“I call it ‘woke’ or overzealous healthy eating”, says Luci Daniels, Top Dietician For The Mail On Sunday
Last week The Daily Mail published ‘ Why woke diets featuring superfoods such as avocado and advocated by the likes of Ella Woodward are leading to a surge of distressing gut problems ’, a fear-mongering piece on how ‘trendy diets’ may contribute towards your IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) while also proving the author’s - undoubtedly racially-motivated - distaste for the word ‘woke’.
These types of headlines can be misleading and dangerous.
The article included quotes such as: “Many of the diets include things such as avocados, [which] can cause cramping, bloating, wind and a mixture of diarrhoea and constipation”, and advised readers to “Swap your superfood salad for a shop-bought ham or cheese and pickle sandwich”.
Their supporting evidence was a story from Dr Nick Trott (who, in fact, isn't a Doctor but a gastroenterology dietician at Sheffield University) With “Last week I saw a young guy with terrible diarrhoea. He was having a pint of fruit juice for breakfast every day because he thought it was a healthy thing to do – there lies the root of his symptoms.”
No, I am not here to promote juice - especially in pint form - but, once again, this is an example of cherry-picked extreme examples that muddle myths and facts.
This opinion piece centres on two issues: the barbaric idea that the influx of IBS symptoms have increased since the uptake of veganism and the misuse of the word ‘woke’ to entice an audience.
Vegan and plant-based diets can often be interchangeable but to be ‘vegan’ generally means that you have chosen to remove animal products from both your diet and lifestyle for ethical reasons.
A plant-based diet, on the other hand, centres on eating a whole-food diet. This diet is focussed on eating food in its most natural forms for health purposes and limiting processed foods from the diet - although, many people who eat this way can’t ignore the positive benefits on both animal welfare and the environment.
Daniels calls it “...‘woke’ or overzealous healthy eating – consuming vast quantities of so-called ‘clean’ ingredients while avoiding entire food groups such as dairy, carbohydrates or meat for health or ‘ethical’ reasons”.
Her choice of word, and repeated use of it, is interesting.
Woke, as a political term of African-American origin, refers to a perceived awareness of issues concerning social justice and racial justice. I, for one, can’t see what avocados have to do with it? But as a Health Professional Woman of Colour, it was hard for me to ignore the distasteful use of a word which comes with such power.
Daniels’ usage of the word ‘woke’ is completely disrespectful and incorrect. It’s as if ‘the most popular word on urbandictionary.com’ had been Googled, then used with complete disregard for its meaning, history and racial origins. This is just one of the many instances in the article where Daniels has reported selectively to suit her agenda.
The Daily Mail’s promotion of a highly educated ‘expert’ dripping in white privilege - who obviously has such contempt for the word ‘woke’ - is yet another example of casual racism. It’s further disappointing for the health sector, a field where only a limited amount of people who look like me are working. It saddens me that in 2020 I still find myself having to call out casual racism.
With Black women 'five times more likely to die in childbirth, does this really surprise you that words related to race are being used incorrectly by mainstream media, let alone reduced to describe a ‘trendy’ diet?
Although the story was housed in the health section, it's hard to not think that this is deeply-rooted in race.
The dismissive approach in coverage involving Black People is not new, just disappointing. Just last week the BBC used footage of the highly recognisable NBA star LeBron James in its coverage of his late teammate Kobe Bryant.
The Daily Mail has a long history of racist overtones hidden beneath sensationalist headlines, happily publishing degrading commentary on Harry and Megan's relationship. One of the many pieces include a story by Rachel Johnson in the Mail on Sunday that said the match meant “the Windsors will thicken their watery, thin blue blood and Spencer pale skin and ginger hair with some rich and exotic DNA”.
While every instance of The Daily Mail’s racism is disappointing, it isn’t at all surprising.
Does veganism cause IBS?
Daniels seems to think so:
“I believe this kind of trendy eating is behind a surge in cases of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) that I, and my colleagues, have been seeing”
We can’t deny that there’s more awareness of gut health issues like IBS, but could this just be because Doctors are finally listening to their patients’ complaints?
When I was 14 years old, I was regularly told that the stomach pains I was enduring were all in my head. When I was finally diagnosed, I was also told there was nothing I could do to help alleviate the symptoms,- which was both unhelpful and untrue.
Could it be that body awareness is now on the rise?
Physical health/activity is a priority in many lives now, and a recent study by UK Active identified London as the home of the lunchtime workout, where people pay anything up to £200 per month for a gym membership. As fitness culture rises, people are also learning about the additional mental health benefits – whether that’s through exercise or mindful practices like meditation and yoga.
Similarly, while the term ‘trendy eating’ has been used to undermine healthier lifestyles, could these ‘trends’ just be driven by people noticing a positive difference?
With gut health hitting mainstream news, maybe people are more likely to discuss symptoms such as bloating, gas and constipation - topics which have previously been taboo. Maybe this new information could just be inspiring people to see if a change in lifestyle would be beneficial for their health - as it has been for people like Ella.
With 1-5 Britons affected by IBS, Studies have revealed that IBS is more common in women than men. One theory behind this gender imbalance is that women are potentially more likely to talk about their issues and more likely to visit a doctor than men.
To blame common gut health issues on ‘trendy eating’, seems like a ridiculous argument - but let’s look into the science.
Gastroenterologist Dr Will Bulsiewicz aka Dr B, says:.
“If we’re going to talk about altered GI motility and gas and bloating we absolutely have to include the gut microbiome in the equation here. Damage to the gut microbiome affects the way that we process our food”.
A loss of balance in our gut microbial ecosystem, which we refer to as dysbiosis (and others may call “leaky gut”), has been clearly associated with IBS and even with intestinal gas production . One of the best ways of correcting dysbiosis is supporting the microbiome - aka the bacteria - in the gut.
What are the best foods that improve gut health and our microbiome?
Dr Alan Desmond, an Irish Gastroenterologist based in Devon, says “The Standard Western Diet (SWD) which is low-fibre, high-meat, high-dairy, high-processed and high in junk food is probably one of the great challenges that the gut microbial health has ever faced in the history of humanity and when you chase the evidence you’ll find it leads you to the solution”
..,A whole-food plant-based diet.
Gastroenterologist Dr Angie Sadeghi also promotes a wide selection of veg, nuts, seeds, fruits and legumes, as these foods have thousands of diverse fibres/complex carbohydrates with ‘beneficial’ effects.
With these expert opinions in mind, the idea that more fibre is the ‘cause’ of IBS clearly makes no sense. In fact, increasing one’s fibre intake could be the best way to support the gut microbiome in the long run.
Is going on a FODMAP diet really the best thing to do?
Daniels highly recommended the FODMAP diet. While this can definitely alleviate symptoms of IBS, this fails to address the underlying issue of dysbiosis.
So what is the best way to support gut health?
As mentioned by Dr B:, “It comes as no surprise that people who are lactose intolerant get intestinal gas if they drink too much milk. Alternatively, if someone isn’t used to eating brussels sprouts and they overdo it then they, too, will be feeling the gas pains”.
The main aim is to not overdo it with the fibre. Your body may need time to adjust but it has the ability to do just that.
The main nutrient that plants provide to promote better gut health is fibre. Gut microbes consume fibre to produce prebiotic short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that help strengthen good gut microbes and fight inflammatory causing organisms. Dr B described plant diversity in diets as the “most powerful determinant” of a healthy gut microbiome.
Looking at the article’s combination of misused language and poor nutritional advice, it feels intentional to keep readers and the general public confused. As a Health Professional and Woman of Colour, I could not ignore the bias and incorrect points made in this particular story. I strongly believe that this poor reporting can be both misleading and somewhat dangerous, let alone ignorant. Most of these points are loosely linked to health but arrive there via a poor choice of words.