Nowadays one can hardly open a magazine, visit a supermarket or scroll through a phone without being encouraged to ‘eat clean’ by some relentlessly cheery, bright-eyed and lithe-limbed specimen of human perfection. ...
Nowadays one can hardly open a magazine, visit a supermarket or scroll through a phone without being encouraged to ‘eat clean’ by some relentlessly cheery, bright-eyed and lithe-limbed specimen of human perfection.
When the description ‘clean’ began to appear on advertisements and features about food – instead of say, dishwasher tablets – many dismissed it as a passing fad, one which would go the way of the Southbeach, Dukan or Atkins Diet.
But, disappear it has not, and, with an army of devoted disciples ranging from celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Blake Lively to super-bloggers like the Hemsley sisters, the trend is showing no signs of slowing down. It’s becoming a powerful online movement, and the sirens of Instagram are drawing ever more followers with their highly-stylised shots of saintly meals and sculpted bodies.
The idea of clean eating is simple – it’s about cutting out processed, additive-laden foods and going back to simple, unmodified ingredients with no sticker on the back. The kind of food our grandparents probably would have enjoyed: dishes made of lean proteins, fresh fruit and vegetables, and complex carbohydrates such as lentils, beans or split peas. There is an emphasis on eating small portions regularly and minimising the cooking process to retain as many nutrients as possible. It’s commonly considered a cousin of the Paleo diet, with both concepts extolling the virtues of food being kept close to the way nature intended, i.e., unprocessed, with no added preservatives, sugar or salt. This is undoubtedly a good idea, given that the Irish Heart Foundation recently warned that some cereals, bacon and sausages contain almost as much salt as seawater.
So far, so straightforward. It gets more complicated, though, when one starts to examine what is considered clean and what is, well…dirty. The concept divides individual foods into two sections: those to be revered and those to be feared. Many dedicated followers actually remove entire food groups from their diets, including dairy, grains, and, increasingly, all gluten-based products like bread, pizza and pasta. Some, like Gisele Bündchen, have even managed to find a monster hiding in the vegetable patch. She and her family studiously avoid all ‘nightshade’ vegetables. They’re tomatoes, peppers and aubergines, to you and I. A few well-known champions of the lifestyle, like Ella Woodward and our own Rosanna Davison, have taken the idea even further, suggesting that eating clean can even alleviate illnesses.
This restrictive way of eating has led to a raft of alternative ‘clean’ recipes, such as cloud bread (made of whipped eggs and cheese), cauliflower pizza bases, chickpea crepes, courgette noodles, pressed almond milk, coconut flour pancakes…the list is endless, and frankly, a little joyless.
Advocates of clean eating say it’s not a diet, but a way of life, and if this is true, it’s likely to become a fixture, rather than a fad. Like many things in life, it’s about how far you take it. If, by trying to make our diets ‘clean’, we reconsider the processed, packaged, sugar-laded food we’re eating on a daily basis, then it can only be a good thing. On the other hand, if the constant ranking, sorting and judging of food begins to spoil an otherwise highly enjoyable part of life, then its effect might not be an entirely positive one. Nigella Lawson, as is often the case, sums it up well; “I love kale and I’m an avocado obsessive. But life is about balance, it’s not about being smug.”