So, what foods constitute clean? Look around for half a second on the interweb machines, and you'll be thoroughly confused. I know I was. Juice cleanses, plant-based eating, only organic foods, and eating like a caveman are all methods of "clean eating." However, are they?
Juicing (like plants, not roids)
Since I'm in my 30s, I remember sleepless nights as a young teen where infomercials were blasting from the TV. The days of 24-hour programming weren't around quite yet. Jack LaLanne's juicer was the pinnacle of juicing power! If it was a plant, you could juice it in that over-dimensional, multi-piece, nightmare-to-clean machine.
I would watch in rapt horror as they fed an entire salad into the chute and then drink the pond water that came out the other side of it. With a green film on their upper lip, they would proclaim how delicious and easy it was to get all of the nutrients in one glass!
While juice is quite delicious, it's also full of sugar. Sometimes added sugar, which is nearly the same as drinking a soda. However, even all-natural fruit juices have the sugar of several pieces of fruit in one glass. Sure, there are vitamins and minerals in there too, but you're missing the fiber that accompanies the juice!
When you eat the whole apple, for instance, you get all the same minerals and vitamins. However, you also get stomach-filling fiber. This fiber slows the absorption of the sugars in the fruit and keeps you fuller for longer. It's nothing to drink five apples, but it's certainly a feat to eat five apples.
Veganism is what most people tend to think of when they think of "clean eating." No animal products whatsoever and a diet made up of fiber-rich plant foods. If you look at a vegan and an omnivore side by side, more often than not, the vegan will be a bit more svelte than the omnivore. Many attribute this to diet alone. However, those that eat a plant-based diet are far more likely to exercise than those that do not.
Plant-based eating and exercise absolutely lead to a healthier you, no doubt about it. However, it's also true that the human body isn't equipped to take nutrients out of all plant matter. It actually takes a fair bit of know-how to get the best bang for your buck on a plant-based diet. What plants to combine to get complete proteins, grain and bean mixtures, and what can and can't be broken down by us non-ruminants.
So, all that to say that plant-based diets are certainly "clean eating." However, they're not the end-all-be-all way to eat clean.
Having Clean Foods Means That There are "Dirty" Foods
Does that food have *gasp* additives!? So, what if it does? You don't put any additives in your Greek god body? Cool, cool.
This is the mindset that a lot of folks have that "eat clean." However, some additives can help the everyday eater reach their nutritional goals. Vitamin D in milk and iron in orange juice are just a couple of examples.
It's the nasty additives that you want to watch out for—things like trans-fats (I'm looking at you margarine), added sugar, and tons of dye, just to name a few. I'm a big proponent of if it fits your macros (IIFYM). So, if you need a bump in vitamins and minerals real quick, fortified foods may be the way to go!
As always, everything in moderation... even moderation.
Clean Eating = Healthy Eating
The equation above is not always correct. The term "clean eating" simply denotes a person's commitment to finding a healthy balance in their diet. The rub comes when clean eating becomes an obsession and changes the person's view of food negatively. It puts restrictions on the person to not eat anything prepared or packaged, and many times it leads to a binge of the foods that have been restricted.
As a matter of fact, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has a guideline to your plate. Check it out!
I don't so much agree with the butter part, or the canola oil instead of avocado or coconut oil, but the rest of this plate is on point. This is what clean eating looks like to me—eating to fuel my body to repeatedly lift heavy things.
So, now we see that clean eating is more about eating whole foods, not being overly restrictive on what you "can't eat," and keeping a healthy (and positive) mindset regarding eating. Food, after all, should be one of the most pleasurable things in our lives! What you eat shouldn't cause stress.
Go out and get some great whole food recipes, or check out some of mine here on the site! They're cheap and relatively easy to prepare. In your search to find the cleanest food, make sure not to dirty up your mind into hating what you eat.