Clean eating is not for me

Clean Eating?!

Clean Eating?!

No coffee, alcohol or gluten? No thanks.

Those nutrition experts enthusiasts at Pinterest are at it again.  They sent me a list of Pins to help me start a Clean Eating plan.  The obvious conclusion: the way I’ve been eating is somehow dirty.

Clean Eating.  It sounds so special and superior.  But what exactly does it mean?

Officially it means nothing.  There is no Clean Eating standard definition, although there are plenty of opinions about what it means, packaged up in handy books, websites and magazine articles written by self-styled nutritionists, as well as actual nutrition professionals.  Even the esteemed Dr. David Katz of Yale University weighs in, claiming “clean eating is what eating was always about.”  Tell that to our ancestors, scrounging rotting meat off dead animals, or eating roots and berries with actual dirt on them.

The general consensus is that clean eating is about whole foods.  Even better, local foods.  Even better organic foods.  Even better no sugar and no processed food.  One way to recognize “dirty” foods: long ingredients’ lists on packages.  So in other words, a bag of sugar, with just one word — sugar — on the ingredients’ list is clean?  How about a bottle of corn oil?  Does that mean expensive energy bars, made with organic dried fruit, nuts, honey, soy protein and coconut are unclean because the ingredients’ list is too long?  Maybe not.  There’s a book that will help you read labels and decide if the long ingredient list is clean or not.  Figuring out what’s really clean is starting to sound like a lot of work.

Why would you do this?  Because clean eating supposedly prevents all sorts of diseases and also makes you lose weight.  Yay!  Who’s not in favor of all that?  NOTE: there is absolutely zero evidence that any of that is true.  And since there are so many definitions of clean eating, how would we ever investigate such a claim anyway?

One of the Pins is for BuzzFeed’s Clean Eating Challenge: no processed food, no gluten and low carb.  So now gluten is dirty, as well as carbs, coffee and alcohol.  Honestly, how do the French stay so thin and healthy?  To participate in the BuzzFeed Challenge, you have to cook all your meals from scratch and spend a lot of time grocery shopping.

Another Pin offers a handy shopping list for yet another clean foods regimen.  Under “meat and poultry” we find whey protein powder.  Whey protein is a meat?  Actually it’s a highly processed and purified by-product of cheese manufacture.  That’s clean?  Seriously?  Yet somehow real cheese is not on the list (but goat cheese is).  Apples make the fruit list; pears and peaches don’t. Why?  Broccoli makes the vegetable list; cauliflower and brussels sprouts don’t.  Why?  I could go on.

I did find an article with a less rigid take on clean eating.  Truthfully, the advice looked more like a Mediterranean style diet, with limits on processed foods, added sugars and alcohol, and a focus on healthy fats, vegetables, fruit and whole grains.  None of the gluten- or carb-phobia from the BuzzFeed plan.  Since there is actual evidence that a Mediterranean diet has many health benefits, this is a plan worth adopting.

So what’s clean eating?

It’s a jumble of personal opinions about Good (clean) and Bad (unclean? dirty?) foods that define restrictive diet plans.  The food choices and rules vary from one “expert” to another.  Some people preach these restrictive diet plans like a religion.  I don’t like Good/Bad food rules.  They tend to alienate a lot of people, making healthy eating sound like a grim, dreary chore.  Not the best way to encourage healthier food choices.  As far as I’m concerned, my supposedly “unclean” diet seems to be working just fine for me.  If you feel like you need improvement, go with Mediterranean.

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