It's Time We Stopped Agonising Over What We Eat, Says This Skincare Expert

Photographed by Kate Anglestein.
It’s easy to think our preoccupation with wellness is a new phenomenon, something that came into our lives via a few catchy hashtags and a lot of glowingly well-paid influencers. But Liz Earle MBE, Britain’s First Lady of Beauty, is a reminder that that’s not the case.
Best known for her hugely successful line of natural skincare products (those little mint-green bottles in every beauty aficionado's bathroom cabinet), which was sold to Avon in 2010, Liz's career actually began as a health and beauty writer for magazines. Since then, she has gone on to write over 30 books on the subject. As well as being a highly respected businesswoman, Liz is living proof that good health stems from solid, scientifically backed advice – not fad diets. And that's something she's championed throughout her career.
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A recent survey of the effects of our obsession with these fads found that 70% of 18-35-year-olds are currently, or have previously been, dieting, and 20% had cut or significantly reduced dairy in their diet. The National Osteoporosis Society (NOS) warns that this absence of dairy could lead to young people suffering from osteoporosis in old age. Liz is backing the NOS’ campaign ‘A Message To My Younger Self’, which encourages people to up their intake of dairy products and beware of ‘clean eating’.
We caught up with Liz to talk health trends, social media, and why you should choose your parents very, very carefully.
Liz, you’ve written about food and wellbeing for 30 years now. What did the health and beauty industry look like when you started your career?
I was working for women’s magazines and was being asked to go and interview these new things called ‘nutritionists’ who were popping up everywhere. It was the early days, really, of looking at how the food we eat influences how we look and feel. Back then that was quite revolutionary.
Do we know much more about health now than we did then?
Despite the huge amount of stuff being written about food there’s still a lot of confusion about what’s healthy and what’s unhealthy. Like how a lot of people are moving away from dairy, for example, and it being perceived as a less healthy food than it is.
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What caught your eye about clean eating and so many young people eschewing dairy products?
What caught my eye was learning that we bank our calcium in our bones. And that switches off around the age of 30. I’ve got a daughter who’s 26 and another daughter who’s 16 and I’m very aware that they’re looking much more carefully at what they eat and what’s healthy than when I was growing up and my contemporaries. There are a lot of messages coming out that are particularly anti-dairy. Are we going to end up in 10-20 years' time with our fracture clinics full of young women because they have such weak bones from not getting enough calcium?
Is it harder to know what information to listen to now, with the flood of other information we’re exposed to through social media?
When I was at school we were taught home economics and we were taught about nutrition. Now, young people get their education through the media. I think we need to be more aware and I think we need to bring up our daughters to be well educated. And to know there’s a lot of confusion. And what’s right for one person might not necessarily be right for everyone.
What essential health advice did you learn from your own mother?
I was always told to have a colourful plate and I think that holds true now. They’re good for antioxidants. We ate small amounts of meat but it was good quality meat and we looked much more carefully at where it came from. We knew if we wanted to have Omega 3 we didn’t just need to get that from fish – you can get that from grass-fed meat, too. My mum didn’t have processed food because it wasn’t an option. That’s what I try and pass on to my children.
Did you try out different diets yourself when you were younger?
I was macrobiotic for two years. And I was experimenting with food but it was during my early days of writing about wellbeing. I was always trying to be balanced, and moderate.
It’s scary, because it’s normally in your 20s that you want to experiment with everything. But that’s also the time you’re exposed to so many new ideas...
I think there’s a tremendous opportunity in social media. It’s become such an easy and quick way to get information to a huge number of people, but I think there is obviously a responsibility that comes with that to make sure that the information is right. Anyone who speaks from a public platform needs to make sure that what they’re saying is as accurate as can be.
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On the flip side, are there any areas of food science that we should be really excited about right now?
It’s very interesting to see how much is being spoken about gut health now and it’s one of the most exciting areas of modern medicine. Certainly with nutritional science moving forward, modern science is proving what a lot of folklore and people have talked about for a long time. In some of the longest-living cultures in the world they have food that complements gut health, fermented food and cultured food. There’s all sorts of examples of how people have been using fermented food and gut-friendly food for centuries.
Are you of the school of thought that the best beauty and health starts in the kitchen?
I think food plays a huge part. Aside from genetics, which are obviously really important. That’s why they say you should choose your parents really, really carefully! But food is one of the few things that we have, hopefully, total control over. We can choose what we put in our shopping trolley. We can choose what we sit down and eat. And there’s a huge freedom in that. We can make the right choices, but without being too caught up in it.
That’s kind of the problem, though. We’re told to have a balanced diet, think about what we eat and check where our food comes from… but there’s such a fine line between being conscious of that and obsessing over every small thing we put in our bodies.
I agree. Food adds fuel and also adds pleasure and it should never make us feel anxious. There’s always another great meal to be had. We should be concentrating on setting up a healthy life for the long term. If you can be looking forward to being 100 plus, you only want to be doing that with good health.
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