said, there is a very acidic pH in our stomachs and a slightly alkaline pH in our blood. There are different processes in our body which ensure that these pHs are maintained, so it’s nothing to do with the food that we eat. Natasha then refused to answer a question which focused on Robert Young, the founder of the alkaline diet and someone who claimed that it would cure cancer. Interestingly enough, in 2014 he was arrested for practising medicine without a license. Hmmm, it’s not looking too good for the alkaline diet, is it?
I was also shocked to learn that prominent health blogger Ella Mills (Deliciously Ella) claimed that “when we drink milk, calcium is drawn from our bones in order to rebalance the acidity it causes, which can result in a calcium deficit.” I didn’t need an expert to tell me that this is a load of rubbish or, as Dr Schenker put it, “scientific nonsense”. Milk is a really good source of calcium and very beneficial for our bones, so who knows where this claim came from.
Grace then met Brianna Jackson, a girl who has recovered from anorexia and is now a raw vegan. I couldn’t help wondering whether this was simply a transition from one eating disorder to another. I have seen from social media that it’s not uncommon for recovered eating disorder victims to move to veganism. Veganism is an extreme diet because it cuts a lot of food types out. But being a raw vegan is even more extreme and also socially isolating (imagine eating out with friends), and as raw food is generally lower in calories than cooked, to me it seems like it’s just another way of closely controlling and obsessing over what you’re eating – an idea which doesn’t connote health.
The documentary even featured a girl (High Carb Hannah) who recommended the Potato Cleanse for losing weight. That’s pretty much an oxymoron in itself – the words ‘Potato’ and ‘Cleanse’ do not belong together. Did I mention the fact that Hannah is a huge fan of Freelee the Banana Girl – a woman who will eat up to 50 bananas a day and believes that protein is harmful because it’s made up of amino ACIDS, and “acid is bad for our bodies”. Yes that’s correct, protein is made up of amino acids, otherwise known as THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF LIFE.
Although I found the majority of the documentary really eye-opening and fantastic at exposing unqualified claims, I did pick up on a few things which I disagreed with. Firstly, Grace explored Planet Organic and, having seen the price range, she claimed that healthy eating is very much a middle-class thing. Although I do agree with this, I think a healthy diet has been massively over-complicated. These expensive and fancy items that are sold in health shops, such as superfood powders, are not necessary in a healthy diet. It doesn’t have to be hugely expensive to be healthy, you just need the basics: fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains and simple, good-quality protein and fat sources. Don’t be swept away in the hype and claims that surround all these overpriced superfoods and powders.
Furthermore, Emmy Gilmour, clinical director at The Recover Clinic, said that the clinic had either seen or heard from at least one-third of the top bloggers in the country. Although I do not doubt that health bloggers are much more prone to eating disorders (according to the University of Pittsburgh, frequent users of social media are 3 times more likely to develop mental health problems) I don’t really understand how you can recognise the ‘top bloggers’ in the country. How do we distinguish these ‘top bloggers’ – by their following? If so, at what point would one become a ‘top blogger’? I think a statistic for the number of bloggers seen or heard from would have been more useful here.
To conclude, I felt that the documentary was spot-on when it came to challenging certain fads and beliefs, but I did feel that it dragged ‘clean eating’ through the mud quite a bit – we’re not all claiming unsupported evidence to be true, living on extreme diets and spending far too much money on superfoods! If you’ve watched the documentary then I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on it too. If you haven’t watched it and you think it would interest you, click here.
Thanks for reading!