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Diet & Nutrition

The Truth about "Clean Eating"

Clean eating is the practice of choosing foods in their whole-food state, and avoiding processed and refined foods. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, the interpretation of clean eating can vary from person to person. Here, from a Mayo dietitian, is an overview of the issue.

“I’ve seen many nutrition trends over the years,” says Anne Bauch, Mayo Clinic Health System registered dietitian, says in an article on the Mayo Clinic News Network. “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.”

“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, the Mayo article says, that encourages us to be more aware of the “traceability” of food and what the ingredients are in a particular product. But there are some elements to be wary of.

“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.”

In the Mayo article, Bauch points out that many manufacturers can send misleading messages. They can refer to their products as clean or having clean ingredients, but 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.

In the article, Bauch offers some strategies for following a healthier diet while trying to eat clean:

Eat more whole foods. Focus on foods that are straight from the farm. Incorporate more whole foods into your diet. Use more foods that are straight from the farm, plus fresh fruit and vegetables (at meals or as snacks); and choose whole grains. When it comes to meat, use grass-fed and free-range. Additionally, go for lower-fat dairy products, as well as nuts and seeds.

Limit processed foods. It’s true that this can be limiting, the article says, since most foods are processed in some way. But you can start by focusing on the most heavily processed foods, such as junk food. However, start by eliminating heavily processed and junk foods. Some packaged foods can – canned fish, dried beans and peanut butter – are nutritious. Make sure you understand the ingredient list.

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