• By Micah Dorfner

Clean Eating: Getting to the Source

August 23, 2016

a woman pushing a shopping cart in the store, filled with vegetables for healthy eating“I’ve seen many nutrition trends over the years,” says Anne Bauch, Mayo Clinic Health System registered dietitian. “Many of us are looking for the best ways to eat to promote weight loss, lower the risk of chronic disease or improve overall wellness. The most recent nutrition trend is called clean eating.”

Clean eating is the practice of choosing foods in their whole-food state, and avoiding processed and refined foods. However, the interpretation of clean eating can vary from person to person.

“For some, only whole foods are clean; for others, minimally processed foods are acceptable,” explains Bauch. “Clean eating also can imply eating mostly vegetables and fruits, whole grains, animal- and plant-based protein, nuts, seeds and oils. Clean eating is an intentional way of eating that includes only minimally processed, nonpackaged foods that don’t originate from a factory.”

Clean eating is a lifestyle. It’s a way of eating that encourages the consumer to be mindful of the traceability of food. Clean eating can encourage people to read labels, know food sources and think more thoughtfully about the nutritional value in foods.

“As a dietitian, I have some concerns that clean eating may be misinterpreted,” says Bauch. “Consumers may feel defeated if they are unable to be successful in meeting the clean eating definitions. Clean eating is not meant to assign moral value with eating habits. It’s great the clean eating trend is prompting more people to look at eating less of the things we don’t want in our diet, but it shouldn’t make anyone feel inferior if they eat something out of a bag or box.”

Bauch says many manufacturers are misrepresenting scientific evidence on food packaging. They refer to their products as clean or having clean ingredients. Even when a food product is made with clean ingredients, it doesn’t necessarily make it healthier. Fresh-pressed juice still is a concentrated form of sugar, and vegan chocolate pudding still is a dessert.

Bauch offers several tried and true eating principles to follow for a healthier diet:

  • Incorporate more whole foods into your diet. Use more foods that are straight from the farm. Add more fruit and vegetables to your meals or have them as snacks. Select whole grains when able. Use grass-fed and free-range meats, and lower-fat dairy, along with nuts and seeds.
  • Limit processed foods. Avoiding all processed foods can be limiting, especially since most foods you eat and drink have been processed in some way. However, start by eliminating heavily processed or and other junk foods. When selecting processed foods, look for ingredient lists that are transparent. In other words, foods that are really what they claim to be. You should be able to understand the source from the ingredients on the packaging. There are some exceptional packaged foods that make it easier to eat well. Canned fish, dried beans and peanut butter are just a few examples.
  • Eliminate refined sugar. In general, eating right isn’t about avoiding any one food in particular. Eating right should be about choosing simple, unrefined foods and enjoying them. Foods in a natural state don’t contain added sugar. Try to reduce refined sugars, because it’s nothing but calories.
  • Drink more water. Focus on managing your thirst with water. Don’t rely heavily on sweetened beverages or juices to stay hydrated. Flavoring water with lemon or other fruits can make for a healthy sipping option.

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