I’ve been channelling Alf Stewart again. It’s something that comes over me at times of intense frustration – like when my children decide to barge through the toilet door the moment I have closed it and sat down… or in this case it’s when celebrity chefs decide they need to reeducate the nation about feeding their families. Not according to evidence-based guidelines developed by research bodies throughout the world, but according to their own skewed beliefs and practices.
If you haven’t yet heard, Celebrity chef Pete Evans’ latest bit of Facebook grandstanding has him promising to bring his version of healthy eating into schools across Australia – and his Facebook fans – the anti-dietititian brigade – can barely contain themselves. He hasn’t yet told us what exactly his ‘Healthy School Lunches’ program will entail, but if we are to go by his recent spot in the Australian (‘6 foods I never stock at home’), it might look something like this:
No grains. That means goodbye to the humble sandwich and sushi roll (sorry mum). This also extends to meat that was fed grains, in case you’re wondering.
No dairy. Because apparently no-one in his family can digest it. And sorry (!) but soy alternatives such as tofu and soy milk are also bad for us – proving 130 million Japanese resoundingly clueless.
No sugar (Pete goes into convulsions at the mere mention of sugar). That seemingly innocent combination of glucose and fructose apparently causes all manner of physical and psychological disturbances, according to…. well… him. But don’t fear, because pure maple syrup and raw honey are tickety-boo.
No vegetable oils. Pete reckons vegetable oils are toxic.
Gee, that’s quite a bit there on the bad list Pete. So which foods does he give his blessing to?
Nuts and seeds. I’m right here with you Pete – these are great foods. Activate away!
Fibrous organic vegetables. Awesome. Fibre is good. Organic is nice.. if you have the funds. We should probably all eat more vegetables.
Herbs and spices and naturally fermented foods. No argument here. Hey -I wonder if the sludgey banana I found at the bottom of my daughter’s bag would count as a naturally fermented superfood?!
Organic, free range, 100% pasteurised meat, poultry and eggs and hand-caught salmon from sustainable waters. These are all good things. Very expensive good things. But here’s where the value judgements start to creep in – because surely if we just cared enough about our family, we’d all scrape around and find the money to eat organic?
Coconut oil. Yes of course coconut oil. Coconut oil is so hot right now. Because of it’s high smoke point right? (see what I did there) and it’s apparent lack of ‘toxicity’. He also allows virgin olive oil at times, but favours lard and tallow as healthy cooking options at home. Mmmm…
What about fruit? I hear you ask. Fruit didn’t rate a mention – evidently it wasn’t downright evil enough to make the naughty list, or pure enough to make the nice list. Does that mean I should give up practicing my apple swan lunch box art? Humph.
Now you’re probably thinking at this point – gee she’s really got her knickers in a knot over this one. And yes, this is out of character for a dietitian who isn’t usually very dietitian-like about food. It takes a bit for me to get my hackles up, but man they’re up. My inner Alf Stewart (in his gravelly tones) has been baiting me: ‘C’mon girly – are you gonna let that dingbat with his flamin’ activated almonds get away with this rot?’
As a dietiitan, I see people every week who are utterly bamboozled by conflicting dietary advice. They no longer know who to believe, and many have lost the instinct which tells them whether they’re hungry or full. Guilt is a big theme. They ask me about the 5:2 diet, whether they should Quit Sugar or detox, and whether dairy is good or bad. The ones who eat well are also taking spirulina and popping vitamins, and the ones who eat crap don’t don’t really give a crap.
I’m very familiar with actual food allergies/intolerances and the restrictive and socially isolating diets that some need to follow. Food allergy sucks. Coeliac disease is not fun. And food intolerance symptoms can be genuinely distressing. But I’m also encountering more and more clients who appear to be hiding their frankly disordered eating habits behind the veil of food intolerance or ‘special’ requirements.
Like the woman I saw recently, who over ten years, had whittled her diet down to only eggs (6-8/day), cream and butter, pork, chicken and lamb. She avoided all grains and all fruits and vegetables except potato (which she fried in duck fat) and banana (100g/day). Her blood cholesterol was a whopping 19mmol. But in the immediate future she needed a psychologist more than she needed a dietitian.
And I suppose that’s why I get so worked up about diets that are all about restriction, and self-appointed ‘experts’ like Pete, who advocate them. They promote the idea that eating to a certain formula will make you better, cleaner, stronger. Through mainstream and social media, they subtly pervade the public conscious, encouraging confusion and needless anxiety around food.
Do we want to teach our kids that foods have either good or bad moral values? Do we want to risk strengthening the foundation for disordered eating, in those who are most vulnerable? As the mother of a nearly eight year-old daughter, the idea terrifies me. And I wonder if the thousands who ‘like’ and ‘share’ Pete’s grandiose school lunch plans have really thought this through?
Pete obviously has passion for what he does – and that’s great for him, and the upwardly mobile, alternative-aligned punters with whom the paleo movement resonates. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. He’s a TV chef with nutrition qualifications from an ‘Institute Of Wellness’, and quite frankly, he’s no Jamie Oliver.
I prefer a bit of common sense and moderation, myself. I learn from my colleagues, who blog with intelligence and perspective – like Dr Tim Crowe from http://www.thinkingnutrition.com.au – who presents the science in lovely bite-sized, helpful chunks. And http://www.thenutritionguruandthechef.com – a breath of fresh air in cyberspace in the form of no-nonsense, cut-the-crap good food.
So how about we all just calm down (that’s you included Alf), practice a bit of moderation, and agree that different styles of eating suit different people. If we cook real food at home, eat plenty of plants, eat less processed food and stop when we’re full, I figure that’s a pretty good start.
(now if you’ll excuse me – I’m just popping down to the shops for some organic free range offal and giant mushrooms to make this paleo burger for the kids lunch tomorrow)