What Does Clean Eating Mean?
As I mentioned in a previous post, there are a plethora of food diets to choose from based on your weight goals, health conditions, religious beliefs, or other specifications.
In my sustainable health and wellness coaching, I focus on “clean eating,” a term that has become more commonly used in the health community over the past several years. So what does clean eating really mean?
Clean eating is a collection three key practices that promote a diet free of chemicals and emphasizes eating natural, sustainable foods. It consists of 1) Limiting the number of ultra-processed foods that you consume, 2) Eating organic foods, and 3) Reducing foods in your diet that produce inflammation.
Limiting the Number of Ultra-Processed Foods that You Consume
Ultra-processed foods are foods that have been drastically modified from their original form. Ready-to-eat foods, such as frozen or pre-made meals, deli meat, crackers, and chips, are considered ultra-processed.
While food processing with additives and preservatives prolongs the shelf life of products, the human body wasn’t necessarily made to have large quantities of these chemicals in its system. In addition, these ultra-processed foods are often high in sugar and/or sodium, which is also detrimental to your health.
Research has linked ultra-processed foods to a higher risk for heart disease and cancer. Eating these foods can also lead to weight gain and obesity, possibly because the ingredients disrupt hormones that control hunger or change the signals between our gut and our brain that tell us when we're full.
Eating Organic Foods
According to its website, foods that obtain the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic seal “must be produced using agricultural production practices that foster resource cycling, promote ecological balance, maintain and improve soil and water quality, minimize the use of synthetic materials, and conserve biodiversity.”
Why buy organic foods? Because it certifies that you’re not exposed to any of the following farming practices that could adversely affect your health:
Genetically modified organisms (GMO) - GMO crops are foods that have been genetically engineered to resist certain pests and ultimately increase crop yields. In the US, a whopping 95% of soybean, 95% of canola, and 99% of sugar beet crops are genetically modified. While genetic modification has enhanced food production capabilities, it is still unknown as to how GMOs affect humans and the ecosystem.
Chemical pesticides - The purpose of pesticides in food is to kill insects and other pests that eat crops that we eat. The chemicals are toxic to these pests, and are said to not be harmful to humans in low doses. However, there’s no way of knowing how much of a pesticide still resides in or has been absorbed into the food you’re eating, so you never really know your level of exposure to them.
Antibiotics - Oftentimes, the same antibiotics that are used to treat humans are also given to the animals we eat to also protect them from sickness and disease. The use of antibiotics in livestock can lead to antibiotic resistance in humans. While this may not seem bad on the surface, the problem comes when humans get infected with antibiotic-resistant germs that do not respond to antibiotics, putting your health and life at risk.
Reducing Foods that Produce Inflammation
Inflammation is the body’s way of signaling that something isn’t right. For example, when you get a mosquito bite, itching tells you that the mosquito made contact and the redness is an indicator that your body is working to repair the damage done by the bug. This one-and-done type of inflammation is called acute because it only happened once and for a short amount of time.
Chronic inflammation, however, is a long-term response to continued stimulation of your body’s immune response being under attack by what it considers to be an invading substance. Research has shown that chronic inflammation can lead to serious health issues like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and gastrointestinal diseases.
For people with food allergies and sensitivities in particular, these invading substances can take the form of specific types of foods like sugar, gluten, dairy, soy, and others. So it may not be necessary for you to completely eliminate certain foods if you don’t have reactions to them. Regardless of your allergies or sensitivities, however, high glucose or cholesterol levels are an indication that your diet is likely contributing to inflammation and needs to be modified.