What is clean eating?.. you hear it everyday at TV, radio, newspapers, blogs with sections specially dedicated to “help you” lose weight or feel better by eating certain foods that are labeled as clean.
Before I go straight into the subject, I want to point out that I don’t have anything against “clean eating diets” or “clean eating recipes” because at the end of the day, all that matters is reaching your allotted caloric intake.
All I want to do here is to be as transparent as I can with this whole clean eating issue.
What Does Clean Eating Means?
- For a normal person, every food that is considered bio.
- For a Paleo dieter, maybe some fruits.
- For a person that likes to has his bread from whole wheat: whole grain foods.
- For me? Every food that is properly washed, clean and has a good taste
As you can see, there are plenty point of views depending on what group you might fit in and the truth is that everybody is right and at the same time, everybody’s wrong.
Why Do People Think That Eating “Clean” Is Better?
Usually, when we talk about what is clean eating, the foods that are best inserted in this category are usually considered to be the ones that have low calories, are unprocessed, have all the nutrients.
“Dirty” foods are categorized as being processed foods, full of oils, trans saturated fats, high in calories and low in nutritional value.
Let’s take an old subject of a food considered dirty and talk about pizza.
If you take a pizza and analyze it, you will see that it contains ingredients like cheese, tomatoes, meat, olive oils and certain legumes.
If we take all of these ingredients one piece at a time, everybody would deem them as being clean foods that you can eat every day (I mean these foods are mostly on a “clean eating grocery list”) but how can the same people that believe that those separate foods are clean, label the combination of these ingredients as a transformation in “dirty” food?
This is just an example where a combination of foods that are considered clean, are labeled as dirty food.
The Evolution Of Clean Eating Through Time
If we were to go back with a time machine and look at clean eating through time, we would begin with the 80’s where the first mentions regarding clean vs dirty eating started to take place.
In the 80’s, everybody started putting the blame on the fat macro nutrient as being the source of all evil and from there, all kinds of fat free foods were hitting the shelves.
So if you wanted to eat clean like most people in that period, you would have to eat foods that were low in fat.
At the end of the 80’s, whole grains started to be regarded as a clean food and like always, people started to lean toward getting more of them in their diet.
In the 90’s, the fat macro nutrient was further separated into good and bad portions namely, saturated fats that were evil and unsaturated fats that were considered “god’s” mana.
Red meat and egg yolks were considered the main culprits when talking about cholesterol problems while grain consumption was back at a winning point.
The glycemic index started win its place in the fitness revolution so foods that were considered to have a low GI were “optimal” for keeping the “evil” insulin hormone at bay.
These were the times when the notion “6 small meals through the day, keeps the hunger away” started to appear and everybody jumped into the insulin bandwagon, believing that more frequent meals would raise their metabolism, keep their insulin levels lower and keep their health in check – if you still believe that, read about the meal frequency myth.
Going forward, in 2000’s, eating clean was mostly characterized in getting more of those omega 3 fats into your system (which wasn’t really a bad thing) and trans saturated fats along with vegetable oils were deemed as evil.
Along these beliefs, the carbohydrate phobia started to take place as more and more fat loss “guru’s” began arriving on the market with various research studies and books that scared the sh*t out of everyone.
Nevertheless, going forward, in today’s times,”what is clean eating” is mainly considered to be a Paleolithic style without grain consumption, alcohol or any kind of diary.
Everybody starts to embark on the “prehistoric” eating model. Eating as less processed and avoiding certain foods that are considered bad.
You just saw the general evolution of clean and dirty eating, but what’s next?
Before I address that question, I want to take a look at what foods are considered clean when looking at a typical bodybuilder.
The general rules also went ahead in this industry and most of the bodybuilders exaggerated certain facts regarding foods, putting a bad etiquette on almost everything that had too many carbohydrates.
The main foods that were hit by these bodybuilders were diary and fruits and that’s why so many bodybuilders tell you that eating milk pre contest or fruits is always bad.
Because they believe that fruits or diary hinders their fat loss efforts when it was demonstrated countless times that calories in vs calories out rule our body composition changes and the only thing you need to know is how many calories you need to eat in order to lose fat!
The irony here is that whey is also a powdered form of milk protein…
If we were to classify foods comparing their nutrient density, you could be amazed to find out that there are many energy dense foods, but they still contain a healthy dose of micro/macro nutrients.
I don’t really advise anyone to only base their nutritional efforts on getting their energy balance in favor of fat loss or weight gain while eating anything in sight as long as calories are in the range; I want people to be responsible with their diets and use the moderation technique.
There is nothing wrong with eating “dirty” or “clean” foods everyday for the rest of your life because I and many other people out there have been on both sides and nothing bad really happened: I didn’t gained or lost weight if I ate a certain food.
It really doesn’t make a difference what you eat (as long as you don’t choose to drink cooked oil all day long).
The single “side-effect” of eating foods that are slightly more processed than others is that you may not be that full for a long period of time (fiber is lower).
The reality is that food is energy and if you get more energy than you expend, you will gain weight no matter what BUT if you get less energy, you will lose weight no matter what.
You can easily insert a brownie or cookie as a desert to your regular “clean eating meal plans” as long as it fits your macro’s, and nothing wrong will happen.
Remember: everything in moderation and there is no clean eating diet
Conclusion – What Is Clean Eating?
There’s no real notion of clean eating!
For me, the notion of a healthy life is: enjoying life, drinking with moderation, eat anything I want (well, almost -> I still take vitamins and eat a healthy dose of fruits and vegetables daily), learn to cook delicious food (this is tricky and might leave a bad taste in your mouth first times you’ll start cooking – a good cooking book can be found here) and get my body better in the gym.
The rest doesn’t matter.
The only difference between clean eating and dirty eating is how much of each you eat.
What is clean eating for you?