Out of balance While a wealth of evidence does support the link between good health and a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, oily fish and wholegrains, and low in sugar and processed foods, Hunter argues there’s no science to suggest going further than this – by including specific ‘superfoods’ or cutting out grains and dairy, for example – is beneficial. Hobson agrees.
‘Some have genuine sensitivities to gluten and lactose, and for those people, of course avoiding these foods is important. But for the rest of us, it’s unnecessary. Yet somehow it’s become seen as “healthy” and virtuous to avoid gluten and dairy.
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I believe this is driven by the food industry, as a way to market gluten-free and lactose-free products to a wider audience, including those who don’t need them.’ But considering the majority of Britons are overweight and there’s a rising tide of weight-related health problems, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, does it really matter if we’re following healthy eating trends? Even if the science is lacking and some elements are over-the-top, packing your diet with greens and avoiding sugar can only be positive. ‘The trouble with the more extreme, faddy diets is they aren’t sustainable,’ says Hunter. ‘Generally, people will follow them for a few weeks and then become discouraged and give up.
You need to be able to follow a long-term, consistent healthy eating plan, and for most of us that means moderation, without cutting out major food groups.’ Plus, a diet that relies on exotic foods, such as cacao and coconut oil, can be expensive. ‘For certain people – often those most drawn to healthy eating trends – it can encourage an obsession with food, and even orthorexia: anxiety-driven preoccupation with only eating certain foods,’ says Hobson. The experts’ advice?
‘I favour “intuitive eating”: rather than labelling individual foods as “good” or “bad”, look at your diet and try to tune into what your body wants, understanding when you feel full and when — and what — you need to eat,’ says Hobson. ‘Healthy eating should be simple, based on foods that are as natural as possible.’ If there’s a health concern you want to address, see a nutritionist or dietician for advice. By all means use the recipe books and blogs for inspiration, but there’s no need to swallow the ethos whole.