When it comes to health and wellness quackery, few top Gwyneth Paltrow and her lifestyle brand, Goop. So when her latest cookbook, The Clean Plate, hit shelves in January, I was skeptical about what dubious nutrition trends she’d be peddling this time around.
What’s The Clean Plate all about?
Paltrow’s fourth cookbook includes over 100 recipes and six “doctor-approved cleanses.” The recipes are supposed to taste and feel nourishing, without deprivation, while following “the basic tenets of super-clean eating.” According to Paltrow, that means excluding alcohol, caffeine, dairy, gluten, nightshades (eggplant, tomatoes, white potatoes, red peppers), peanuts, processed foods or sugars, red meat and soy.
The concept of “clean eating” suggests some foods are “clean” or “pure” and others are what… dirty? It’s food! It is meant for energy, nourishment and pleasure. Yes, some foods are better for your body than others, and some might be less healthy if you eat them all the time. But by deeming some foods “clean” or “good,” you ascribe morality to them, and by extension, to yourself. As soon as you stop following this “clean” eating plan, are you bad? This black and white thinking can promote a negative obsession with healthy, righteous eating; a condition known as orthorexia.
The Clean Plate promotes an arbitrary set of food rules and implies that everyone would be healthier if they followed them. But I don’t have celiac disease or a soy allergy, so why shouldn’t I eat gluten or tofu? And why do we need to eliminate nightshades from our diets again? This book isn’t targeted towards people with specific conditions, but rather to women who want to look like Gwyneth Paltrow and are willing to eat up the advice of a celebrity “wellness guru” with no expertise in nutrition.
How do The Clean Plate recipes hold up?
That being said, I like the recipes, which aim to be easy and delicious. The book also scores major points because the food photography is beautiful. Paltrow (and her team of recipe developers) delivers, with recipes that are approachable (seed crackers with smoked salmon and avocado), fast (lentil spaghetti with kale and garlic) and innovative (a creamy mayo-style sauce made from chickpea water). The soccata (similar to an omelette) with a samosa-inspired filling of cauliflower, peas and turmeric gets a big thumbs up from me because it’s filling and full of flavour, as does a breakfast of black rice pudding made with coconut milk and topped with fresh mango.
The sheet-pan chicken curry recipe was super easy to follow and yielded an extremely satisfying weeknight meal, with leftovers for my lunch the next day. Because all the recipes make two servings, this book is geared more towards singles or couples, rather than families. I do find some ideas a little far-fetched, like using thinly sliced squash in place of taco shells, but overall, I would make most of these recipes.
What about those cleanses?
In addition to the recipes, The Clean Plate offers six different week-long healing cleanses, complete with a “goopified menu” to go along with each one—never mind that there’s no scientific evidence to support cleanses for weight loss or for eliminating “toxins” from the body. In fact, cleanses are more likely to be harmful as they restrict key nutrients and can promote an unhealthy relationship with food. Besides, our bodies are perfectly equipped with their own built-in detoxification system; the liver, kidney, lungs, skin and intestines!
Now, of course eliminating alcohol, highly processed foods and cutting back on refined sugar are healthy dietary changes, which should be encouraged. But these cleanses come with promises of fat flushing, heavy metal detoxing, candida resetting and more—which are just not right.
For example, while humans are exposed to heavy metals in the environment, cigarettes and some foods we eat, a build-up of unsafe levels in the body would be cause for serious medical concern, requiring you to see a doctor, not follow a cleanse or “goopified menu” for a week.
“Candida reset” refers to a type of yeast called candida albicans, which can cause infections in the body (such as vaginal yeast infections and oral thrush). However, some blame “candida hypersensitivity,” (a speculative and unproven condition resulting when candida penetrates the bloodstream and releases toxins), for a multitude of ambiguous symptoms, such as skin conditions, fatigue, digestive issues, low mood, and so on. Most medical professionals don’t even believe candida hypersensitivity is a legitimate condition. Certainly, the book’s recommendation to limit legumes, fruit, starchy vegetables and grains in order to “starve the yeast” is cause for concern. The Heart Health cleanse advises against grains and seeded vegetables, which definitely conflicts with current dietary advice from Canadian Cardiovascular Society that emphasizes vegetables and whole grains.
So sure, buy Paltrow’s book for the recipes and photos, but don’t fall prey to her nutrition preachings. And remember: the recipes are healthy because of what they include—vegetables, fruit, pulses, whole grains, probiotics and other nutritious ingredients—not what they exclude.