Heavily processed food has recently been linked to poor health and even early death. No wonder clean eating is having a moment
Doubtless you have heard the term a dozen times. In fact, a survey out this month from the not-for-profit International Food Information Council found “clean eating” to be the most widely followed diet among American consumers.
But what, exactly, is it? As a practicing dietitian with a doctorate in public health who has written books on the subject, I’m often tasked with explaining how to eat “clean”. And it’s not always easy.
I can best describe it as a holistic approach to seeking foods that are fresher, less processed and higher quality – with individuals defining each of these in personal ways. But the broader idea springs from the belief that the single most important investmentyou can make to your health on a daily basis is to eat well. And eating well starts with eating “clean.”
To ground the term in research, we can compare the health outcomes of eating whole foods to eating a highly processed diet. Observational studies have linked ultra-processed diets with poor health, risk of certain cancers, weight gain and early death. Just this month, researchers published a highly controlled clinical trial showing that eating highly processed foods can increase eating speed, total calories consumed and weight gain, compared with an unprocessed – or “clean” – whole foods diet.
While there is no one right way to do it, a clean eating approach focuses on whole foods and ingredients. It also limits or avoids ultra-processed foods, products with extra-long shelf life and certain ingredients you would not be able to buy retail in the supermarket. In short: clean eating privileges food in its natural state.
So where should you begin? Let’s lay it out in manageable steps.
What it is clean eating?
Simply put: it’s about choosing whole foods and ingredients, as well as products that are as minimally processed and additive-free as possible. The mindset should be affirming and not punishing. When you pick what to eat, prioritize:
Whole foods and ingredients first. By definition, whole foods have no added sugar, salt, fat, synthetic preservatives or chemicals.
Minimally processed foods made with whole and familiar ingredients.
Where possible, avoid foods with added synthetic chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, or artificial sweeteners, flavors and colors. Ultra-processed foods often contain artificial ingredients and excess or added sugar, fats or salt and, at the same time, have limited nutritional value.
The practice also promotes cooking at home, developing a culture of food that leads to meals that taste better and are better for you.
Ultimately, it’s a commitment to the long game: good health is a journey that involves sustainable changes in lifestyle and our relationship to food.
Read more: www.theguardian.com