When does eating healthfully turn, well, silly? In today’s post i’d like to just briefly touch on the topic of “clean eating” and why I believe that it is a unclear term which should not be supported.
Have you heard the term “clean eating”? What do you think it means? Maybe you think it means:
- Unprocessed foods
- No prepackaged foods
- Whole “natural” foods
- No solid fats
- No added salt
- Green drinks
I could go on, but you get the picture.
The general consensus is on making certain foods “good” and other foods “bad”. Maybe it’s because of “processing”, “chemicals”, “??reasons”, etc.
The truth of the matter is, this mentality ignores the entire energy balance, macronutrient intake, micronutrient intake, and can create food phobias and potentially eating disorders such as “Orthorexia”.
It’s important that I de-bunk some of the information commonly provided by “clean” eaters.
Processing does not devalue a food product.
As a matter of fact almost all foods that you consume are processed in some way. Yes, even the fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy products commonly available at your supermarket have been processed. Is this bad? Absolutely not!
The fresh vegetables you purchase have been sprayed with pesticides (YES, even if they’re organic!), the fruit you purchase has been sprayed with pesticides/exposed to chemicals such as Ethylene to ripen faster. The meats you purchase come from animals who have been exposed to disease, and subsequently antibiotics. And of course processing dairy through Pasteurization and the plethora of other processing required to make cheeses, yogurt, and whey products.
Thanks to our current methods of food processing you, the consumer, can now buy produce from all over the world and at all times during the year. We’re able to have crops which survive drought and infestation, with plants that grow more abundantly and whose taste is more enjoyable. We can keep animals from infecting the herd with disease. We’re able to drink milk safely and keep products shelf stable.
So what does this all mean? A product is not a “bad” food, simply because it’s been “processed”.
All foods are filled with “chemicals”.
Yes, thats right. All foods are filled with chemicals. Quite often you’ll see people saying “if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it!”. I think it’s important to note that we shouldn’t base our willingness to consume foods on our ignorance of chemistry. Quite often these chemicals are from natural or safe man-made sources.
All foods products with *added* chemicals must follow strict guidelines for food safety and health, and are rigorously tested by authorities all over the world. Things such as artificial sweeteners, synthetic vitamins, and more have been repeatedly tested for safety and repeatedly shown to be safe.
I believe that this tactic is often used to create unnecessary fear and market products which “appear” less processed or “healthier”.
Organic does not mean pesticide free. And the “Dirty Dozen” (or foods with the most pesticide residue) have such small traces of pesticide that it is almost negligible.
That’s right, think you’re doing “good” by eaten organic? The truth is that organic farmers can still use pesticides on produce, however, the pesticides they use are less efficient than conventionally grown crops. Often organic crops contain the same nutrition as conventionally grown crops except they are more prone to damage, waste, and are more difficult to care for.
“Just recently, an independent research project in the UK systematically reviewed the 162 articles on organic versus non-organic crops published in peer-reviewed journals between 1958 and 2008 11. These contained a total of 3558 comparisons of content of nutrients and other substances in organically and conventionally produced foods. They found absolutely no evidence for any differences in content of over 15 different nutrients including vitamin C, ?-carotene, and calcium. There were some differences, though; conventional crops had higher nitrogen levels, while organic ones had higher phosphorus and acidity – none of which factor in much to nutritional quality. Further analysis of similar studies on livestock products like meat, dairy, and eggs also found few differences in nutritional content. Organic foods did, however, have higher levels of overall fats, particularly trans fats. So if anything, the organic livestock products were found to be worse for us (though, to be fair, barely).
“This is great news for consumers. It proves that the 98% of food we consume, which is produced by technologically advanced agriculture, is equally nutritious to the less than 2% derived from what is commonly referred to as the ‘organic’ market,” said Fredhelm Schmider, the Director General of the European Crop Protection Association said in a press release about the findings.12“
Foods are not automatically higher in “nutrition” simply because they come from a “natural” source.
This is probably the biggest and most painful myth I run into at Pop Fitness. Many times consumers will try and eat perceivably “healthy” food items while unknowingly consuming far more calories and less micronutrients than the “processed/bad” sources.
If I can stress anything on this blog post it’s that we should look at the big picture of our overall diet. Firstly ensuring that we’re consuming adequate Calories to maintain a healthy body weight. Second that we’re consuming the required micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), essential fats, and the full spectrum of the essential amino acids. Third, that the foods we are consuming are enjoyable and sustainable for life.
Beyond this, you do not get extra “goody” points because the foods you eat are from “natural” sources. As a matter of fact, you could be shooting yourself in the foot by consuming “clean” sources.
For example, peanut butter. Or chia seeds. These foods are often praised for their “natural” high protein content. Unfortunately, they are also very high in calories. If you were to make a protein shake and use peanut butter or chia seeds as your source of protein, instead of, a protein powder you would find:
- Whey Protein Average: 120 calories, 25 grams of protein
- Peanut Butter Average: 588 calories, 25g of protein
- Chia seeds: 714 calories, 25g of protein
It’s fairly easy to see that the “natural” source does not always offer the best source of nutrition.
You are not reaching your nutritional needs just because you eat a variety of foods.
This method may be a helpful reminder to consume a variety of foods and increasing your chance of complete nutritional intake, however, it is not absolute. I just want to reiterate; it is not absolute. Unless you are tracking your daily food intake and subsequently your macro/micronutrient intake it is very possible to get inadequate quantities of nutrients over a long period of time.
A nutritionally complete diet requires careful planning and tracking. This is not negotiable when it comes to long-term health. If you are vegan, vegetarian, currently eating a SAD, or otherwise I encourage you to track in the handy and free tool: https://cronometer.com/
Don’t leave your health up to chance. By tracking your intake you can easily see how you’re doing and what steps (increasing certain foods or supplements) are needed to remedy any potential problems.
That’s it for my quick little post on clean eating! For more information on nutrition I encourage you to purchase Evolve The Healthy Lifestyle Transition Plan which includes detailed information about how to track calories, macro, micronutrients, and daily recommended requirements.