A culinary clean slate. Photo: Gallery Stock.
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Felicity Cloake: let’s face it, detox diets are making fools of us

In many ways, January diets are as self-indulgent as the Christmas binge.

Well, that’s Christmas done for another year, with only a spare tyre and some cheap chocolate to show for it. Already the cheery social media snaps of festively red-faced hordes have made way for the annual torrent of sludge-coloured smoothies. Welcome to January, the month of self-righteous cleanses and mindful eating.

Boring as the details are to listen to, at least the basic idea of the “juice cleanse” is straightforward. Even the dimmest of us can understand that replacing a diet that’s two-thirds Stilton with a few puréed green things will cause you to lose a little bit of weight along with the will to live. But if that stringy glass of cellulose sticks in your craw, the slickly written “science” that goes with it will be even harder to swallow.

According to a fashionable supplier of organic cold-pressed juices whose packages start from £80 a day (about the same as Ed Miliband’s idea of the average British family-of-four’s weekly grocery bill), cleansing is “a healthy form of routine maintenance” that helps the digestive system to rid itself of “accumulated toxins”. The benefits don’t stop there: the magical vegetal elixirs will also, apparently, transform your nasty “acidic interior” into an “oxygen-drenched alkaline” environment.

It’s pretty tempting, I’ll admit. The mere phrase “oxygen-drenched” is likely to put a spring in anyone’s step. But here’s the rub: according to the NHS, our clever old bodies can regulate their acidity levels anyway, “regardless of diet”.

The British Dietetic Association gives similarly short shrift to the claim that we’re all toxic time bombs, calling the whole notion of a detox diet “a load of nonsense”. It points out that filtering waste is what our kidneys do, whether we bombard them with £13 cucumber cocktails or not. It seems that if we really were storing up vast quantities of dangerous substances in our bodies, being a bit fat and spotty would be the least of our worries.

Yet apparently sane people – people who work with food every day, who write endless articles about the importance of a balanced diet and would rather die than be seen with skimmed milk in their trolley – still witter on about raw smoothies and “clean eating”. Clean eating, for those of you who are lucky enough to be unfamiliar with the idea, has nothing to do with the three-second rule: pick it up off the floor quickly enough and it’s still safe to eat. Instead it means consuming food “in its most natural state”, as an American magazine devoted to the subject puts it.

The problem is that food in its “most natural state” seems to involve way more chia seeds and hemp protein powders than you might imagine – fine if you’re Gwyneth Paltrow, who has made a good deal of unnecessary dosh out of her clean eating cookbook (even the title, It’s All Good, is annoying), but considerably less realistic for us with lives to live and mortgages to pay.

These ridiculous January diets are every bit as self-indulgent as the Christmas binge that precedes them. Truth be told, we all already know the secret to healthy eating and it’s not cold-pressed or blonde or glamorous – it’s our boring old friend moderation.

Sadly, moderation doesn’t sell juices or require much in the way of scientific explanation; it’s tediously simple. It’s a couple of squares of chocolate after dinner, rather than the whole bar – or indeed an entire tin of Gwyneth’s spelt and brown rice syrup brownies with soy protein mayonnaise.

As my granny, who lived well into her eighties without the benefits of blue-green algae, used to say, a little of what you fancy does you good. In her case, that meant a mindful and moderate diet of jam doughnuts and Silk Cut.

Happy New Year, all.

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 08 January 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Churchill Myth

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.