I have been a huge fan of Hazel Wallace, aka The Food Medic, for quite some time. She was one of the first people I followed when I set up my Instagram account 3 years ago, and it’s been cool to see her exponential growth on social media. She was #goals to me for so long – I even did a whole #WomanCrushWednesday post dedicated to her. She was living the life I wanted – balancing a busy career as a junior doctor with being a successful blogger, on top of staying in great shape. In short, goals.
In recent times, I have unfollowed many of the health and fitness bloggers I once looked up to. I eschewed their promotion of clean eating, detoxes and other nonsense – you may have noticed I’ve become fairly vocal about my disdain for all of that! I held a soft spot for Hazel, however. A doctor that promotes evidence-based nutrition is a completely different kettle of fish, right? On that note, I bought her book, ‘The Food Medic’ when it came out in May. I’ve had really mixed feeling towards it, if I’m honest, hence this post.
The book starts with a section on nutrition, explaining the basics of carbohydrates, fats and protein. This part is evidence based, and for the most part pretty spot on. She also stresses that it’s about making sustainable changes in your diet, as opposed to a ‘6 week plan’ that will only provide short term improvements. I’ll certainly give her credit for that – so many nutrition books have a ’10 day kickstart’, ’21 day detox’ or some other BS that just sets you up for failure. If it has an end date, it’s a diet, not a lifestyle change. There’s also a section that debunks myths like ‘gluten-free is healthier’, ‘no carbs after 6’, ‘protein will make you bulky’ etc. Again, good stuff. As for the recipes themselves, the two I tried were delicious, so no complaints there!
There are definitely a lot of good points to the book, and it’s far better than most diet books out there. There’s a few small things in it that don’t sit quite right with me, however..
- In the nutrition myths section, there’s a nice piece debunking the whole ‘gluten is harmful and fattening’. Hazel writes that gluten is ‘not fattening in any shape or form, and it’s not going to kill you‘. All very reasonable, until you realise that all the recipes in her book are gluten-free (or have substitutes that are). Sure, it’s great for those with coeliac disease, but for the other 99% of the population it’s unnecessary, and sends the wrong message. Surely if gluten was as harmless as Hazel says it is, some of the recipes would contain it?
- Coconut oil. Thankfully the allure of coconut oil is starting to dissipate with the latest articles in the media. It’s an oil for cooking, not a fucking superfood to ruin your coffee with. But I digress – back to the book. There’s a very reasonable section on fats in the book. When talking about saturated fat, Hazel sagely tells us ‘I don’t eat very much of it and I may not eat it every day‘. Sounds fair, right? Fun fact – 34 of the recipes in her book use coconut oil. That’s almost half of the recipes in the book. Hardly sparing use.
- Let’s talk about carbs. Hazel tells us that they’re not to be feared, and recommends a clenched fist of complex carbohydrates with each meal. Completely reasonable. And yet looking through the recipes, there’s not a whole pile of carbs to be found. In the lunches section, there’s 1 recipe using sweet potato, 1 with brown rice, 1 with baby potatoes, and 1 with oats – out of 18 recipes. The rest are served with lower carb alternatives like courgetti, salad, broccoli ‘rice’, or legumes, which also serve as the protein source for the meal. The dinner section is similar, with low carb alternatives like parsnip fries, lettuce wraps, cauliflower mash, and butternut squash wedges. Sometimes it’s nice to have an alternative to your regular potatoes or rice, but I would have liked to see some more decent servings of carbs in the recipes.
- The ‘good’ vs ‘bad’ foods thing. If you follow me on social media, you’ll probably know that this is my pet peeve. Thankfully, Hazel has included a segment about the ‘clean vs dirty’ debate, and advises moderation instead of assigning labels to food. It was a nice piece, and I completely agree with it. But is the book really free of dichotomising food into good and bad? On closer inspection, she doesn’t use ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’ to describe food. Instead we have ‘real food’ and ‘processed food’, ‘gut healing’ and ‘gut hindering’ foods. In my opinion, demonising processed foods – which she does frequently – is not that different to labelling food as ‘dirty’ or ‘bad’. Sure it’s a step up from ‘clean’, but not quite ideal.
- Continuing on from that point, The Food Medic really does not want you to eat processed food. We must not forget that ‘processed foods are also laden with preservatives, additives and other chemicals that our bodies are not designed to deal with. We can cut down on this chemical storm by eating more wholesome, real foods.’ How can someone that has been to medical school talk about the ‘chemicals’ in food? Newsflash, literally everything is made up of chemicals! Processed foods are not all inherently bad – and what happened to everything in moderation?
- Finally, the desserts section needs a mention. I’ve already written a blogpost on my thoughts about ‘healthy’ treats, so I’ll keep this brief. Her desserts section is what you would expect from any clean-eating wellness blogger. It’s coconut flour this, agave syrup that. For the love of God, is a sweet-potato-free brownie too much to ask? The majority of them are pretty calorie-dense, and being real, do you really need the meagre amount of extra micronutrients that a single energy ball can give? Surely practicing moderation could entail some proper dessert, instead of knock-offs that only somewhat satisfy you.
I had high hopes for this book given my admiration for Hazel, but was a little disappointed with some parts. I think a lot of the content was aimed at the general population eating a standard Western diet. I would have little problem with recommending this book to patients with cardiovascular disease etc., as the general message is about eating well, and some people do need to hear this. In reality though, I seriously doubt it’s the people eating McDonald’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner who are actually buying her book. Instead, it’s her predominantly young, female and health-conscious following doing the purchasing. In my opinion, this is a group that needs to learn moderation and balance, not more clean-eating-under-a-different-name restriction.
So should you buy the book? It contains some nice recipes, and pretty decent nutritional information. I guess I just want you to think twice before believing everything in it – think critically, and decide for yourself what you want to believe. And of course, remember that everything is okay in moderation!
What did you guys make of the book? Let me know!