The trendiness of better for you foods philosophies-- such as eating more plants and locally sourced foods-- has unquestionably made us more conscious of what we're putting on our plates. It's also converted reading labels at the grocery into a pursuit of food forensics-- does that "certified organic" stamp promise a food is healthy? Why doesn't your package of kale chips have a "certified vegan" mark? How do you know if a food is locally made? Morally produced?
Clean food started to get popular back in the mid-1990s. Grocery chains were starting to "clean up" store brand ingredient lists by removing chemical ingredients and weird sounding names.
Back then, this move was considered controversial, because it involved doing away with added nutrients, listed by their technical, non-household names (like pantothenic acid, a B vitamin), as well as eliminating preservatives, which meant short shelf lives (e.g., would consumers really want bread that gets hard or moldy within a few days?).
But this was an idea whose time had come. Consumers were beginning to take notice of how foods were prepared, and what they were made of, health food stores were attracting more and more clients, and many natural food stores and farmer's markets experienced remarkable 4-year growth of 544% between 1989 and 1993, making it one of the speediest growing sectors in America.
Today, two decades down the road, clean eating, or eating clean, is a major movement, triggered by people from all walks of life who want to feel good about what they're putting in their bodies.
When we asked our readers "What does clean and healthy eating mean to you?" we received a variety of replies, from simply "eating fresh fruits and veggies," to "not eating anything counterfeit."
Over the years, my own ideas of what it means to eat clean have evolved hugely, here's my current take on what this philosophy (which I'm a huge fan of):
Eat foods that are minimally processed.
This one is pretty uncomplicated-- instead of a carrot cake, eat a carrot and some nuts! The primary principle of eating clean is to replace highly processed foods with fresh and natural foods. To me, this means foods that haven't had anything added to them, and haven't had anything valuable taken away.
So, even if you're not flourishing quinoa in your back yard, you can buy this whole grain in the bulk section of your market, or in a box, where the only ingredient is quinoa, and only quinoa. That's a far cry from a refined grain, that's been deprived of its fiber-rich bran (outer skin) and healthful germ (the inner part that sprouts into a new plant), bleached, and disguised with preservatives.
Let ingredients guide you.
I don't think it's pragmatic to never eat anything that comes out of a jar, box, or bag , but when you do, the very first thing a clean eater looks at is the ingredient list and the nutritional label. Reading it is the only way to really know what's in your food, and choose foods that are as close to their natural state as possible.
FoodSniffr.com is among my favorite apps as they do all this heavy-lifting for you.
I picked up one of my preferred brands, which are made with: organic buckwheat and rice, organic whole quinoa, organic pumpkin and chia seeds, organic brown flax seeds, organic brown sesame seeds, organic poppy seeds, filtered water, sea salt, organic black pepper, organic herbs-- all "real" and recognizable ingredients; a list that almost reads like a recipe I could recreate in my own kitchen.
They will spotlight what they call as the good, the bad and the get more info ugly in various grocery foods. They can also tell you if the product is gluten free, lactose free, corn free etc; if it has GMOs, or is high sugar, high salt etc. The biggest plus for me though is click here learning about the unsavory ingredients in my favorite products - msg, TBHQ and here other weird names that I had ignored in the past - but realize now how damaging they are to my health.
Bingo! Clean eating is about concentrating on quality first, and not letting terms like zero trans fat, low sodium, or sugar free fool you into thinking that a processed food is healthy.