Friday, March 30, 2012

Clean Eating: What does it mean, really?

Warning: this got long. A bona fide rant!

A recent conversation with a friend reminded me of how jumbled around and mixed up it can be these to do something as simple as eat healthfully. Especially after reading In Defense of Food, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and What to Eat, I'm more aware of the many road blocks that stand between us and simply eating food. 

It's not hard to imagine why: in this age of extreme marketing combined with the strong influence of special interest groups on government policies, it's hard to tell what is real these days. After all, almost every type of food puts billions of dollars behind marketing campaigns to convince us that their food is superior and to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. In the background, they have influential lobbyists who work very hard (and successfully) to protect the profit-generating interests of the growers of the food that employs them. And that's just for real food. The companies that manufacture food in factories (the thought of which should disturb more of us than it does) labor on creating that sweet spot of flavor, fat, and sugar that will activate the addiction centers of our brain and send us back to the store for more of their most recent innovation, which is easy to spot because the packaging features our child's favorite cartoon character.

Add to that the stacks and stacks of diet books, pills, fitness programs with accompanying nutrition plans, and celebrity gurus all jockeying for position to convince us that they have the miracle cure, the secret, the ancient berry that has suddenly been discovered will end belly fat forever. We follow their rules but really we just end up lighter in the wallet than on the scale.

It's enough to make you decide to chuck it all and reach for the Ben and Jerry's. I mean seriously, it's depressing. It made me so frustrated and angry that I decided to stop trying to figure it all out and go rogue. I gave up reading labels and started "eating clean." Soon, I found that I wasn't the only one; there were scores of people eating clean. Only they weren't eating what I was eating. They were eating processed food that they called, "clean," and which usually had a celebrity backing it. Because, as soon as food companies got wind of the concept of clean eating, they naturally started creating food that they could market as "clean." 

So, we all have our own definition of clean eating. Here's mine: one ingredient.

If it has more than one ingredient, narrow your eyes and get skeptical. The only time when I can see a loophole is if you bake something using a bunch of one-ingredient foods, like a loaf of bread. But otherwise, I define eating clean as eating stuff that just is what it is.

It is spinach.  Some almonds. A strawberry. An apple. Oats. Eggs. Yogurt. Chicken. Turkey. Peppers. Tomatoes. Squash.

You get the idea.

Shakes? Not clean. Bars? Not clean. Even granola bars? Not even granola bars. Even organic granola bars with a picture of an animal on them? No. Not even if it comes in a brown package. If you break a seal to eat it, likely you are eating something that is not "clean."

But do you care? Here's the thing - no one says you have to eat clean. It's a choice, and it's a personal one. And, what you eat is completely customizable to you and only needs to be approved by you. I eat my own definition of clean most of the time because I like it.

But, I'm not perfect. I don't always shell out the extra money for organic, so some of my food has pesticides, my eggs aren't from necessarily happy chickens, and my milk comes from cows that live in cow prisons. Some people would say this is hypocritical. I say I have to draw the line somewhere and have made my peace with it. And, I'm a human and puppy-dog eyes work on me, so my child eats stuff that isn't always clean. I pick my battles and do the best I can. The times that I don't, I get a quick reminder of the value of clean eating because I feel sooooo much better when I stick to real food.

Here's the point of my rambling today: if you decide to eat clean, really eat clean. Don't fall for the marketing campaigns and the celebrity promises and the hype of products that tell you they are clean. Because, if they need to tell you that, it likely isn't! I care about you and want you to be successful in your health goals. So please, back away from the center of the grocery store.

Get out there and get healthy today, whether you eat my definition of clean, your own definition of clean, or downright dirty. Just use your head, and pay attention to the man behind the curtain.


nursinmamaa said...

I reallyyyyy enjoyed this post.
Thank you for your bluntness and honesty!

Healthy Heather said...

Thank you! :) It really just got my goat today!

Jolene said...

I have a question about the shakes not being clean? Do you mean all protein shakes? I ask because I drink them quite regularly and thought I was doing a good thing???

Healthy Heather said...

Hi Jolene! Well, here are the ingredients for Isopure Dutch Chocolate Protein Powder: Isopure Dutch Chocolate: Ion Exchange Whey(milk) Protein Isolate, micro-filtered whey (milk) protein isolate, Vitamin/Mineral/Amino Acid Blend (taurine, potassium [as potassium chloride], chloride [as potassium and sodium chloride], calcium [as dicalcium phosphate dihydrate], phosphorus [as dicalcium phosphate dihydrate], L-Glutamine, magnesium [as magnesium oxide], Vitamin C[ascorbic acid], vitamin E [as dl-alpha tocopheryl acetate], niacin, zinc [as zinc sulfate dihydrate], vitamin A [as palmitate], pantothenic acid [as d-calcium pantothenate], vitamin B6 [as pyridoxine hydrochloride], copper [as amino acid chelate], manganese [as manganese sulfate dihydrate], riboflavin, thiamin [as thiamin hydrochloride], folic acid, biotin, iodide (as potassium iodide], chromium [as amino acid chelate], vitamin K, molybdenum [as amino acid chelate], selenium [as amino acid chelate], vitamin B12), soy lecithin, malic acid, citric acid, natural flavor, sucralose, FD&C red 40.

I don't consider this clean! Just an example, but most protein shakes are like this. Even the cleanest I have found, Publix Organic Greenwise Protein Powder, has "Cross-flow micro filtered whey protein isolate, micro-filtered and ultra-filtered why protein concentrate, fructose, dutch cocoa, natural chocolate flavor, natural vanilla flavor, hydrolyzed whey protein concentrate, soy lecithin, and xanthan gum." Soy lecithin and xanthan are thickeners, and natural flavors are always strange to me. If they are natural, why do they need to be added? :)

Ellen said...

AMEN, Sister!