Three cheers for cake: the backlash against clean eating is here

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Sarah Biddlecombe
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Chia seeds, courgetti, cauliflower rice, bone broth: whether we like it or not, anyone with an Instagram account will have picked up on the millions-strong trend for #cleaneating that has taken the nation by storm over the last 18 months. 

And this partiality for so-called "wellness", which advocates ditching "unhealthy" foods such as bread, pasta milk, eggs and anything processed, is bigger than just beautifully filtered images of tempting-looking meals, with proof of the (sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free) pudding being seen in sales figures.

Spiralisers were crowned the bestselling kitchen gadget of 2015, with over 100 being sold every day at John Lewis' flagship store on Oxford Circus, while sales of vegetables such as courgettes, carrots and cucumber have sky rocketed

Gluten-free foods are no longer the preserve of specialist shops such as Whole Foods, with brands such as Pizza Express and Nestle introducing gluten-free recipes into the mix, while the free-from market itself is worth an estimated £365 million and predicted to grow by 50% in the next two years.

But the tide many be turning.

Carb lovers can rejoice with news that more and more bona fide foodies are questioning the concept of clean eating.

Ruth Rogers, who owns and runs the Michelin-starred restaurant The River Cafe, has today said she is worried the ideals of clean eating are putting an increasing pressure on women to cut out certain foods in order to feel "happier", "more energetic" and "a better mother".

She told The Daily Telegraph, "I think that puts a kind of pressure on women to achieve something through saying no, through restraint, rather than saying go and study the subject you love or live in a place that makes you happy or learn a language."

Critics have suggested the concept encourages an unhealthy attitude towards eating - despite its much-hailed "healthy" credentials.

The extreme act of cutting out whole food groups such as gluten, as advised by many of the clean eating advocates, has actually been shown to damage health - unless you have a genuine reason for going gluten-free - i.e., you suffer from coeliac disease.

As Nigella Lawson said at Stylist Live, "[clean eating] is about banishing so many food groups that I think it does encourage an unhealthy attitude towards eating.

“It’s not the food, because I like all food - sometimes I’ll be very happy to have sweet potato and a bowl of kale. I just don’t like the term. I don’t like the view that that other forms of eating are dirty and evil and shameful."

Joining the backlash is Great British Bake Off finalist Ruby Tandoh.

"All we're ever really told is that, if we do cut gluten out, we'll lose weight, have better skin and shinier hair. It seems like a miracle," Tandoh wrote in an article for Vice.

"We deserve facts, figures and thorough research ... from all of the wellness authors and bloggers who promise health transformations in the wake of a gluten-free diet."

Even Deliciously Ella, one of the UK's most prominent wellness bloggers with two bestselling cookbooks under her belt and a devoted following of over 860,000 Instagram followers, has distanced  herself from the concept of clean eating.

Writing in a blog post on her website, she said, "For me health eating is absolutely not a diet, it never has been and it never will be.

"I also don’t subscribe to the concept of healthy eating being about ‘clean eating’, I think it’s a really negative way to look at food, and I feel it’s a real shame that the concept of clean has becoming synonymous with healthy for some people: for me the two have nothing to do with each other. 

"I don’t think we should ever categorize what we eat into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ – that’s never going to make anyone happy."

Chef Gizzi Erskine has also weighed in on the debate to recommend a balanced diet rather than one which is based on restrictions, telling The Daily Telegraph, "Nourishing your body doesn’t just mean raw ‘health’ foods; it’s about understanding balance and why we break up our plate into proteins, carbs, vegetables, fats."

In honour of the shift away from clean eating we've picked five of our most indulgent recipes to celebrate, below.

After all, if Nellie Wright can live to 109-years-old on a diet of jelly babies, perhaps we can too.

Treat yourself with Stylist's five most indulgent recipes

Molten chocolate lava cake

Main image: iStock