It’s not hard to argue that of all the latest dieting trends, “clean eating” has garnered the most media attention over the past several years.
You want to lose weight? Lower your cholesterol and blood pressure? Improve your overall health? Easy! Just eat clean.
What does it really mean to eat clean, though? Although the general idea behind clean eating is fairly simple—eat whole foods and avoid anything artificial or processed—when you start to take a closer look, some areas become a bit more complicated.
The most avid supporters of clean eating don’t necessarily consider it a diet, but more so a way of life or long-term strategy for maintaining a healthy diet and improving your overall quality of life. It’s more like a philosophy that follows the “you are what you eat” adage and recommends improving your health and wellbeing by placing a significant focus on the nutritional value of your food.
Generally, clean eaters adhere to the following practices:
- Eat mostly whole foods as closely to how they are found in nature. Fresh produce like fruits and vegetables are a huge staple.
- Avoid added sugars that are refined. Natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup or sugar from fruits are considered OK.
- Avoid all artificial ingredients, preservatives and chemical additives. (Many advocates of clean eating commonly recommend avoiding all ingredients that sound like a “science experiment” or that you can’t pronounce.)
- Eat whole grains only. An example of this would be whole grain quinoa or brown rice. These types of grains are unrefined meaning the bran (outer skin) and the germ (the inner sprout) have not been removed which makes them the more nutritious choice.
- Avoid all “processed” and packaged foods. This is where clean eating can get tricky because foods like bread, cheese, and milk can be considered “clean” even though some processing is required to make them. Plus, it’s very unrealistic to avoid everything that comes in a package. This is why reading labels is an important part of clean eating. The main idea is to choose packaged foods whose ingredients don’t include anything artificial. In the simplest terms: look for products whose ingredient lists read like a recipe that you might create on your own.
- Focus mostly on food quality (nutrients) and worry less about calories, but still practice balance and moderation.
- Hardcore clean eating advocates usually recommend eating organic whenever possible and avoiding all genetically modified foods.
- Clean eating encourages cooking at home, preparing your own meals, and creating your own salad dressings and sauces using all-natural ingredients instead of buying them at the store where they’re likely to include unwanted additives.
One of the biggest advantages of clean eating is that it’s extremely flexible. Unlike other diets that set up rigid rules or specific procedures, clean eating is more like a set of guidelines that you can integrate into your life as you see fit.
Basically, it’s incorporating the foods you know are good for you (fruits, vegetables, lean proteins) in every meal on a regular basis and skipping all the “food” products that won’t provide your body with any nutritional value. (That doesn't mean you can't indulge in those things every once in a while, though!)