There are different perspectives on what clean eating means and the truth is, that the term is not regulated. As a result companies have misused it and labeled foods as such, that are not clean.
So what does clean actually stand for in this context?
Generally the term 'clean eating' or 'clean diet' refers to a diet of 'foods that are as close to their natural state as possible, maybe organic, and most likely with minimal use of any chemical additives and preservatives’.
As a consequence (highly) processed food stuffs including additives, such as sugar or salt are not clean.
Why should you care?
During processing - especially industrial processing - foods change. Some nutrients, such as vitamin C, A, B12 or B9 (folic acid) are not heat-stable and can denature. If heated strongly, the vitamins contained in food can be even destroyed. As a result, the nutrient content of foods that have been heavily heated during processing is significantly lower.
Aside from a lower nutrient intake there are also health-related risks for ingesting highly processed food. A study associated an 'ultra-processed foods diet' with a significant increase of greater than 10% in risks of cancer.
Industrial fat hydrogenation, the intense heating of fats and oils, produces trans fat, which is harmful to health. Why? Trans fats increase blood levels of bad cholesterol, which deposits on blood vessel walls and leads to atherosclerosis over time. The risk of a heart attack or stroke increases significantly. Diabetics and overweight people in particular should be very careful when consuming trans fatty acids.They are found in higher quantities in convenience foods, fast food and fatty baked goods. The food industry uses them because trans fats are inexpensive to produce and last a long time.
In order to guarantee the perfect taste, appearance or consistency and to increase shelf life, industrially processed products are often mixed with various additives. Some of them can cause health disadvantages. For example, sweeteners can damage the microbiome of our intestines and trigger health problems. The role of additives in the development of cancer is also discussed again and again.
And now what? Easy ways to eat clean
Here are some useful tips:
- Buy fresh produce: organic veggies, fruits, whole grains and food with healthy fats (e.g. avocados, flax seeds, hemp seeds, nuts, coconut oil). A study demonstrated that antioxidants ingested through a natural diet are more effective than taking supplements including antioxidants.
- DIY: Instead of buying pre-made meals it is better to prepare the food yourself. If you don’t have time you can resort to frozen veggies. Frozen veggies are the best alternative, since they retained most of their nutrients. We also love the bowls from Every Foods (their products are free of additives and preservatives).
- Pick your poison: If you need to indulge your sweet tooth try to stay away from refined sugar and artificial sweeteners. They can seriously harm your health.
- Enjoy: It is way easier to change what you eat if you actually enjoy it. Otherwise it will be challenging to maintain a new diet. The occasional indulgence that brings tons of joy is also allowed. If you feel you are overthinking your food choices re-evaluate your expectations. It also shouldn’t feel too restrictive. Your mental health is equally important.