What is Clean Eating?


The idea for this blog came to me when my boyfriend mentioned to me that Panera Bread's stocks are skyrocketting (over $230 a share...compare that to Apple at $100 less). That's a lot of Thai Chicken Wonton Garden Bowls...or Bear Claws...or whatever it is that people buy there. But why would this fact spawn a nutrition blog? Glad you asked...

Have you seen Panera advertisements lately? Well they are all about clean eating! What the heck is clean eating? My comeback used to be: washing your hands (and food, depending on what it is), but that lighthearted response just doesn't get at the seriousness of this trend. And it is a trend. And Panera is cashing in on it. They even have a No No List! Now THAT sounds scary!


Clean Eating Defined

I'm sure you've heard of it! You probably know at least one person who's doing it. Or maybe that local juice place or raw eatery boasts they make all their food using clean ingredients. It seems like every week someone tells me they try to eat only clean foods. But what does it actually mean? Just do a Google search and you will see lots of definitions...and rules. 

Clean eating is not necessarily about the food itself, or the amount eaten. It's more about the steps involved in turning the raw food it into the edible form you are consuming. And sometimes that means it is raw....virtually picked, washed and on your plate. Quite simply put, clean eating is about eating foods that are not processed or at least minimally processed; whole foods, as close to their natural form as possible.

Sounds like a good idea, right? In theory, sure. But most foods we eat are processed to some extent. The question is, how processed is it? Buying pre-cut veggies because you don't have time to cut them yourself? Processed. That whole grain, high fibre bread you love? Processed. What about those whole grain cackers, frozen fruit + yogurt or canned tuna you like to have for snacks? Also processed. Potato chips? Obviously.

Why the Movement?

Our society is seemingly obsessed with food...and health. So no wonder this is happening. Ultra processed foods can contain a lot of sodium, sugar, trans fat, preservatives and other "undesireables". Eating too much of this can have an impact on our physical and mental health. But processing isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it makes certain foods more convenient, nutritious and edible/safe to eat. Sometimes processing makes food last longer on the shelf. And sometimes processing is just for the yumminess factor.

As mentioned above, it is also important to distinguish between the different types of processing. Some foods are minimally processed, meaning not much has been done to them before you eat them (ie fresh fruits and veggies, fresh meats, nuts and dried legumes and some whole grains [ie brown rice, quinoa and whole wheat berries, dsteel cut oats, etc]). Processed foods have an added step, like milling, canning, freezing or pasturization (not necessarily a bad thing). Ultra processed foods, however, have been stripped of most of their nutrition for the sake of convenience and preservation, and often have added sugar, sodium, fat and preservatives, as well as vitamins and minerals (because they took out the natural ones).


How The Term Clean Eating Can Be Problematic

If some foods are clean then some foods dirty, right? With this language, they have to be. How do you feel at the thought of eating dirty food? What comes to mind? Does it make you feel dirty somehow? Unhealthy? Well, issues with food and health don't just boil down to one food; it's about the pattern of eating (how much, how often, etc). Rigid eating patterns can affect your health in a negative way. In addition, clean eating can be seen as elitist eating. However, eating in a certain way doesn't make you a better (or worse) person than your best friend, or your spouse, or your colleagues...or anyone.

So how about thinking of food as food? No moral qualities. Just food. Instead, think about how that food makes you feel (physically and mentally) when you eat it.

For me, I think of certain foods as staples (everyday foods) and others as sometimes foods. If I ate sometimes foods all the time, I wouldn't feel great physically or mentally. But if I avoided them altogether, I wouldn't feel my best either. The key is finding balance...and learning what that is for you.


PS I looked at Panera's No No List. Artificial sweeteners are on that list...yet they sell Diet Pepsi. Hmmmmm.....