Clean Eating: Getting to the Source
By Anne Bauch, RD, Mayo Clinic Health System
As a dietitian, I’ve seen many nutrition trends over the years. Many of us are looking for the best ways to eat to promote weight loss, lower the risk of chronic disease, or improve overall wellness. The most recent nutrition trend is called clean eating.
Clean eating is the practice of choosing foods in their whole-food state and avoiding processed and refined foods.However, the interpretation of clean eating can vary from person to person. For some, only whole foods are clean; for others, minimally processed foods are acceptable. Clean eating also can imply eating mostly vegetables and fruits, whole grains, animal- and plant-based protein, nuts, seeds, and oils. Clean eating is an intentional way of eating that includes only minimally processed, nonpackaged foods that do not originate from a factory.
Clean eating is a lifestyle. It’s a way of eating that encourages the consumer to be mindful of the traceability of our food. Clean eating can encourage us to read labels, know our food sources, and allow us to think more thoughtfully about the nutritional value in the food we choose to eat.
As a dietitian, however, I do have some concerns that clean eating may be misinterpreted. The clean eating craze can imply anyone who isn’t eating clean is eating dirty. Consumers may feel defeated if they are unable to be successful in meeting the clean eating definitions. Clean eating is not meant to assign moral value with eating habits. Because a person chooses to eat clean doesn’t mean they are a better eater compared to someone else. It’s great the clean eating trend is prompting more people to look at eating less of the things we don’t want in our diet, but it shouldn’t make anyone feel inferior if they eat something out of a bag or box.
Along with the clean eating movement, many manufacturers are misrepresenting scientific evidence on food packaging. They refer to their products as clean or having clean ingredients. Even when a food product is made with clean ingredients, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthier. Fresh pressed juice still is a concentrated form of sugar, and vegan chocolate pudding still is a dessert.
Eating right is a challenging endeavor. Whether it’s trying a hot food trend or committing to a healthier eating philosophy with a new diet, there are several tried and true eating principles that can’t steer you wrong.
▪ Incorporate more whole foods in your diet. Use more foods that are straight from the farm. Add more fruit and vegetables to your meals or have them as snacks. Select whole grains when able. Use grass-fed and free-range meats, and lower-fat dairy along with nuts and seeds.
▪ Limit processed foods. Avoiding all processed foods can be limiting, especially since most foods we eat and drink, in some way, have been processed. However, start by eliminating heavily processed or the foods we consider to be junk food. When selecting processed foods, look for ingredient lists that are transparent; in other words, foods that are really what they claim to be. You should be able to know the source from all the ingredients on the packaging. There are some exceptional packaged foods that make it easier to eat well—fish out of a can, dried beans or peanut butter from a jar are just a few examples.
▪ Eliminate refined sugar. In general, eating right isn’t about avoiding any one food in particular. Eating right should be about choosing simple, unrefined foods and enjoying them. Foods in a natural state do not contain added sugar. Try to reduce refined sugars, because it is nothing but empty calories.
▪ Drink more water. Focus on managing your thirst with water. Don’t rely heavily on sweetened beverages or juices to stay hydrated. Flavoring water with lemon or other fruits can make for a healthy sipping option.
Anne Bauch is a registered dietitian who sees patients in the Diabetes Education Department at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, Wisconsin