Clean Eating

clean-eatingI have never been an avid fan of social media, mainly because I have had this web site for nearly 15 years and it’s what I consider my space to say whatever I want and am not bound by being tracked, criticized or censored. Like millions, I have a Facebook account, at one time I used Twitter, but it was beyond what I required. These days because of social media we are seeing new catchphrases popping up. One that seems to bother me, the term “clean eating.” Dr.David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center defines clean eating as, “food that’s for the most part real food and not encumbered with things that compromise health: artificial flavorings, artificial colorings, sugar substitutes” (source). I am on-board with his definition as I attempt to eat clean. Unfortunately it’s his interpretation.

Processed food is a major culprit when it comes to “clean eating.” The U.S. has the highest obesity statistics (out of 22 industrialized countries) with nearly 2/3 of Americans over age 20 are overweight and nearly 1/3 of Americans over age 20 are obese. This is a growing trend that rapes annual healthcare costs approaching $240 billion! (source)

Paying strict attention to package labeling is a commonsense approach to clean eating, the shorter the ingredient list, the better the food is for you. While that is a general rule of thumb, it’s not always guaranteed. Jeff Novick, MS, RD writes and discusses nutritional labels in great detail in Fast Food DVD – Volume 3 “Shopping School” but also makes Understanding Food Labels available, which runs down 10 quick reference tips. Jeff’s You Tube videos are worth watching in order start decoding labels when you shop.

Clean eating seems to mean different things to different individuals. Here are a few examples from the Stronglifts Inner Circle I subscribe to:

I started eating clean in March (avoiding all processed foods, minimal carbs, no alcohol or sugar, etc) and lost about 4lbs.

The most rapid weight loss I have experienced was with eating very clean. I cut sugars, grains, dairy(except butter) and alcohol for three months and lost 35 lbs going from a very fat(for me) 245 lb down to a stocky 210lb.

The main thing is to eat clean. Take it easy on the starchy carbs, sugar, etc.

I’m a big believer in a clean, lower fat diet (when I’m not such a lazy ass). My staples are boneless, skinless chicken breasts and mixed frozen vegetables. Lots of protein, good carbs, little fat. I’ll throw a pat of butter in the veggies and use a bit of olive oil for cooking. Other meats include fish, shrimp, lean red meat occasionally. Almonds, some eggs, beans, no fat cottage cheese in moderation, fruits

It seems many individuals toss around “clean eating” as it relates to their diet, but many don’t seem to have a grasp what clean eating means to their health. It also appears there is some agreement in avoiding processed food, sugar and alcohol. Not once I have heard remove oil from a clean eating statement. Many still eat under the premise that olive oil is “heart healthy” and necessary in their daily diet. “Lean” meats or “grass fed” meats seems to be commonplace for the clean eater.

I used to frequent The Gracious Panty, Tiffany put together a great site with many “clean recipes.” After liking her on FB, I started to see more and more recipes that I did not consider clean. Many recipes include oil and dairy, neither of which I consider to be “clean” as it relates to health. Oil is the big offender at 120 calories per tablespoon with no nutritional benefits. A recent article said “that everyone should be getting up to four tablespoons a day in order to protect their heart” (source), but the specific US study is not specified. That would be adding close to a pound of oil (3360 calories) a week into your diet! Since when is that considered healthy? Guess that could be the American equivalent to “moderation.”

The Gracious Pantry goes on to provide another definition of clean eating. “Eats Lots Of Plants. Include Meats (meats that are whole and straight from the butcher). Enjoy Grains. Read Labels (try not to purchase foods that have more than 3-6 ingredients). Eat Fewer Ingredients. Eat 5-6 Small Meals A Day.” Yet she is quick to say, “I am doing what is right for MY body and for MY health. Every person is different. What works for me, will not necessarily work for you.

Personal I think “clean eating” and “cooking light” are bogus terms that only cause confusion and frustration. I don’t consider the examples cited above as “clean” since none of them take health into consideration. I don’t believe many are skilled in the art of nutrition and take many claims they read at face value, such as “olive oil is heart healthy.” The magazine, Cooking Light was terrible! I subscribed to this prior to changing my eating habits and I actually fooled myself into thinking this was a healthy lifestyle. Cooking light really meant lowering the fat intake, but did nothing for sodium, sugars and cholesterol. Just look at their vegetarian offerings to see examples.

I have many friends who believe they are healthy because they eat clean. While they might not use those words they will argue in defense of how they eat claiming they are in good health. Debatable. Unfortunately as much disagreement there is among experts when it comes to nutrition and health “clean eating” is here to stay, regardless of how it’s defined. Throwing in my two cents, I do eat clean. I have removed all processed foods from my diet, I limit my sodium and sugar intake, I don’t eat meat, dropped dairy and never use added oil. Any oil I digest is in its whole food state (avocados, nuts and olives). I also claim I am healthier because of how I eat.