I mean, what is clean eating, anyway? And, if there's "clean eating," does that mean there's "dirty eating?"
WHAT IS CLEAN EATING?
The major key to understand about eating clean for beginners is that it's more of a lifestyle than a "diet." By that, I mean eating clean isn't a get thin quick kind of thing. Actually, it's a way to approach how you eat and what you put in your body. Clean eating involves choosing whole foods, avoiding processed foods, and creating a healthy, conscientious approach to what foods you eat. Making the choice to eat clean is to remove unnecessary fats, sugars, and carbs from your diet. It's about making better, more nourishing choices for your body. It's also about refusing to continue to put junk in your body. "Junk," in this context, includes processed foods, artificial flavors and sugars, foods with lots of salt and high in saturated fat, refined foods, and other foods that don't provide you with nutritional value.
The trendiness of better for you foods philosophies-- such as eating more plants and locally sourced foods-- has surely made us more attentive of what we're putting on our plates. It's also transformed reading labels at the grocery into a game of food forensics-- does that "accredited organic" stamp promise a food is healthy? Why doesn't your bowl of kale chips have a "certified vegan" mark? How do you know if a food is locally made? Ethically produced?
Clean food began to get popular back in the mid-1990s. Grocery chains were starting to "clean up" store brand ingredient lists by removing chemical ingredients and weird sounding names.
Back then, this move was considered controversial, because it involved doing away with added nutrients, listed by their technical, non-household names (like pantothenic acid, a B vitamin), as well as eliminating preservatives, which meant short shelf lives (e.g., would consumers really want bread that gets hard or moldy within a few days?).
This was an idea whose time had come. Consumers were beginning to take note of how foods were produced, and what they were made of, health food stores were appealing to more and more customers, and many natural food stores and farmer's markets experienced remarkable 4-year growth of 544% between 1989 and 1993, making it one of the quickest growing sectors in America.
Today, two decades down the road, clean eating, or eating clean, is a major movement, triggered by people from all walks of life who want to feel good about what they're putting in their bodies.
When we asked our readers "What does clean and healthy eating mean to you?" we received a variety of replies, from simply "eating fresh fruits and veggies," to "not eating anything artificial."
Over the years, my own ideas of what it means to eat clean have evolved massively, here's my current take on what this philosophy (which I'm a huge fan of):
Eat foods that are minimally processed.
This one is pretty clear-- instead of a carrot cake, eat a carrot and some nuts! The primary principle of eating clean is to replace highly processed foods with natural and fresh foods. To me, this means foods that haven't had anything added to them, and haven't had anything valuable taken away.
Even if you're not growing quinoa in your back yard, you can buy this whole grain in the bulk section of your market, or in a box, where the only ingredient is more info quinoa, and only quinoa. That's a far cry from a refined grain, that's been robbed of its fiber-rich bran (outer skin) and wholesome germ (the inner part that sprouts into a new plant), bleached, and doctored up with preservatives.
Let ingredients guide you.
I don't think it's reasonable to never eat anything that comes out of a box, bag, or jar , but when you do, the primary thing a clean eater looks at is the ingredient list and the nutritional label. Reading it is the only way to really know what's in your food, and choose foods that are as close to their natural state as possible.
FoodSniffr.com is among my favorite apps as they do all this heavy-lifting for you.
I grabbed one of my favorite brands, which are made with: organic buckwheat and rice, organic whole quinoa, organic pumpkin and chia seeds, organic brown flax seeds, buy on ebay organic brown sesame seeds, organic poppy seeds, filtered water, sea salt, organic black pepper, organic herbs-- all "real" and recognizable ingredients; a list that almost reads like a recipe I could recreate in best of ebay my own kitchen.
They will spotlight what they call as the good, the bad and the ugly in various grocery foods. They can also tell you if the product is gluten free, lactose free, corn free etc; if it has GMOs, or is high sugar, high salt etc. The biggest plus for me though is discovering the unsavory ingredients in my favorite products - msg, TBHQ and other weird names that I had ignored in the past - but realize now how unsafe they are to my health.
Bingo! Clean eating is about emphasizing quality first, and not letting terms like zero trans fat, low sodium, or sugar free fool you into thinking that a processed food is healthy.