Clean Eating: What is it? And is it for you?

Heard of Clean Eating but don't know exactly what it is? Well then, this blog is for you. In essence clean eating can be classified as a FAD diet and just like other FAD diets, the art of eating clean can become obsessive, dangerous and the opposite of healthy. Let us dive in and breakdown what clean eating involves, who it would benefit, the negatives and how it compares to the Australian Dietary Guidelines.


Nutrition Bite: On the surface, Clean Eating doesn’t look too bad... dig a little deeper and certain nutrients may be missing from the diet.
— Be Well Fed dietitian

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What is clean eating?

Clean eating has no definitive definition however a basic Google search alludes to the fact that it is a specific way of eating that includes whole foods, and aims to reduce the amount of processed foods purchased and eaten. 

What are the benefits of clean eating?

From multiple magazine articles written by un-qualified nutritionists, it looks as though clean eating is inclusive of whole foods and less of those processed foods. With many discretionary foods coming under the umbrella of being 'a processed food' high in saturated fat, sugar and salt, a positive of clean eating is that it may help to reduce these type of foods and promote a more whole food diet. 

But there are other foods classified as processed that are good for us. Processing can also increase the nutrient availability and can reduce the risk of food spoilage (stops bacteria from growing and making food inedible).

Here are some examples of processed foods that are good for us:

  • Pasteurised milk is raw milk that has been heat treated (processed) to reduce the risk of naturally occurring bacteria found in the milk. Milk is a great source of calcium, protein and vitamin D.

  • Whole grains  must be ground (a process) to a flour to form bread.

  • Milk is separated (processed) into curds and whey and the curds are left to mature forming cheese. 

  • Cutting (processed) broccoli for 40 minutes prior to cooking (processed) allows an enzyme myrosinase to active anti-oxidants found in the broccoli.

According to Clean Eating Magazine, there are other parameters to consider during Clean Eating including being mindful and including the whole family. Although this does sound great and strategies some dietitians use to help their clients achieve their health goals, clean eating does have a downside.

The negatives of Clean Eating

There are two big issues with Clean Eating. 

The first is the potential for Clean Eating to have an impact of mental health and body image. In fact, Eating Disorders Victoria summaries a whole host of scientific papers that point to dieting linked to body dissatisfaction, depression and it even increases the chances of developing an eating disorder. 

One example of an eating disorder becoming more prevalent around the world is orthorexia. This is when healthy eating becomes an obsession. Individuals experiencing orthorexia become consumed by the goal of eating food of the highest quality and in its purest form (Dr Karin Kratina provides a great explanation here). It can also go a step further and include all health behaviours such as exercise.

Clean Eating could be a catalyst for such a disorder as it restricts certain food types, alludes to the fact that you are safe from poor health if you eat this way and promotes a sense of identify or belonging through food.

The second issue with Clean Eating is that is does not include all five food groups as per the Australian Dietary Guidelines and as such puts individuals at risk of nutritional deficiencies.

A comparison between the Clean Eating guidelines and the Australian Dietary Guidelines is described below.

How does clean eating compare to the Australian Dietary Guidelines?

clean eating gold coast

The Clean Eating guidelines promote the avoidance of processed foods such as bread and milk. In bread, whole grains are a source of folate and iodine and milk contains calcium required for bone strength.

Yes to the 'Drink lots of water', and be mindful but restricting what you eat to food products containing less than three ingredients requires extreme dedication and a heap of time to prepare meals from scratch. A tick for promoting mindfulness and making mindful choices but there is no evidence to suggest that Clean Eating is a better way of eating or better for the environment.

Eat balance and variety, not clean

Instead of dieting (including eating clean), choose to include seasonal fruit and vegetables into everyday meals and opt for long term healthy eating changes rather than FAD diets like Clean Eating. With very few people achieving the recommended 5 serves of vegetables per day, eat balance and go for variety rather than being 'clean'. 

Summary:

Clean Eating may seem harmless on the surface but dig a little deeper and there are two major concerns. With young people at risk of eating disorders, labels and FAD diets like eating 'clean' may affect body image and result in a health obsession, otherwise known as orthorexia. The second issue is its avoidance of processed foods - typically thought of as discretionary foods, processed foods also include milk and bread. 

Instead of Clean Eating, learn how to cook quick and easy meals that benefit you as an individual. Book a cooking consult with Be Well Fed get a personalised dietary plan suited to you and your lifestyle.