Chef, author and health coach Pete Evans is increasingly becoming a controversial figure. More than being an advocate of the Paleo Diet (no dairy, grains or legumes) and the activated-almond-eating embodiment of the paleo lifestyle, the medical and scientific community have criticised some of his claims as “dangerous” and “irresponsible”.
Evans believes sunscreen is “poisonous” due to the chemicals used and according to one of his books, Going Paleo, the diet and way-of-life helps reduce arthritis, depression, anxiety, migraines, and even cancer treatment. He told one of his 1.5 million followers on Facebook that anti-cholesterol tablets are dangerous.
On Saturday he was the subject of a profile in Fairfax media’s Good Weekend. He talked to journalist Jane Cadzow about his “paleo journey”. Evans, the co-host of My Kitchen Rules Australia, told Good Weekend it took him seven years of therapy to feel comfortable in front of the camera. He said he “doesn’t see [bread] as food any more” and that he won’t drink tap water in Sydney or Melbourne because flouride is a “toxic ingredient that alters brain chemistry and messes with the microbiome and the guts”.
The only deviation from his usual talk about nutrition and the conspiracy of his haters? He spoke about earthing.
Yep, earthing. He’s also recently recommended the book Earthing: The most Important Health Discovery Ever? to his Facebook followers.
First off, what is it?
It’s about contact between bare skin and the earth. Also known as “grounding”.
Advocates (like Evans) claim there are health benefits to having a physical connection with the Earth’s surface, for example by walking barefoot or sitting on the grass. Because the Earth’s surface is electronically charged with negative ions (molecules that have an extra electron attached), it’s thought that these additional electrons are transferred from the ground to the body during direct contact with the skin. These charges work to stabilise free radicals and reduce inflammation in the body. Earthing has been associated with alleviating pain, assisting in wound healing and improving sleep.
We discuss: Why does everyone hate Pete Evans? (Post continues after audio.)
If you Google “earthing” you will find pages selling earthing mats, bands, ankle bracelets and bed sheets, all designed to simulate an earthing experience, balance the body and undo the free-radical damage caused by air pollution, wi-fi connectivity, the sun, etc.
“When you’re sitting at your computer, you put your feet onto a little mat and it sort of, potentially, negates any of the Wi-Fi issues, you know, and reconnects you to the Earth,” Evans told Cadzow. “So that to me sounds like, wow, that’s a positive thing.”
There are sceptics.
Good Weekend quoted Steven Novella from Yale University Medical School in the US who said earthing is “one of many pseudo-sciences that fits into the ‘just make shit up category'”.
Sydney doctor and author Brad McKay also said Evans is too ready to accept theories, without any critical thought into why they might be valid or invalid. “That filter mechanism isn’t there to question the ideas that are put in front of him,” Dr McKay told Good Weekend. “I’d love it if he were thinking a little more critically.”
But there is also research that supports the concept.
A 2012 study, in the Journal of Environment and Public Health found that walking barefoot on the Earth’s surface stimulates the nerve endings at the base of the foot. This “allows negatively charged antioxidant electrons from the Earth to enter the body and neutralise positively charged free radicals at sites of inflammation. Flow of electrons to the body has been documented,” the researchers said.
A more recent study, published last year in the Journal of Inflammation Research, described earthing as a “simple, natural and accessible health strategy against chronic inflammation”. They likened the idea to recharging a battery.
“The very fabric of the body, appears to serve as one of our primary antioxidant defence systems. As this report explains, it is a system requiring occasional recharging by conductive contact with the Earth’s surface – the “battery” for all planetary life – to be optimally effective,” the report states.
There aren’t any dangerous side effects to Earthing unlike quitting dairy, not wearing sunscreen or stopping your anti-cholesterol medication, but who really knows what it does for you. Go barefoot for the joy of it. For the freedom of feeling the sand or grass between your toes. If it clears inflammation, or improves your sleep in the process, then that’s an added bonus and a suitable answer to the question Australians are too often asked; “where are your shoes?”.