The recipes look tasty but the messaging is murky…

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It’s the season of fresh starts and shiny new gym memberships, and with it a plethora of wellness titles have hit the shelves - today sees the publication of the  intuitive eating  focused Just Eat It  by Laura Thomas PhD, The Truth about Fat  by Anthony Warner (aka The Angry Chef ) and, ah yes, Gwyneth Paltrow’s The Clean Plate .

Her fourth cookbook to date, The Clean Plate builds on Paltrow’s penchant for “delicious flavours and clean ingredients” as promoted in her previous books, but, as the title and time of year would probably indicate, goes bigger on “detoxes and cleanses to address the reader’s specific needs”. In a food climate that’s shifting away from applying binaries such as “good” and “bad”  or  “dirty” and “clean”  to our diets, the notion of a “clean plate” doesn’t feel especially relevant, unless it means clearing our plates because we enjoyed our meal so much, in which case, in the words of a previous Gwyneth title, ‘it’s all good’. And that’s the thing with Gwyneth’s latest release; recipes such as black rice with braised chicken thighs look genuinely, plate-clearingly hearty and delicious, and her instruction to “add parmesan and butter to make recipes more appealing to a crowd” constitutes the delicious real talk we’d welcome in January especially. But the focus on detoxing, cleansing and denial (even if she states otherwise, you’re ad-hoc removing many vitamin and nutrient-rich vegetables such as tomatoes, aubergines, peppers and potatoes if you’re following the guidance within) feels not only dated, but potentially dangerous.

While much of Gwyneth and co’s advice to stay well hydrated and eat fresh food is sound and sensible, as is the cutting back on caffeine and alcohol idea,  the total exclusion element where many dietary staples are concerned could create food fear where it’s unnecessary and ironically deprive you of essential nutrition, especially since Paltrow and her contributors haven’t the foggiest about “reader’s specific needs.” For example there are chapters on resetting your candida overgrowth and treating the resultant  ‘leaky gut’  and other associated issues, yet leaky gut, or at least the health problems it supposedly triggers, isn’t an officially recognised condition by the NHS owing to a lack of scientific evidence. By all means visit your GP if you’re suffering from any of the symptoms described, but removing mushrooms and limiting legumes, grains and starchy veggies off the bat probably isn’t advisable. Likewise a diet for “heart health” stating that grains and seeded vegetables and fruit are best avoided conflicts with dietary advice stated by the British Heart Foundation .

While the book was written with guidance from doctors, one of the principal MDs featured also sells a 21 Day Cleanse package of his own, so there’s that. Gwyneth’s first rule when writing the book was that “everything has to taste good” and that’s both commendable and looks like it’s come off too (many of the recipes appear filling and full of flavour), but the time and energy required to “clean-up” or “fat flush” (when it’s likely not required in the first place) is something that not many of us have the luxury of expending. By all means make and enjoy the recipes, but take the health claims with a pink of salt and bear in mind this nugget of nutritional wisdom issued by the British Dietetic Association:

“While they may encourage some positive habits like eating more fruit and vegetables, it’s best to enjoy a healthy, varied diet and active lifestyle rather than following a detox diet.”

There’s lots to be enjoyed in The Clean Plate, but you don’t need to be “etc free” to be healthy.

Is clean eating just the scapegoat for our own confused relationship with food?

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