Over the past number of years, the term “clean eating” has become more and more popular. But what exactly does it mean? For some extremists, it means adopting the Paleo diet or only eating raw foods. Others view it as consuming strictly organic goods or foods that don’t come in a package. Others believe clean eating refers to veganism, vegetarianism, or the exact opposite, electing to eat vast amounts of meat/red meat/fish. Some believe it’s consuming foods that leave little environmental impact in their cultivation and cooking methods. So depending on whom you’re talking to and what you’re reading, you’re going to get all kinds of different opinions.
To me, clean eating doesn’t subscribe to a movement or niche. It’s more approachable and user friendly. I like to define clean eating as a diet that’s focused primarily around whole foods, paying careful attention to labels and ingredients and eating with a purpose.
So what do I mean by whole foods? I mean, primarily, the foods that are found along the perimeter of the grocery store. Fresh vegetables, fruit, raw, fresh meat, eggs, and things that are more or less “ingredients” as opposed to prepared meals. Here’s an example of something I’d suggest for somebody who likes blueberry flavored yogurt: The pre-mixed flavored yogurts in the dairy department are full of sugar and additives. Although yogurt may seem healthy by default, I would not file this stuff under “clean eating.”
Instead I would purchase plain, unprocessed yogurt, free of additives and sugars. I would purchase fresh blueberries and then add nuts and a little honey to increase its nutrition and add some sweetness. I should also add that I don’t think that organic or “free range” food is exclusively clean.
When food is processed and additives are included, it can take away from the nutritional value of the base food, even if the base food is healthy. This is why an essential part of “clean eating” is reading labels. You want to know what the ingredients and caloric makeup of food is. Some people say “clean eating” is impossible to do if you’re eating packaged foods. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It all comes down to what the ingredients are. If the ingredients are all identifiable whole foods and there are no added sugars, chemicals or unpronounceable words, it’s clean. Let the ingredients inside the package tell you if it’s clean or not.
Finally, clean eating is about eating with a purpose. And I don’t mean eating to be Paleo, vegan, or raw vegan; rather, I mean eating to improve health and prevent disease. Eating clean means making a conscious choice to make sure you’re getting quality calories that get you the vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants that you need to stay healthy and lower the risk of disease.
Eating clean isn’t about being in a niche subsection of society or only buying organic, it’s about eating to promote health. Stick to whole foods and you’re eating clean.