The unhealthy truth behind ‘clean eating’

Linguine with lemon 

One only needs a brief scroll through almost any news feed to see a blog or article about ‘clean eating.’ Some bloggers have become tremendously popular, like Ella Woodward of ‘Deliciously Ella’, and the Hemsley sisters. Leaving behind junk food, fats, and take out is touted as the path to wellness. But that’s not always the reality, says Ruby Tandoh, who explains the unhealthy truth behind ‘clean eating’.

“From bone broth to spiralizing, gluten-free and raw food, to the ubiquity of Nutribullets, juice cleanses and avocado toast, this is a food culture centred now on what it claims to be nutrition,” says Tandoh. “It’s over a decade since the publication of Nigella Lawson’s game-changing cookbook How To Be a Domestic Goddess, which topped the book charts with her brand of warm, homely indulgence. The food books that top the charts now couldn’t be further from that,” she continues.

Tandoh goes on to debunk some of the myths that lead people to a diet devoid of, well, most things tasty. People avoid gluten because of its alleged affects on gut bacteria, but “there is not necessarily any benefit to cutting out gluten unless it’s medically required. If gluten is not a personal health risk – and that’s for a medical professional to assess – a gluten-free diet won’t necessarily help you at all.”

In the article, Tandoh recounts her own foray into ‘clean eating’, which basically turned into an illness that’s on the rise: orthorexia, a preoccupation with “right” and “wrong” foods. Although the condition doesn’t yet have an agreed upon diagnosis among clinicians, there has recently been an anecdotal increase in the number of people who suffer from the disorder. Tandoh notes that by “grounding health in rules and restriction, rather than pleasure and intuition, wellness misses a trick,” and says that instead, “[e]ating well is eating intuitively, with pleasure and without shame.”

Photo of Nigella Lawson’s linguine with lemon, garlic, and thyme mushrooms from Food52 by Nigella Lawson

Post a comment


  • Agaillard  on  May 15, 2016

    Thank you for a sensitive article saying aloud what I was secretly thinking! Well actually not so secretly, but I got told off so many times when trying to say this, I eventually just rolled my eyes ๐Ÿ˜Ž Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚

  • DinnerMatters  on  May 15, 2016

    Good to know … I was right not to buy a spiralizer!!

  • madamepince  on  May 16, 2016

    What??? A spiralizer is an awesome tool & has nothing to do with "clean eating" unless you want it to. It's a fast, easy way to cut vegetables that makes their texture lots of fun to eat. A salad of spiralized apple, onion, & fennel is delightful, to mention just one example.

  • AliciaWarren  on  June 8, 2016

    "Clean eating" and raw food leaves me cold ('scuse the pun) and makes me suspect orthorexia too.

    I definitely agree that Nutribullets, juice cleanses and any claims regarding "detox diets" are misguided and headed towards orthorexia.

    However I'd like to side with madamepince and argue that use of a spiralizer should not be associated with clean eating or orthorexia. It's a great way to prepare vegetables.

    Obsession with removing fat from your diet is tricky because low fat diets are promoted by nutritionists for weight loss even though they don't work long term. I guess obsession with removing fat from your diet when you DON'T have a weight problem is an indication of orthorexia.

    I have mixed feelings about the gluten-free thing because I was very sceptical about the gluten free ideas until I tried a low carb (and therefore grain-free) diet and then discovered unexpected gut benefits. Now I wonder whether many people are blaming gluten for gut symptoms that perhaps should be attributed to high grain or high carbohydrate diets in general.

    Bone broth too is a delicious drink if made well. I use it as part of intermittent fasting and a low carb, moderate protein, higher fat diet (also known as a ketogenic diet) for losing weight and reversing prediabetes. I am pleasantly surprised to find that focusing on meat/fish/eggs/dairy products and vegetables/nuts/seeds and saturated and monounsaturated fats, but minimising grains, legumes, polyunsaturated fats, fruit and all sugars is actually a sustainable way of life for a committed foodie, and also has significant "weight-loss-without-hunger" advantages. While I still like grains, legumes, fruit and sweet things these will be occasional treats for me not daily fare until my weight and blood tests have improved. I am unlikely to return to eating a high carb diet given the satisfaction and unexpected benefits I have experienced.

    To conclude, it's not very surprising that we have an increase in orthorexia at the same time as we have a global epidemic of obesity and diabetes. Until nutrition science provides effective advice, and government policies provide effective strategies, so that the incidence of obesity and diabetes reduces across whole countries, orthorexia is an unsurprising psychological response by the individual to fear of obesity and ill health in the face of uncertainty.

Seen anything interesting? Let us know & we'll share it!