Clean eating is a lifestyle that consists of eating whole foods that are in their natural state while avoiding processed foods, chemical additives, added sugar, pesticides, and GMOs. Clean eating is not a diet, so the affects are lasting with no ups and downs, any food restrictions, or calorie counting. Eating clean is not easy and takes dedication.
The principles around clean eating are to provide your body with proper nutrition and limit exposure to things that may and can lead to diseases such as cancer. If you can’t pronounce it and there is a long list of ingredients listed, then it probably isn’t clean. There are so many different chemicals being added to food these days. It is impossible to say with certainty that in combination with one another they don’t have negative effects on the body. So the best thing to do is avoid them all together. It is certainly possible that some of the chemical additives are safe, but they aren’t natural and it’s better to play it safe than sorry. There are plenty that have been proven to be harmful as hormone disrupters or carcinogens. A great resource is the Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org). The EWG lists out chemicals and additives and rates their level of disruption and classifies them.
So why avoid GMOs when eating clean? This is a tricky subject, which I won’t go deeply into in this post. The basic principle is that GMOs are not natural and have been modified in a genetics lab. There are several problems with this. First, we don’t know how these changes affect humans. Second, many of these genetic modifications allow the plants to be sprayed with herbicides such as Roundup (glyphosate) without being harmed. This means the plant is doused and absorbs these herbicides and therefore the herbicides are consumed. There are also environmental impacts, which I will only mention and not dive into further. Other examples of modification are the addition of insecticides into the genes of the plant causing the plant to produce the insecticide. This sounds great but if it kills an insect when eaten, logic says it will harm a human as well, especially in quantity. You may be thinking that we are many times larger than an insect so it shouldn’t bother us, but consider the fact that corn is in nearly all processed foods in one way or another, so how much does it take to harm humans? As far as I know there aren’t any safety studies in the quantities that we are exposed to. There is a lot more to this topic but this post is about clean eating.
I have talked a lot about what not to eat, so here is what you should eat. The best thing would be all organic produce and grass fed, free range animal products. This however is not always available and may not be in the budget. To help with this, there is an awesome resource called the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen by the EWG. The Clean 15 is a list of produce that have the least amount of chemicals used on them. This is the produce to save money on by buying non-organic. The Dirty Dozen list is the produce to absolutely buy organic because the items are so contaminated.
Here is the deal with free range or wild caught animal products. Most “conventional” animal products or “farm raised” fish are contained and fed “vegetarian feed” and often antibiotics. That doesn’t sound that bad until you dive into it deeper. The vegetarian feed is GMO corn and soybeans, the same stuff we want to avoid. Also, because these animals are contained and not allowed to roam they are essentially couch potatoes rather than fit animals. The combination of the two causes their omega-6 content to be significantly higher and the omega-3 content to be lower. This is an unhealthy combination as we want a close ratio of omega-3’s to omega-6’s. Grass fed beef for example is roughly a 1:1.75 ratio while grain fed is 1:9+ and as high at 1:13. The take away from this is grass fed animal products have a much more favorable fat profile which is good for promoting good health.
Major additives to avoid if eating clean are: high fructose corn syrup, monosodium glutamate (MSG), artificial flavors and colors, anything “hydrogenated”, sugar, food dyes, sodium nitrate or nitrite, BPA, artificial sweeteners (NutraSweet or aspartame, Splenda or sucralose, BHA & BHT, and trans fats. There are many others but this is a good starting list. You can expand this list by using the principle of if you can’t pronounce it, you probably don’t want to eat it. The safest thing however is to eat foods without labels such as fruits and vegetables!
Eating clean is not easy, due to the difficulty of finding clean food and the lack of support from others. Most people will think you are weird and may even poke fun about it. Most people who trust everything the FDA does will say all of these foods are safe because they are approved. (Quick note…everything that has been removed as unsafe was initially approved by the FDA). To successfully eat clean you must make the decision to take control of your health and safety, and most importantly be dedicated to it.