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hat does it mean to be healthy? This term has become distorted with the rise of health food fads, with the latest being the rise of clean eating. The principle of clean eating is sound, encouraging the public to avoid processed foods consumption and eat more fish, fruit and vegetables. Yet, ideas of what it means to be ‘healthy’ have been misconstrued; is it really healthy to go on a juice cleanse for five days? We are at danger of taking the joy out of eating when people believe they should be constricted to certain diets. The ideal of a balanced diet is becoming unhinged, with food fads becoming far more extreme and encouraging people to cut out whole food groups including dairy and carbohydrates. It is easy to see how some fads might get out of hand, like people refusing to eat fruit because they are too ‘sugary’. If we can’t even eat natural sugars then there must be something really wrong.

The ideal of a balanced diet is becoming unhinged, with food fads becoming far more extreme

I have often wondered whether there is a scientific basis for many of these fads, such as the Hemsley sisters’ anti-grain philosophy. Their advocacy of cutting out not just gluten, but grain altogether appears to be based on dubious evidence. After watching the BBC Horizon documentary, Clean Eating- the Dirty Truth, it really brought home to me the dangers of taking these food principles to the extremes. Dr Giles Yeo, a Cambridge biochemist, exposes the dangers of pseudo-science which often drives these fads. What is particularly concerning is the exploitation of contemporary anxieties about health for commercial gain. One notable example is the alkalising approach to food advocated by ‘Dr’ Robert Young. As it turns out, his research is totally unsubstantiated and he himself is unqualified to be offering nutritional expertise. More troubling is that his phony idea that eating alkaline foods like kale and avocados will help combat illness or even cancer has a captive audience on social media. Millions have been taken in by his nutritional myths and others like him, inspiring a range of cookbooks.

This is when such fads can easily get out of control, because anything (even started with the best of intentions) can be misinterpreted. What I do not agree with is the unrealistic expectations that inevitably accompany these fads. The young and impressionable Instagram generation is particularly at risk, encouraged to believe that their lifestyle is wrong and unhealthy and as such can contribute to disordered eating.

I recognise that there are recognised health benefits associated with the trend

Ultimately, the principle of improving everyone’s lives by eating more vegetables is not a bad ideal. It is important to note that clean eating is certainly not all evil and I recognise that there are recognised health benefits associated with the trend, for instance reducing your meat intake.  Yet, it is when this is taken to extremes that it becomes dangerous. I believe ‘healthy’ and ‘balanced’ needs to be emphasised more, with people made to realise that cutting out whole food groups from your diet is not necessarily better for you. Already, the clean eating cult is suffering backlash. Go enjoy that brownie.

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