With controversy surrounding the clean eating craze, Catering News explore the benefits, pitfalls and the future of the trend.
The clean eating trend has been steadily moving into the global mainstream over the past years, with governments increasingly calling into question the safety of packaged food items and putting pressure on food manufacturers to reduce sugar and salt content and provide clearer labelling to help consumers make better choices.
According to the experts, clean eating isn’t a diet, but a healthy and happy way of living. It means eating ‘real’ food in its most natural form, using organic ingredients where possible and cooking at home. George Ball, co-owner, Clean Living Company comments: “Clean eating, favoured by many health-conscious consumers, means following a diet that focuses on healthy, unprocessed and whole foods.
“In order to follow this lifestyle, consumers must not only nourish their bodies by incorporating fruit, vegetables, lean proteins and wholegrains into their routines, but must also reduce their daily intake of sugar, salt and highly processed, packaged foods.”
And while the conversation began in the supermarket, it has spread into the foodservice industry, according to Vivek Kashiwale, executive chef, Mint Leaf of London. “Consumers are becoming more informed about the dangers of processed foods and are incorporating clean eating into their diets as a means of eliminating unnecessary chemicals and additives,” he comments.
“As supermarket shelves are loaded with more pre-packaged and processed foods, health-conscious consumers are demanding more natural alternatives. Now it’s transferring into the restaurant industry as consumers recognise the benefits of clean eating and a healthier lifestyle.”
Some of the health benefits of clean eating include weight management, increased energy, enhanced mental wellbeing and an improved immune system. However, with over 26 million posts on Instagram tagged ‘#cleaneating’ and widespread media and celebrity endorsement of the trend, there is no doubt that image is another important factor linked to its popularity.
“One of the main drivers [of clean eating] is the rise in popularity with bloggers and pseudo health experts demonstrating glowing hair and skin and overall heightened wellness. The unprecedented popularity of clean eating is something people want to be associated with and achieve to be part of the club. It is thought of as good, and everyone wants to feel that way” – Helen McLeod Dodd, nutrition expert, www.enritsch.com
Helen McLeod Dodd, nutrition expert for online wellness resource, www.enritsch.com, comments: “One of the main drivers is the rise in popularity with bloggers and pseudo health experts demonstrating glowing hair and skin and overall heightened wellness,” she says. “The unprecedented popularity of clean eating is something people want to be associated with and achieve to be part of the club. It is thought of as good, and everyone wants to feel that way.”
Gabriele Kurz, executive wellbeing chef, Talise Nutrition, Jumeirah Group adds that “aspirational consumers are on the rise,” with more and more people buying into the benefits of clean eating to enhance their health and physical appearance. In response to this, Talise Nutrition has created menu guidelines based on clean eating principals for guests and members to suit a variety of goals. Kurz explains: “There are dishes for weight loss, shape, skin beauty and for body and mind balance. The guidelines include recommended food items for each aspiration, for example skin beauty can benefit from detoxification using beetroot and green papaya.”
The question is whether consumers are truly educated on the benefits of clean eating or if they are simply following a trend. Critics argue that clean eating has gone too far, with packaged and processed foods now criminalised by health experts, the media and governments, which in turn is putting unnecessary pressure on consumers and endangering the physical and mental health of vulnerable individuals.
Rather than blanket avoidance of packaged and processed items, some experts simply advise more mindful eating. Emma Sawko, owner of Comptoir 102 and Wild & The Moon comments: “Eating clean today when most food comes processed, packaged and convenient, implies eating with a conscience. It’s about making a conscious choice; being mindful about what you put into your body. It’s also about aligning body and mind.”
However, with the Middle East’s long working hours and the premiums that come with imported produce, it can be expensive and time consuming to eat consciously. Maria Romeralo, nutrition consultant, SHA Wellness Clinic comments: “You need to dedicate some time to cooking and eating food consciously. One of the problems these days is that we don’t dedicate time to something as important as eating and preparing food.”
Kurz agrees that the clean eating diet can be difficult to follow, particularly when travelling – since most airlines don’t offer unprocessed dinner options – and with friends who don’t share the same ethos. Meanwhile, McLeod Dodd believes that the rules are too restrictive and can lead to guilt and giving up. “The main disadvantage is that long-term adherence is tough. Once you have consumed a ‘dirty food’, i.e. something out of a packet, something refined or with a drop of sugar in it, this can cause guilt, which in turn decreases motivation.”
Ball adds: “Often natural, organic and good quality food comes at a higher price. In order to follow this lifestyle, consumers have to be aware that their weekly spend on food may increase. Also, consumers that aren’t so organised may find it difficult to prepare their meals in advance.”
At the more extreme end of the spectrum, clean eating has been criticised for putting pressure on people who suffer from eating disorders. According to Mcleod Dodd, those prone to eating disorders can “hide under the rules and regulations of clean eating quite easily”.
Looking to the future, the experts agree that the clean eating trend will continue, although Kashiwale believes it will become “more exciting”, while in Sawko’s opinion, more traditional techniques will emerge.
“Preparation processes such as soaking, sprouting and fermentation are slowly making a come-back on the food scene and we should see a real fermentation and pickling revival,” she comments. Meanwhile, for Ball, bone broth, “Hollywood’s new go-to health and beauty fix”, will become a central aspect of the clean eating trend in 2017. “Bone broth helps achieve a healthier gut, improve sleep quality, mood and complexion and build a stronger immune system,” he says.
“As supermarket shelves are loaded with more pre-packaged and processed foods, health-conscious consumers are demanding more natural alternatives. Now it’s transferring into the restaurant industry as consumers recognise the benefits of clean eating and a healthier lifestyle” –Vivek Kashiwale, executive chef, Mint Leaf of London
On the other hand, Mcleod Dodd believes that clean eating is dying out as bloggers and celebrities start to disassociate themselves with the negative aspects of the trend. Instead, she believes 2017 will be about embracing a more balanced diet, which doesn’t necessarily mean complete avoidance of packaged and processed foods.
“The real science is catching up with the fake experts, demonstrating that many of the health claims are fabricated or based on a poor understanding of science, health and metabolism,” she says. “We should of course push for decreased sugar intake, more wholegrains, more fruit and vegetables, but also enjoy processed foods and treats as part of the balance, without feeling dirty.”