Clean Eating - what does it all mean?

So, nowadays we need labels - for everything apparently!! But why do we need to label our diets too?

Well, as we change our cultural norms for the types of food we eat, and the way we prepare it, some make a conscious decision to opt out. But being an "outsider" puts you automatically in the minority, and we always have a need to call those groups something. In fact it is often the group itself that will present the "label", as this will help them to feel as part of a community, a movement if you will, and will likewise provide the individual with a greater understanding of their own identity. Whether it be vegetarian, vegan, pescetarian, ovo-lacto-pescetarian or any other diet related label you can think of.

What does "Clean Eating" mean then? By most it is agreed that it signifies a diet that nurtures the body by eating food prepared from real, whole foods, without additives, preservatives, colouring or even just highly processed foods, including large amounts of refined sugar.

But why should that be a destinction? Isn´t it just normal food? YES!! That´s exactly it. But how normal are the "food-like-substances" we are presented with on daily basis? Going to the supermarket try to notice how many things are wrapped in colourful packaging with labels that require substantial knowledge to pronounce even. The discussion of fillers, corn starch and preservatives is a fascinating one, that can be addressed some other time. But the point of this blog is to explore why we need to label eating "Clean".

It´s because it´s sadly no longer the cultural norm. Some argue that living in modern society we are too busy to cook for ourselves, or the availability of fresh produce is too small. Longevity in packs is convenient, no doubt about it, but why are we so willing to accept these excuses as facts. In almost all cities, there are beautiful fresh produce markets. So it must be a time thing? And time is money, right? So maybe it´s an economy thing too? But eating clean is usually also eating cheap. Have you ever looked at the price of a bag of potatoes versus a pre-fabricated bag of french fries? The whole food usually wins out! Or what about a bag of onions, versus onion rings, or flour and eggs versus pancake mix?

The point is, that eating clean is about much more than simply eating food like substances to survive. It is about nurturing your body and helping it THRIVE!

And why not? Isn´t it generally acknowledged that your health is your most valuable possession? Why would you deliberately poison the only body you are likely to have while on this planet? Why not feed your body the best food available, by prioritizing your time and energy on making real nutrient rich fuel that will feed not just your body, but your soul, your health and that of your family, your friends and indeed also the planet.

This is where ecology comes in. Many who accept the label as "Clean Eaters", do so without feeling the need to add "Organic" to the label, because it´s obvious to them. 

I have a hard time with arguing that eating organic is healthier. No scientific studies have shown that there is significant health benefits from eating organic produce. However, there are some studies appearing, that argue that eating industrially farmed products can be harmful in a myriad of ways.

Meat production with antibiotics and hormone treatments for example? Overwhelming evidence of the implications for humans through these production methods is becoming more and more acknowledged. Whether it be the increasing numbers of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria that flourish in these animals and now also in humans.  Or be it the human hormone disturbances witnessed by a growing number of people. But all this needs more research with unequivocal results, to truly make a difference in legislation. 

Produce from my local organic market

Produce from my local organic market

Chemicals in vegetable and fruit production through herbi- and pesticides, have long been discussed, and some substances have been banned. A lot of brilliant and important research is done to develop new chemicals that will enable food production that is more efficient, safer for humans and the environment and make the plants less prone to diseases through pests etc., all of which will provide food for the planets growing population.

Being trained as a doctor, we learned all about the bodies amazing ability to cleanse itself. All the fascinating pathways that the cells of the body can utilize to excrete waste and harmful substances. And that is all true!! But I can´t help but wonder why we insist on testing ourselves constantly? Wouldn't it be better to strive towards providing your body with the best possible conditions for functioning at an optimal level? I, like so many others choose to eat organic for this very reason. Do we have all the facts yet? Are we not still in the very beginning of living as humans surrounded by all these chemical substances ? And that´s not just through our food source either. What will the long term effects be? Perhaps nothing!  But perhaps we are already in fact beginning to see the effects in the rise in autoimmune diseases, certain types of cancer, early onset puberty, autism and many many other diseases that are being heavily investigated in these years. It will certainly be interesting to learn more. But what of the disease prevention in eating a healthy clean diet now? Shouldn't we all start that today anyway?

Just because we don´t have solid proof yet, that all these additives to our food production is harmful, doesn´t the idea of eating clean healthy food appeal to most responsible intelligent adults? Why risk it?

As a doctor we always think in terms of toxic dose and safe levels of a given substance when prescribing medicine. But we also learned that ALL things on the planet, are potentially harmful if ingested in large enough quantities. Some of the fastest effects on the human body can be seen with seemingly innocuous things like oxygen and water. This statement merely serves to underline that anything in excess is probably not a good thing. But do we really know what too much is yet regarding many of the substances discussed earlier?

Then there's the whole bit about it being as simple as this: Eat vegetables and lean meats and dairy (for those who wish), in reasonable and balanced quantities, to keep a "normal" weight and maintain your bodies optimal health and prevent most chronic diseases. 

Besides, when the father of "modern" medicine, Hippocrates said "Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food", I doubt he was forward thinking enough to anticipate that we receive our "prescriptions" through the meat we eat or the prepackaged foodstuff being served in schools, nursing homes, prisons - and yes, even hospitals!!

So, in conclusion. Eating clean is not about eating any particular predefined list of ingredients, rather its about NOT eating products that don´t resemble the plant or animal it originated from. Basically, eating food that has been prepared from seasonal whole foods, and with care and attention, will provide yourself and others with nutrient packed goodness :)

I must stress, that eating more fruits and vegetables in its whole and home cooked form, is healthier than prepackaged fake foodstuff, be it organic vegetables or not.

I hope to have entertained a little, provoked a little and perhaps inspired a little to learn more about Clean Eating.

For those interested I can highly recommend the book "CLEAN" by Alejandro Junger M.D. (ISBN: 978-0-22016609). 

You can also check out www.cleaneatingmag.com for loads of information, inspiration and recipes.

I wish you health and happiness!