Time to Join the Clean Eating Craze?

Time to Join the Clean Eating Craze?

What does it mean to “eat clean”? That depends, but one thing is certain: What was previously thought to be a fad has quickly become a way of life for many people.

While there is no clear-cut definition of clean eating, it typically involves eating lots of whole fruits, vegetables, grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins, while avoiding processed foods, preservatives, saturated fat, and added sugar or salt.1

There is some controversy regarding clean eating because some “clean” diets are believed to be too restrictive by eliminating entire food groups such as dairy, alkaline foods, wheat, and/or refined sugar.2 For this article, we’ll focus on eating more whole foods while reducing the consumption of highly processed foods. 

Importance of Eating Clean Food

Everyone knows that eating more fruits and vegetables is preferred, but you may not know how harmful it is to eat ultra-processed foods such as soda, chips, cookies, candy, desserts, cured meats, condiments, and fast foods. For example, a 2024 analysis of 45 studies featured in the prestigious British Medical Journal found that eating ultra-processed foods increased the risk of a variety of chronic and serious conditions including cancer and heart disease.3 That same review also found that eating these foods can be harmful to your mental health as well. 

By eating fewer ultra-processed foods, the risk of obesity is also much lower, reducing the risk of various illnesses.4 There are many health benefits of not eating processed foods, which is a key advantage of clean eating.

Clean Eating Diet for Beginners

If you are new to clean eating, begin slowly. If processed foods are a problem, choose a category like soda, drink 20% fewer sodas in a week for a few weeks, and then increase that percentage. If packaged convenience foods are a problem, consider shopping for your fruits and vegetables at the local farmer’s market on the weekend to help create your meal plan for the week.

Another great place to start is by focusing on organic foods whenever possible. Research shows that organic foods not only contain fewer toxins, such as pesticides, GMOs, and other chemicals, but they also have higher nutrient content including key vitamins and minerals.5 

If eating organic foods is difficult, the Environmental Working Group published a list of the “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables that can be the most contaminated and should be purchased as organic whenever possible. They also have a “clean fifteen” list featuring items that have the least amount of pesticide residues and don’t need to be organic. 

And finally, consider taking a multivitamin mineral supplement and other dietary supplements to help fill any nutrient gaps that may exist.

If you are craving clean eating, remember that small steps add up to big gains. 

References

  1. Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. Clean eating. The Nutrition Source. 2022;Feb. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/clean-eating/
  2. Ambwani S, Sellinger G, Rose KL, et al. “It’s healthy because it’s natural.” Perceptions of “clean” eating among US Adolescents and emerging adults. Nutrients. 2020;12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7352986/pdf/nutrients-12-01708.pdf
  3. Lane MM, Garnage E, Du S, et al. Ultra-processed food exposure and adverse health outcomes: umbrella review of epidemiological meta-analyses. BMJ. 2024;2024. https://www.bmj.com/content/384/bmj-2023-077310
  4. Dicken SJ, Batterham RL. Ultra-processed food and obesity: what is the evidence? Current Nutrition Reports. 2024;13:23-38. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13668-024-00517-z
  5. Rahman A, Baharlouei P, Koh E, et al. A comprehensive analysis of organic food: evaluating nutritional value and impact on human health. Foods. 2024;13(2). https://www.mdpi.com/2304-8158/13/2/208
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