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‘Clean food’ is a dangerous fad

clean food

The trendy nutritional advice that’s more likely to make you ill than healthy
Isabel Hardman and Lara Prendergast 22 August 2015

The supermarket aisle has become a confusing place. It used to be full of recognisable items like cheese and butter; now you find yourself bamboozled by all manner of odd alternatives such as ‘raw’ hummus, wheat-free bread and murky juices. You have to stay pretty alert to make sure you pick up a pint of proper milk, rather than a soy-based alternative or one free from lactose. Supermarkets have become shrines to ‘clean eating’, a faith that promises happiness, healthiness and energy. Food is to be worshipped — and feared.

As with all growing religions, you know it by its disciples. On The Great British Bake Off, one contestant, Ugne Bubnaityte, has denounced cake as a ‘nutritional sin’ and she hopes to win with low-fat, vegan and gluten-free recipes. Commercially, she’s on to a winner: the market for gluten-free food is soaring and is forecast to grow by 46 per cent, to £560 million, within two years. For those who can’t wait, there’s always the NHS, which wrote 211,200 prescriptions for low-protein or gluten-free food last year (including cakes and pizza). As Dr James Cave, editor of the Drugs & Therapeutics Bulletin, puts it, the NHS is ‘acting as bakers and grocers’.

The high priestesses of this new religion are a group of young, attractive women who amass hundreds of thousands of followers online as more and more people turn to them for guidance. Essentially recipe bloggers, they are becoming revered for telling us what to eat and what not to eat. In an age of confusion, they seem to offer a path.

There’s 25-year-old Madeleine Shaw, a ‘holistic nutritional health coach’ who believes in ‘enlivening the hottest, happiest and healthiest you’ and offers a ‘chia seed egg substitute’ to use in recipes. Ella Woodward, 23, bounced back from a rare illness after adopting a new plant-based diet and entices her followers with sweet potato brownies. Tess Ward, 23, has written a cookbook called The Naked Diet which replaces the conventional chapter headings — ‘Breakfasts’, ‘Starters’, ‘Mains’, ‘Puddings’ —with ‘Pure’, ‘Raw’, ‘Stripped’, ‘Clean’ and ‘Detox’. And there’s the Hemsley sisters, Jasmine and Melissa, whose bestselling cookbook The Art of Eating Well contains no recipes with grains, gluten or refined sugar.

Woodward recommends raw, rather than pasteurised, coconut water, which is tinted pink ‘because of all those antioxidants’ and warns about the dangers of dairy. Milk, she says, ‘can actually cause calcium loss in our bones! This is because milk causes the pH of our bodies to become acidic which triggers a natural reaction in our bodies to bring the pH of our blood back to neutral’. When we drink milk, she says, calcium is drawn from our bones in order to rebalance the acidity it causes, which can result in a calcium deficit.