One of today’s diet buzzwords is “clean eating.” How do you define it?
- Is it just another diet that classifies foods as “good” or “bad”?
- Does it conjure up images of organic carrots, mung beans and plain brown rice?
- Is it another weight-loss diet fad that will go out of favor in a few months?
What is Clean Eating?
While definitions vary, to us the basic principle is simple: Eat whole foods, most of which are produced in a sustainable way. That means:
- Organic, unrefined foods such as plenty of produce, beans and whole grains (brown rice, whole grain breads, etc.)
- Grass-fed beef and other meats, pastured chickens and products that come from them (milk, cheese, eggs)
- Wild or sustainably-farmed fish
Clean eating is also about proportion of these healthful foods. The Green Mountain Healthy Eating Plate Model illustrates that with its emphasis on:
- Eating plenty of produce, using animal foods and starches in smaller amounts.
- Balance, which helps your metabolism manage the food you eat in a healthy manner.
Why Eat Clean?
Clean eating addresses a growing concern among many health experts that we’re overloading our bodies with toxins while at the same time undersupplying them with the nutrients we need to detoxify.
Indeed, detox diets are another buzzword these days. Clean eating is a form of a detox diet that doesn’t pose any health risks as compared to fasts and other popular detox regimens.
Toxins are inevitable part of living. Besides getting them from our environment, our bodies even produce toxins as part of the metabolic process. As a result, we evolved to be efficient detoxifying machines…if we’re supporting the system. But if you eat the average American diet, you’re not.
- These days, we encounter more toxins than ever before in human history. We get them in the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the packages we store our food in, the products we use to clean our surroundings, even the lotions and other skin care products we use.
- At the same time, we tend to eat highly-refined foods that have been stripped of many of the vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients (plant chemicals) and fiber, all of which play a critical role in the detoxification process.
In a nutshell, clean eating decreases our exposure to toxins by reducing the amount we get in our foods and elsewhere, and at the same time, helps ensure we get the nutrients we need to detoxify the toxins we do encounter.
Animal products such as grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chicken are important to clean eating because they are produced in a healthier manner, which may mean less bacterial contamination. But perhaps more importantly, animals that eat grass as opposed to grain contain a higher percentage of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are important to the permeability of cell membranes, which is important to our ability to get nutrients into our cells to do their work, and to eliminate waste products, some of which of course are detoxified toxins.
More Clean Eating Considerations
In addition to the foods we eat, there are other sources of toxins we should be aware of and try to minimize. For example, look at what we cook and store our food in. Aim for BPA-free plastic, even trying to keep all plastic from coming into contact with your food by storing it in glass whenever possible. Choose stainless steel cookware, rather than non-stick, whenever possible.
Drink clean water, and use it for cooking, too. If you’re not sure how clean your water supply is, opt for water filters.
To be sure, you won’t be able to do this perfectly. Just do what you can, knowing that stressing too much about it all produces toxins, too!
There’s Still Room for Ice Cream
All that said, eating clean doesn’t mean giving up foods we love. That’s important because many people see any kind of “eating movement” as a prescription for deprivation that leads to all-or-nothing thinking and on-again, off-again healthy eating.
If anything, clean eating could be viewed as a celebration of good food in its purest form. There is plenty of pleasure to be had in taking a trip to a farm stand and selecting your very own bunch of fresh spinach picked that morning. Then lightly sautéeing it in garlic and extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled with freshly-ground sea salt and black pepper. Many people find that fresh produce grown locally has much more flavor than conventional grocery store produce shipped from halfway around the world.
Still, real ice cream – not low fat or sugar free versions – can also qualify for clean eating. Experts encourage us to consider different versions of ice cream that are made from organic milk and other milks such as coconut and goat milk.