Photo credit: Toa Heftiba
In my new semi-regular blog series on modern living, I’m taking a look at lifestyle trends — like fashion, make-up and eating — and exploring some of the issues related to our modern ways of living.
The other day, I was flipping through a magazine and spied something that made me roll my eyes: a ‘clean eating’ version of a chocolate brownie recipe. The recipe instructed to include baobab powder in the brownie mix: a so-called ‘superfruit’ powder formed inside the fruit of the African baobab tree.
I’ll be the first to say: I like eating good-quality food. I notice the difference in how my body feels and my skin looks when I eat well — minimal amounts of processed sugar; meals with plenty of veg; grains (rice and couscous are store cupboard staples), beans and pulses. And sometimes, yes, I do buy into the popular trend of baking with unrefined sugars and gluten-free ingredients, simply because some of those recipes are actually quite delicious.
But these trends for unusual ingredients make me sigh because it’s clearly something that’s driven by fashion. The ingredients are often expensive and impractical, something for people who have the money to shell out on a niche ingredient that they’re only likely to use in one recipe. Eating acai and goji berries sounds a lot more Instagram-worthy than tucking into a bowlful of good, old-fashioned strawberries. But locally grown produce, organic if possible, can be a ‘superfood’ too.
Photo credit: Tran Mau Tri Tam
Ironically, considering the trend is all about promoting wellness, it has given rise to a new type of eating disorder: orthorexia, an obsession with so-called ‘clean eating’. The deluge of lifestyle blogs, often written by attractively slim young women, may offer a tempting image — ‘eat what I say, and your life can look like mine too’.
But few of them are trained nutritionists, and imposing strict rules on what’s ‘clean’ and what’s not can be an unhealthy pursuit. As Hadley Freeman, writing in The Guardian says, “They’re right: what we eat is important, which is why it’s important people with qualifications beyond an Instagram account educate us about it”.
This craze has another impact which isn’t widely acknowledged: the impact on the environment. Many healthy eating advocates recommend eating a diet which is low in meat, fish and dairy products (or cutting some of them out altogether). Doing that has a hugely positive impact on our world, helping to reduce overfishing, inhumane factory-farming and greenhouse gases.
Photo credit: Markus Spiske
But many of the fancy ingredients touted by lifestyle bloggers are exotic and they aren’t always ethical. Crack open any ‘clean eating’ recipe book and you’re guaranteed to find coconut oil on the ingredients list. Coconut oil is a versatile ingredient which can be used as a moisturizer, hair conditioner, and for cooking and baking.
However, the high demand for it is leading to deforestation in some countries as mangrove swamps — areas with high biodiversity and wildlife habitats — are removed to make way for coconut plantations. And baobab powder may have great nutritional benefits, but you can bet your bottom dollar that shipping it all the way from Africa will leave an elephant-sized carbon footprint.
Really, when it comes to healthy eating, you can’t go far wrong with the old adage: everything in moderation. In the wise words of Michael Pollan, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”.
What do you think about the clean eating trend? Do you think it gives healthy eating (moderation, simple food, seasonal produce, not too much sugar or salt) a bad name?