A couple of weeks ago (11.08.17), author Bee Wilson offered the Guardian readers the weekend’s long read in the form of an article titled Why We Fell For Clean Eating. It is useful to read her article here before reading my response.
Her view on the matter seems very confused. On the one hand she is all for us needing to eat more vegetables and she recognises the real danger of serious health complications should we fail to do so.
On the other hand she willingly makes fun of food trends such as smoothies and avocados and tells us how the plant based diet health claims are pseudoscience that is not scientifically backed up.
First, let me start off by saying that I agree with a whole lot of things Wilson writes in her article Why We Fell For Clean Eating. Orthorexia, the eating disorder that has reached epidemic proportions, is absolutely real.
The #cleaneating trend is making a healthier diet feel unattainable and alienating for most people.
“Nigella Lawson was speaking for many when she expressed “disgust” at clean eating as a judgmental form of body fascism. “Food is not dirty”, Lawson wrote.”
I couldn’t agree more. Eating well shouldn’t mean that one has to fit into an elitist clique where one competes for who can buy the most unattainable and expensive superfoods.
Eating well should simply mean that one has the economical means and knowledge it takes to eat in a way that does not promote disease and obesity. It doesn’t have to be chia seeds, it may simply be more broccoli or spinach on the dinner table.
Even though Wilson admits there is a connection between disease and a poor diet she attacks the plant based food trend for being a fad and not being evidence based.
As she rightly pointed out, successful clean eating advocates such as for example Jordan Younger (The Balanced Blonde, formerly The Vegan Blonde) has no qualifications as a nutritionist.
This is of course very important and even though I am a Healing Diets Practitioner I do not have medical training myself. There is, however, plenty of medically trained people out there who very much advocates for eating a whole-grain, plant based diet.
Medically trained doctors that recognise the disease preventative abilities of plant foods are T. Colin Campbell Phd (author of The China Study), Michael Greger M.D. (author of How Nor To Die), Dr. Robert Lustig, Dr. Gabriel Cousens and Dr. Colin Champ, to mention a few.
The three latter doctors also do not subscribe to the lipid hypothesis: essentially, the idea that fat makes you fat and gives you heart disease.
In her article, Wilson attempts to enforce this hypothesis as fact by citing the American Heart Association: “The American Heart Association suggested that the coconut oil beloved as a panacea by clean eaters actually had “no known offsetting favourable effects”, and that consuming it could result in higher LDL cholesterol.”
It is no news that people in the medical field are arguing over saturated fats: this has been going on for some time and is still in the news today.
The point I am making is that there isn’t just “blond and beautiful untrained bloggers” on the other side of the fence: the saturated fat argument is also backed up by conventionally trained medics.
Un-medically trained me have thoroughly been through this controversial topic earlier on this blog and strewn this post with the E-word: evidence-based research. If you prefer an MD to tell you that vegetable oils are nasty and saturated fats are okay instead of myself, click here and here.
Wilson uses ridicule as her ammunition when she attacks the so-called clean eaters: bone broth becomes “mysterious” and should be labelled “stock, to you and me”; however, bone broth has a range of different nutritional qualities that differ from stock.
While stock can be made up of anything (hey vegetable stock), bone broth is made by boiling an animal carcass (chicken/hen) or bones for 12-48 hours for them to release bone minerals and gelatin into the water. Unlike regular stock, it also contains beneficial saturated fats.
Almond milk is debunked as “expensive water” as it contains very little protein. I drink almond milk and see it as “a superior alternative to cow’s milk”, but I sure don’t drink it for the protein.
I drink it because cow’s milk, apart from being produced by very sick and sad animals as part of the inhumane and environmentally retarded dairy industry, thoroughly acidifies the body and makes me prone to diseases such as osteopenia.
And yes, dairy IS actually an acid-forming food in the body just as Junger is cited explaining in Wilson’s article (and is subsequently ridiculed for).
The connection between metabolic acid load in the body and dairy consumption has been known since the 1920’s and studies show (science, folks!) that when the metabolic acid load is increased the body draws calcium from the bones which is a very effective alkaline mineral for PH balancing. In addition to this, a higher metabolic acid load has also been shown numerous times to promote excretion of calcium in the urine by as much as 800%
(footnote 1 footnote 2 footnote 3)
Even WHO has stated that:
“With regard to calcium intakes to prevent osteoporosis, the Consultation referred to the recommendations of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Vitamin and Mineral Requirements in Human Nutrition which highlighted the calcium paradox. The paradox (that hip fracture rates are higher in developed countries where calcium intake is higher than in developing countries where calcium intake is lower) clearly calls for an explanation. To date, the accumulated data indicate that the adverse effect of protein, in particular animal (but not vegetable) protein, might outweigh the positive effect of calcium intake on calcium balance.”
So. That’s the real reason why switching to almond milk may not be such a bad idea after all.
Still in the supermarket aisle, Wilson accusingly declares that “sales of courgettes in the UK soared 20% from 2014 to 2015, fuelled by the rise of the spiraliser” while admitting with the same breath that the “overall consumption of vegetables, both in the UK and worldwide, is still vanishingly small (with 74% of the adult UK population not managing to eat five a day)”…
So why is she having a go at courgettes and spiralisers then? Isn’t it a good thing that new food trends like these are inspiring people to eat more vegetables?
Wilson is also annoyed at avocados. “Avocados now outsell oranges in the UK." and
"Nutribullets – a brand of compact blenders designed for making supposedly radiance-bestowing juices and smoothies – are now mentioned in some circles as casually as wooden spoons.”
Avocados ARE a food trend, just like shrimp cocktails were in the 60s. It doens’t mean that it signifies anything else. They are also a great creamy alternative to dairy products. I’ve already mentioned why it is a good idea to find dairy alternatives.
And hey – people are drinking smoothies. I’ve even gotten my dad into smoothies. If both Wilson and I agree that people need to eat a little better in order to prevent disease, what’s wrong with Nutribullets?
And come to think of it, whats wrong with wooden spoons? Plastic kills!
“At its simplest, clean eating is about ingesting nothing but “whole” or “unprocessed” foods (whatever is meant by these deeply ambiguous terms)”
What is ambiguous about unprocessed? Time and time again evidence based research shows that plant food based diets – whole food diets – have a preventative and sometimes even curative effect on disease, ranging from Alzheimer’s to heart disease to diabetes.
The reason why ”these authors [do] not simply say “I am publishing a very good vegetarian cookbook” and stop there, instead of making larger claims about the power of vegetables to beautify or prevent disease” is because a plant based diet DOES prevent certain diseases!
I know I am in dangerous territory here. I am also at a point where I become very ambiguous with regards to my feelings towards the author. We agree on many things, yet she decides to go on again and again about pseudoscience and falsehoods.
There is “real” science proving that plant foods can not only prevent but also in some cases cure disease.
The China Study, A Cancer Therapy, Rainbow Green Live-Food Cuisine and How Not To Die should be on the reading list before one decides to go after a trend that advocates for a more plant based diet. All these books are riddled with footnotes and make claims thoroughly based in conventional science.
“The real question is how to fight this kind of diet absolutism without bouncing back to a mindless celebration of the modern food environment that is demonstrably making so many people sick. In 2016, more than 600 children in the UK were registered as living with type 2 diabetes; before 2002, there were no reported cases of children suffering from the condition, whose causes are diet-related.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. I thoroughly agree. And I become even more confused.
“The answer isn’t yet another perfect diet, but a shift in our idea of what constitutes normal food.”
Yes, Wilson, yes yes yes. So why do you have to work against rather than with the people who are trying to do just that?
I want to end this post with a quote from Michael Pollan, author or The Omnivore’s Dilemma (another one for your reading list). Simply:
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
The Lancelet just published a major study that looks at all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease and nutrition across all 5 continents.
The findings underline my points about saturated fats exactly:
"The researchers found that people between the ages of 35 and 70 on low fat/high carb diets had an increased risk of early death compared with those on a lower carb/higher fat diets. This emphasises that government advice over recent decades to switch out saturated fats and replace them with carbs has been killing people."
This is not all:
"The current PURE study also found that an intake of veg, fruit and legumes of 3-4 servings a day, equating to 375-500 grams, was associated with a lower total mortality and non-cardiovascular mortality."