So I know people have been tagging their Instagram food photos with it for a while now, but what actually is ‘clean eating’? I generally wash my fruit and veg and buy my chocolate in a sealed packet… so is that clean?
Well, according to Clean Eating magazine, it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle. It’s all about choosing foods that are as close to their natural state as possible.
The basic principles:
- Choosing fresh, whole foods.
- Avoiding man-made, refined, processed and packaged foods.
- Avoiding foods high in fat (like fried or marinated foods), particularly trans fats, salt and sugar.
- Having regular meals and snacks of appropriate serve sizes.
- Savouring and enjoying food.
- Drinking plenty of water.
- Limiting alcohol to one drink per day.
- Including protein, carbohydrates and good fats at each meal.
- Choosing organic, seasonal, local, unpackaged foods where possible.
There’s no single definition of clean eating however, and Diane Welland, an American dietitian, says that clean eating also includes regular physical activity and avoiding high energy and sweetened beverages.
So basically ‘clean eating’ is similar to general healthy eating with its focus on fresh, whole foods, however it goes further in terms of how food is sourced, avoiding all packaged and processed foods. This means avoiding everything from sugar and artificial sweeteners to foods such as tinned vegetables, sauces, white rice and pasta.
The core principles of this diet centre around choosing mostly whole, fresh foods in healthy serving sizes, balancing macronutrients in meals, drinking plenty of water and limiting alcohol. This is a brilliant basis for a healthy diet.
Due to the principles regarding seasonal, local foods and avoiding packaged foods, clean eating can potentially be environmentally friendly as well as budget friendly, if you’ve got plenty of food preparation time on your hands.
The very principles that make this diet environmentally friendly means that it requires significant planning and time to source food and prepare all meals from scratch, and to always have food and drink to take with you to work or school.
As a dietitian and pescetarian I love fresh whole food and environmentally friendly eating. This said, I think that having rules about not buying any packaged or man-made food is too strict for many people. I like to eat healthily but I also like to have a flexible lifestyle, which includes throwing together last minute meals using tinned and packaged products or grabbing takeaway.
This way of eating appears to only be realistic should you have large amounts of time to dedicate to food preparation, which for many of us is simply not a reality. Many processed foods, for example tinned and frozen products like beans, lentils and vegetables as well as wholegrain products and dairy foods are nutritionally great options. For example, due to their rapid freezing after picking, frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as the fresh alternative. These products also often provide the benefit of requiring minimal preparation, for examples tinned legumes which removes the need for hours of soaking and cooking, enabling busy people to prepare meals containing nutritious foods that they may otherwise not have been able to include. Even more processed ‘extra’ foods can have a place in a healthy diet and do not need to be completely avoided.
Now I’m not personally a fan of ‘diets’ with rules and labelling ways of eating, however everyone is different, and perhaps for some labelling their diet/lifestyle helps them in having a clear picture of a way they want to gather, prepare and eat food. After all, clean eating appears to be more about lifestyle choices, like respecting the environment, than just a ‘diet’.
Like the oxymoron of paleo cakes, it seems that the essence of this diet becomes lost in the world of social media and food porn. A quick search on Instagram for #cleaneatingrecipes reveals recipes for smoothies, raw slices, ‘healthy desserts’ and a whole array of delicious looking creations. Somehow, this high ratio of pictures of sweets to pictures of anything else tells me clean eating may be missing the point.
Does labelling this diet mean it is just another thing to feel bad about when you cave and buy that takeaway or bar of chocolate, when you just can’t bring yourself to make another #cleaneating rainbow salad or raw vegan slice?