Getting the Down and Dirty Details on Eating Clean

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Have you been eating clean? That just sounds like such a weird term. I mean, does it mean preparing foods on clean surfaces? Do you wash your food before preparing it? Do you make sure you use clean plates at every meal? It turns out that your answer should be “None of the above.” But it turns out that there are many definitions and recommendations of how you should “eat clean.”


    For instance, some definitions state that eating clean is eating foods in their most natural state. “This means avoiding processed foods, foods with loads of preservatives, foods with lots of added sugar, and foods with high levels of bad fats (some saturated fats/all trans fats),” Matt Paley, who has worked in the fitness injury for more than a decade, wrote in a blog on Share It Fitness. “Alternatively, you want to avoid foods that have been stripped of their nutritional value and/or have been injected with a heaping dose of six-syllable chemicals.”

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    Other experts question some of the recommendations from the books that advocate a clean diet. For instance, Scott Gavura, a pharmacist who works in the Ontario cancer system and serves as a regular contributor to Science-Based Medicine, wrote, “Categorizing foods as or diets as ‘clean’ is clearly a successful marketing strategy, but is less useful when it comes to daily decision-making about good nutrition. Some of the concepts that underlie ‘eating clean’ are supported by good scientific evidence. But the ‘eating clean’ philosophy is imbued with a considerable amount of pseudoscience and a large amount of the naturalistic fallacy.”


    For instance, Gavura points out that some of the Clean Foods recommendations espoused by Tosca Reno, who has pioneered Clean Eating, are supported by research. These include consuming adequate healthy fats daily and avoiding over-processed, refined foods, such as those containing white flour and sugar. Yet, other recommendations don’t have good evidence to back them up (although the recommendations themselves are not intrinsically harmful). These recommendations include: eat 5-6 small meals daily; combine lean protein and complex carbs during each meal; drink at least 2 liters of water daily; never miss a meal; be sure to eat breakfast; and keep a cooler loaded with eat-clean foods with you so you can consume them during the day. Other recommendations – like disregarding calories – are not sound, Gavura stated.


    Paley encourages people to stop overthinking what this eating style is. Instead, he suggests following seven basic guidelines:

    • Eat unrefined, whole grains.
    • Consume an abundance of fresh, local, organic fruits and vegetables.
    • Eat free-range and grass-fed meats and dairy.
    • Focus on making your meals more vegetable-centered than meat-centered.
    • Drink plenty of water or other no-calorie drinks.
    • Use healthy cooking methods (baking, steaming and light sautéing) when possible.
    • Consuming healthy fats from natural sources (nuts, avocadoes, organic coconut oil, etc.). also offers five principles to consider in order to eat "clean" – choose whole grains, eat more vegetables, eat less meat, limit sodium, and limit process foods.


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    So what’s the best way to eat the best diet going into 2014? Based on the evidence that I’ve read in writing shareposts for this site, I’d suggest exploring the Mediterranean diet. It includes a lot of components that are part of a clean diet (lots of produce, healthy fats, less meat, and a focus on whole grains) but it also is being backed up by a bunch of research that underscores the nutritional value it provides, especially in protecting long-term health. As I noted in a  sharepost earlier this month, a meta-analysis of 22 empirical studies found that this type of diet was consistently associated with a lower risk of stroke, depression and cognitive impairment (think Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia). Another study found that women who followed Mediterranean diet while in middle age were more like to reach their 70s without chronic illness or physical/mental issues.


    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Eating (2013). 5 principles of clean eating.

    Gavura, S. (2013). Should you be “eating clean”? Science-Based Medicine.


    Paley, M. (2013). What IS clean eating and how do I do it?

Published On: December 30, 2013