Self-styled health and nutrition bloggers generally have large followings and seemingly the more ‘fad-like’ their beliefs, eating plans and recipes, the more people like to follow them. How does Deliciously Ella’s new book stand up to scrutiny?
Deliciously Ella, aka Ella Woodward, is the most successful ‘health and happiness’ food blogger, with 702,000 instagram followers. Her first cookbook, published in January 2015, became the fastest selling debut ever. Her second, Deliciously Ella Every Day, came out this week. It focuses on ‘making healthy living easy for busy people – no equipment, no complicated ingredients and lots of deliciousness using accessible ingredients, which means it’s all much more inexpensive’. Can’t go wrong with that, surely?
Ella certainly had a good reason to overhaul her own diet. Her health food odyssey began in 2011 with a debilitating disease, Postural Tachycardia Syndrome. It left her bed-ridden, in pain, and with headaches and heart palpitations. As conventional medication wasn’t working, she changed her diet and found that eating mainly a plant-based diet, cutting out dairy and gluten and refined sugar eased her symptoms.
Where’s the harm in copying her?
The fact is, what worked for Ella shouldn’t be held up as the gold standard for everyone. I was alarmed by the book’s introduction: ‘Overnight I adopted a natural, plant-based diet and said goodbye to gluten, dairy, refined sugar, processed food, additives and meat.’
OK, so natural, unprocessed foods and an increase in fruits and vegetables is one big tick. And reducing sugar is also a good idea. However, there is no decent evidence that cutting out gluten, dairy and meat makes you any healthier… All of these, eaten in moderation, provide you with important nutrients.
Sugar is sugar
Importantly – and this needs to be made clear at a time when so much focus is on sugar – refined sugar is no different from unrefined sugar in the way it’s processed in the body. Just because sugar is in a more ‘natural’ form doesn’t make it good in any way.
In the book’s sweet section, Ella says, ‘I no longer get excited about refined sugar, but instead crave Gooey Black Bean Brownies.’ But sugar is sugar. When I looked at this recipe (apparently healthier than the typical chocolate slab on the shelf), this is what I found: each supposedly healthy brownie contains 15g sugar (that’s 3tsp sugar) – exactly the same as a 25g standard milk chocolate bar.
Be careful about ditching dairy
Most of us don’t have time to make homemade plant-based milk, although it is widely available to buy. What concerns me is that there’s a fundamentally flawed idea here that your average cow’s milk is no good. This is a common nutritional nonsense banded around by self-proclaimed ‘nutrition experts.’ In fact, unless you have an allergy or intolerance diagnosed by a registered dietitian or doctor, there’s no need to cut out dairy. Dairy products are a great source of calcium as well as protein.
The deal with coconut oil
Many of the recipes include coconut oil. Everyone seems to have bought into the idea that coconut oil is the healthiest product on the planet – but you need to know it’s 92% saturated fat! This compares to olive oil (14% saturated fat) and rapeseed oil (6%).
There have been very few studies looking at the effects of coconut oil. Much of the hype comes from studies of medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, but coconut oil contains just 4% MCT, whereas a true MCT oil is 95% MCT by analysis.
Current recommendations based on real evidence available are that coconut oil can be enjoyed in moderation, as with all fats. But there is no evidence that coconut oil is a ‘superfood’. The limited, poor evidence base that exists shows it can increase HDL (good) cholesterol but also increases total and LDL (bad) cholesterol.
How useful is the book?
Ella does say she doesn’t expect everyone to fully turn to her way of eating. And some of her recipes are good, especially the curries, stews, colourful salads and soups. I do find it annoying that none of them are nutritionally analysed. Yes, nuts and seeds, for example, can be healthy, but they’re packed with calories. As the majority of the UK population is overweight or obese, and people buying this book are likely to be weight conscious, I think it would have been useful to include calorie analyses at least.
I agree with her on the topics of planning meals in advance, cooking from scratch where you can, cooking in bulk and freezing, and increasing veg consumption. Her Roasted Maple Sprouts, however, are unlikely to do your waistline any favours – it contains potatoes, maple syrup, olive oil and hazelnuts, so add it as a side dish and you instantly pile a massive calorie load on to your plate.
There’s a lot to like about this book, and there’s no reason not to enjoy flicking through some of the lovely recipes, but please note:
1. You do NOT need to cut out gluten unless you have been diagnosed (by a doctor or registered dietitian) with gluten sensitivity or coeliac disease. Gluten-free products are no more healthy than gluten-containing ones.
2. You do NOT need to cut out dairy from your diet unless advised to by a doctor or registered dietitian – if you do you may be putting your bone health at risk and leaving yourself open to osteoporosis.
3. It IS a good idea to cut down your sugar intake, but remember all sugar is sugar – whether it’s ‘raw’, unprocessed or whatever – it does the same thing to your body. Maple syrup is sugar, as is honey, as is agave nectar, etc etc.
4. Coconut oil is NOT healthier than other oils. Use olive oil on your salads, rapeseed oil for cooking and coconut oil only in moderation, as you would other saturated fats.
5. If you want another pretty book for your shelves, by all means buy Deliciously Ella Every Day, but for your actual everyday diet, have a look at our tasty, nutritionally balanced, fully analysed recipes at www.healthyfood.co.uk.