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?
Definitions vary and while I’d prefer to move away from the term altogether, I propose this definition to help those who do like the term.
The basic principle is simple: Eat whole foods in a balance that supports your body’s natural systems.
The Green Mountain Healthy Eating Plate Model illustrates that with its emphasis on:
- 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 came about because of 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. But my definition of clean eating could be seen as 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.
- It’s said that these days we encounter more toxins than ever before in human history. I don’t know if that’s true but I do know that we get toxins in the food we eat (and always have), 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 helps ensure we get the nutrients we need to detoxify the toxins we encounter as a part of everyday living.
Whether eating organic is part of that or not is a personal choice. I’m not saying that eating organic is bad but just know that there are myths surrounding organic farming that warrant understanding. And know that nutritionists agree that it is better to eat conventionally raised produce than no produce at all.
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 food in its most wholesome 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 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. Again, it’s all about balance. And it’s important to understand that stress produces its own toxins. If you’re caught in a struggle to eat clean by definitions that don’t let you participate in the joy of eating, you may end up hurting more than helping.