Monday, 16 May 2016

Thoughts on healthy eating

This week I was going to write a recipe for a quick mid week pasta dish, but last Friday I came across an article about the wellness and clean eating trends by Ruby Tandoh that made me stop and think. Ruby was one of the contestants in The Great British Bake Off in recent years and since then has been writing about food for The Guardian.

Her piece is here and I would recommend you read it because if you are a foodie or care about your health you will find it interesting and thought provoking.

I care about how I live and how what I do and what I eat impacts on my health. I also come from a Mediterranean culture where, when I was growing up, food was fresh, seasonal, local, varied and simply prepared. Moving to the UK was a shock to my (digestive) system, not because British food is bad, but because the diet and lifestyle were so different to what I was used to. My body hadn't had to digest so many potatoes and cake before, or make an effort to digest the biggest meal before going to bed. Since then the food scene in the UK has changed dramatically and my interest in healthy eating has increased, including keeping up with the recent revolution about wellness, so I was naturally drawn to this article, which gave me lots of food for thought (pun not intended!).

I follow some of the people mentioned there on social media and have books by Ella Mills and the Hemsley sisters. I do like most of their food, I do believe that a diet of as little processed food as possible is better than countless processed snacks, I think that it is better to have one good quality steak than have cheap meat (or fish) every night, and that treats should be treats and not the usual mid afternoon snack. With that being said, this articles offers an interesting angle to some of the claims we see banded around our Instagram feeds, blog posts that we read, etc. with very little scientific evidence. It is a wake up call.

A great example is the vilification of gluten. Two years ago I went to Southern California on holiday with friends and we were shocked by how obsessed with gluten people were. At a food market stall at The Grove in LA, my friend Dan overheard a girl say: "Is all this gluten free? Oh My God, that is sooooo my life right now!". We laughed about it for ages because it seemed like such a foreign concept to us to be so scared of it. During our holiday we went to see Jimmy Kimmel Live and one of the clips during the show involved a reporter asking people on the street what gluten actually was. It was hilarious. See it for yourself here if you have a couple of minutes.

We came back feeling amused by how everyone was so completely obsessed with and scared of gluten. Fast forward less than 2 years and this attitude and outlook has travelled across the pond. What is worse, and it is embarrassing to admit it, I have nearly got swept up in it. The tales about its inflammatory effects on your body, and your midriff in particular, have made me reduce its intake and I have bought gluten free pasta a couple of times and ordered gluten free pizza at a restaurant once. There are other reasons why I am reducing it (see my post about Womancode and my experience here if you would like to know), but I do wonder how many people will have simply switched to a plant based (aka vegan) diet or cut out gluten or switched sugar for maple syrup and eaten a whole packet of medjool dates in a sitting because there is a generation of beautiful skinny girls who say this is the way to wellness.

Tandoh talks about Ella Mills from Deliciously Ella quite a bit in her article, and whilst I agree with some of what she says, I think it is also important to point out that Ella has to be incredibly strict with her diet and lifestyle because she has some underlying health problems, which she manages with her food and lifestyle choices. This is something that I think is important to bear in mind when criticising her approach, but also when considering to follow those same principles. I applaud Ella Mills for making the choices she made for her health. She was bed bound for a long time and her change in diet and lifestyle have helped her lead the most normal life she can. There are other people who have achieved incredible health improvements through a radical change in their diet, like Kris Carr, who has been living with cancer for many years.

Whilst I think they are incredible and very inspiring stories, most of us don't have severe conditions that require such radical change, and that is what we need to remember. If you have not got a gluten intolerance, there is no need to cut out gluten from your diet, or any other food group, for that matter. I am a great believer in variety and in making small changes that can be long lasting. Eat more vegetables, cook from scratch, make your own lunch and snacks and indulge here and there, without guilt. Likewise, I think it is important to remember that what we eat has amazing healing powers, and that is not to be underestimated either.

Something else that Ruby Tandoh points out and that I think is really important is that none of these "health gurus" make claims that have much scientific substance. This is something that I hadn't stopped to think about, but it is a case of a message being said by a few people so many times that in the end it becomes truth, yet when you think about it, there is no scientific evidence behind it.

Throughout history we have seen how even scientific research contradicts itself after a while. We can believe that sardines are good for you until one day there will be new research that says that they are not. I am convinced that soon we will realise that consuming 2 avocados a day is not good for you, and when you come to think about it, it would make perfect sense. It all goes back to having a varied diet, in my opinion.

Despite the above, I think these girls have become some of the most positive role models that we have had for a while. Yes, they are skinny, beautiful and mostly rich, which does not reflect the reality of many people, but overall they are promoting a message to look after ourselves, to eat less mass produced stuff and to move more. You can most definitely pick holes in their theories or philosophies, but I think the heart of what they are saying is important and a much more positive attitude than a lot of diets that are so much more restrictive and potentially dangerous.

As you can see, my thoughts are far from being black and white, and that is generally my attitude about mostly everything. There are always positives and negatives to take from everything. Personally, I will carry on cooking some of the recipes by Deliciously Ella and the Hemsley sisters because they are delicious, but I might also be a bit more gluten friendly. When it comes down to food, I think going back to my Mediterranean roots always keeps me the healthiest: lots of veg and variety!

Have you read the article? What are your thoughts about the wellness and clean eating trends?

Inma x

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