It seems you can’t go one day without hearing someone talk about “clean eating.” Whether it is a news segment, a story from a friend or family member, or the ever popular social media – it is EVERYWHERE! And I’m going to tell you a little secret – that phrase is actually one of my biggest pet peeves. You are probably thinking, what?! A dietitian doesn’t like that phrase?! Well, let me explain why…
This is not a new phenomenon. The phrase “clean eating” has been around since 1960s and it has come to mean various things. Yes, people that is right, it has no TRUE definition! One definition means: one consumes mostly plant based foods, unprocessed whole grains, lean meats, but no red meat. Another definition: no gluten, no dairy, no meat products at all. And we have another definition: consuming foods <10 grams of sugar, and <200 mg of sodium, and foods found in their natural state. And now we have “clean eating” detoxes, which include extremely low calorie intakes and juicing (Secret #2 – your body naturally detoxes itself, so no need to put your body through that.) Ah! So confusing!
So not only does “clean eating” not have an actual definition, but I also feel it implies that those whom don’t follow your rules are “eating dirty” or “dirty eaters.” People can feel like a stigma is being slapped on them if they can’t keep up with all of the “clean eaters.” I hear on a weekly basis from families that they get lectured from friends or other family members for not “eating clean.” Everyone has a definition of what healthy is, so other people’s definition may not be the same as yours. Many things you find online require extensive time in the kitchen, which may not be applicable to a single parent household who is working long hours and driving from activity to activity. I have had parents tell me the lectures they have gotten from friends and families because they are “doing it wrong.”
Slapping labels on things such as, “clean” vs “dirty” or “good” vs “bad” can lead to people becoming obsessed with trying to “do it right.” This unhealthy obsession with eating right and focusing on food quality and purity to the point where it becomes extremely restrictive is called Orthorexia. This can be detrimental and very alarming if these behaviors start as a tween or a teenager.
So, am I happy that people who are #cleaneating are making an effort to eat healthier? Absolutely! We know that ½ of our plate (or lunch box) should be fruits and vegetables. A diet high in plant-based foods has been associated with lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and lower body weights. The fiber they provide also helps to keep you regular and full. Whole grains (yes, even those with gluten) are also important as they also provide us great nutrients and fiber our bodies need. Low-fat dairy provides us great source of protein, as well as calcium and vitamin D which are essential in keeping our bones strong. Lean meats (i.e. fish, chicken) as well as beans, nuts, and seeds give us protein our muscles need. And guess what?! Our bodies actually need fat – we want to emphasize the healthy fats like canola oil and olive oil that provide us our essential fatty acids needed for brain development in kids amongst other things. We also need some saturated fats, but can make an effort to limit them.
My proposal…turns that hashtag #cleaneating into #healthyliving. Meaning, focus on incorporating a variety of ALL food groups into your diet in moderate portions, live an active lifestyle – aiming for 60 minutes of physical activity daily (yes, kids too), and focus on what is best for YOU and your family. Living a healthy lifestyle is a whole family adventure – get the kids involved in the kitchen and exercise together. A registered dietitian can help get your family on track to that #healthyliving lifestyle if you have any questions. For more information about Texas Children’s Food and Nutrition Services department, visit here.