food

"Keep our school lunch boxes a fad-free zone."

As a dietitian, I see people every week who are bamboozled by complex food advice. And, to me, Pete and his pals aren’t helping.

It frustrates me 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.

good and bad foods
The Almonds are activated! I repeat: The almonds are activated! (Image: Sunday Life)

If you haven’t yet heard, Celebrity chef Pete Evans is keen to bring a Healthy School Lunches program to our lunchboxes.  He hasn’t yet told us what the 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 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.

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No vegetable oils. Pete reckons vegetable oils are ‘toxic’.

Gee, that’s quite a bit there on the ‘bad’ list.  So which foods does Pete 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 judgments 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’.  Pete 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.

As a dietitian, 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 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.

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Like the woman I saw recently, who over 10 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 dietician.

And I suppose that’s why I get so worked up about diets that are all about restriction, and self-appointed ‘experts’, 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.

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 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 Thinking Nutrition – who presents the science in lovely bite-sized, helpful chunks.  And The Nutrition Guru and The Chef – 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, 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.

This post originally appeared in full here and is republished with full permission.

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