The internet is rife with buzzwords. Paleo, low carb, superfoods, organic…the list goes on and on. One of my biggest annoyances lately is the buzzword “Clean Eating.” Why is it annoying me? Because half the time when I click on a website talking about the topic, I roll my eyes at their definition of clean eating. Example: I found a website boasting the best “clean eating” recipe for a dip and then showed pictures of pre-made guacamole in a box! What’s wrong with fresh avocados?!
While the definition of clean eating can be different for everyone, I’m pretty sure that if it comes out of a box, it’s not clean.
What does clean eating mean to me?
It means I eat fresh fruits and veggies that I grow in my garden, buy at a farmer’s market, or the produce section of the grocery store. It’s not in a can, in a box, with added sugar or sodium. I try and limit the foods I eat that come out of a box. If HFCS is listed as an ingredient, I skip it.
There are a million websites out there on the topic and a lot of them say clean eating is vegan or vegetarian. That’s not MY definition (especially when it comes to processed faux meats and soy products!). As a reformed vegetarian, I do eat meat and lots of seafood and I try my best not to get the stuff that is corn-fed. I like the Trader Joe’s meat–it’s spendy but worth it because it tastes great, is organic and grass-fed and not pumped with hormones.
Clean eating to me means eating snacks that are natural. Am I perfect all the time? No but I do my best (90/10!). For example: if I want a snack I eat nuts, veggies with avocado, fresh seasonal fruit, things like that. I definitely eat some processed foods–I love plain Greek yogurt and cottage cheese as a healthy snack.
I try my best to buy foods that are in season. We’re coming up on cherry season–which I am ecstatic about! And it’s perfect timing because the apples I’ve gotten at the store have been terrible lately. Time to switch to summer fruits!
“Food that’s clean is food that’s for the most part real food and not encumbered with things that compromise health: artificial flavorings, artificial colorings, sugar substitutes,” said Katz. (source)
The clean eating rule of thumb: The shorter the ingredient list, the better. Michael and I eat a specific brand of corn tortilla chips because they are gluten free (for him), taste great, and are basically 2 ingredients. Check the back of a bag or box of food the next time you’re in the grocery store. How many ingredients are listed? Is it half the box? Is it a bunch of words you can’t pronounce? Probably a good idea to avoid it.
“I don’t think sugar makes food unclean. Pure fruits are not unclean foods. You can add sugar to foods, and it can be clean. … It’s not about banishing any particular type of ingredient,” said Katz. ” It needs to be a holistic concept. There’s a real danger in placing it on just one ingredient.” (source)
I don’t think sugar is the Boogie-Man of healthy eating. Like I’ve said a million times before, everything in moderation. I’d rather eat real sugar than the chemically altered stuff like nutrisweet and splenda. There was definitely a time in my life when I did eat a lot of substitutes because they were low calorie options. While it worked for me to lose weight, I wouldn’t say I felt fantastic. Diet soda may have zero calories but the chemicals and weird sugar in it always make me feel gross.
I also don’t think you have to eliminate EVERY processed food in order to eat clean. Rice, whole grain pastas, quinoa, etc…all of those things can be part of a healthy diet. I eat sushi a lot and I definitely use soy sauce–which comes from a bottle obviously–but I’m not going to nitpick. There’s a difference between nitpicking and being smart.
What About Supplements?
So what about supplements and vitamins? Michael recently started trying a Whey product because he’s doing a good 100 miles a week on the bike. He wasn’t getting enough calories, even though he was eating a massive amount of food during the day. He’s still experimenting with what works and what doesn’t, but the whey seems to help him with feeling more satisfied.
I used to drink a lot of protein shakes. I tried the store bought kind and back in the day the only one I liked was the Atkins shake. It was low in calories and tasted great. Then I went through a phase where I made my own shakes with some protein, fresh fruit and yogurt. I eventually stopped doing that because I wasn’t feeling satisfied when I drank it.
I do take some vitamins. I take a multivitamin. I take Vitamin D because I live in the Northwest and I’m deficient (as are most people in Oregon and Washington according to my doctor). I’d really rather prefer to get my vitamins my body needs from food naturally but like Vitamin D, that’s sometimes not possible.
About a year ago I started taking B12 1000 complex (from Costco). It’s supposed to give you more energy and I did feel like it gave me a little boost. I can get Vitamin B from foods like beans, bananas, lentils, and potatoes. I like all of those things but I wouldn’t say that I eat them consistently enough to think I’m getting a good source of B from the food.
I also take Krill oil. This one I’m iffy on. Is it necessary? Especially since I eat so much seafood? I eat salmon at least once a week, shrimp once a week, and if I’m craving sushi I eat a ton of tuna and salmon rolls. Shouldn’t that be enough? Is the krill oil giving me anything extra or is just something else “unnatural” that I’m adding to my diet? I’m not sure what the answer is!
What freaks me out is that we’re hearing more and more about GMO’s and how foods we get at the stores are often genetically modified and WE DO NOT KNOW IT! How scary is that? I wish that they would pass a law that stuff like that needs to be label everywhere. It’s important information to have if you’re trying to eat clean but who has the advanced knowledge to figure that out in the middle of a grocery store? (Check out an old post: The End of Food and Nutrition: Who to Trust?.)
I know what clean eating means for me and I strive to attain that. It’s never 100% perfect and I still rely on processed foods (like canned soups and beans) for meals sometimes. I definitely get lazy once in awhile and eat a Lean Cuisine for lunch. But more often than not, I am taking homemade, leftovers and salads made from my garden for lunches at work. It takes more effort, for sure, but I feel so much better!
So what about you? What is clean eating for YOU?